Have you ever watched your favorite news channel and thought, “Gee, it sure would be nice if we could identify psychopaths before they killed a lot of people, screwed a lot of people out of their money or got elected? Now you can! A new study has identified the five personality traits shared by some of the most notorious real psychopaths … and a couple of fictional ones. Be forewarned – you may want to keep your own personal list off of social media.
“Ted Bundy, Clyde Barrow, Bernie Madoff, James Bond, Chuck Yeager, and Sherlock Holmes have all been described as being a psychopath. The current study conducted nine data collections, obtaining ratings on these six persons.”
In a new study published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, psychology professors Cristina Crego at Longwood University and Thomas A. Widiger at the University of Kentucky began by identifying three people who most people would definitely agree are or were psychopaths. Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy admitted to at least 30 murders in the 1970s. Clyde Barrow, the male half of Bonnie and Clyde, was said to be a charming fellow who committed many murders, both police and civilians, while robbing any establishment with money. Bernie Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, taking about $64.8 billion from his clients’ accounts.
The other names are surprising. Brigadier General Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager was an Air Force flying ace and record-setting test pilot – the first pilot in history confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound – who Tom Wolfe said had the “right stuff” and psychologists thought was psychopathic. The researchers added James Bond and Sherlock Holmes whose fictional personalities are well defined and considered by many to be psychopathic.
Rather than looking for the commonly-accepted traits of psychopaths, Crego and Widiger prepared detailed biographies and case histories of the six subjects, then posted them online where volunteers looked for traits using three different rating systems, each with different lists of traits of psychopaths. Crego and Widiger then sorted through the results and found eight that were common to all -- low vulnerability, low self-consciousness, low anxiousness, fearlessness, boldness, assertiveness, dominance and excitement-seeking. Those definitely sound like the criminals on the list as well as the risk-taking Yeager and Bond and the driven Holmes.
However, even though Yeager, Bond and Holmes had these traits, they were ‘good psychopaths’. The three no one would want to run into -- Bundy, Barrow and Madoff — shared five traits the others didn’t: callousness, manipulativeness, dishonesty, arrogance and cruelty. These are said to be ‘antagonistic’ traits and these three killers of people and fortunes had them in spades.
How about you? Or someone you know? Are these five traits good signs of psychopathy? If you’re fearless, driven and adrenaline-fueled, would you want that to be called psychopathic?
Here’s one to play at home. Which Bond is the most psychopathic – Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig? Which psychopathic actor should be the next 007? Steve Buscemi?