“Psychopathy” is a spectrum personality disorder characterized by callousness, antisocial behavior, superficial charm, narcissism, grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, poor impulse control, and a lack of empathy or remorse. Popular culture invariably associates psychopathy with serial killers like Ted Bundy, who, after raping and murdering numerous women in the 1970s, boasted that “I’m the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet.” Yet a slate of publications on psychopathy over the past two decades—from Robert Hare’s path-breaking 1993 book “Without Conscience” to Simon Baron Cohen’s 2011 “The Science of Evil”—reveals that about 1% to 3% of men in the general population could be classified as psychopaths. That is more than four million people in the United States alone, and they aren’t all potential Ted Bundys.
The spectrum of psychopaths includes CEOs, surgeons, lawyers, salesmen, police officers and journalists. According to Kevin Dutton, the rest of us could learn a thing or two from many of them. In “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” the Cambridge University research psychologist notes that in many circumstances, such as in business, sports and other competitive enterprises, it is beneficial to be a little charming, tough-minded, impulsive, risk taking, courageous and even a bit socially manipulative. We have the makings of a dangerous psychopath only when that little bit of charm becomes devious manipulation; when self-confidence escalates to grandiosity; when occasional exaggeration morphs into pathological lying; when tough-mindedness devolves into cruelty; and when courageous risk taking slides into foolish impulsiveness.