One out of every 10 Wall Street employees is a clinical psychopath, the CFA Institute (an investment and financial analysis organization) reports in the latest issue of CFA Magazine. That makes psychopathy 10 times more prevalent among New York’s financial elite than among us plebeians, for which the accepted statistic is a more palatable one in 100.
Psychopaths “generally lack empathy and interest in what other people feel or think,” according to the study. “At the same time, they display an abundance of charm, charisma, intelligence, credentials, an unparalleled capacity for…manipulation, and a drive for thrill seeking.” That Wall Street should harbor more than its share of psychopaths, then, will come as no shock to those frustrated by the entitlement and greed of the one percent. The study also shows how easily psychopaths can pass, however, blending into our lives as co-workers, friends and even romantic partners.
Who are the psychopaths in your life? Here are five important questions to ask, and the books to help you answer them.
Inhumane, or simply insane?
Psychopaths pervade all social classes and environments, and everyone is likely to encounter one—usually with negative consequences—at some point in their life, explains psychologist Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., in his defining book, “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us.” Hare, a premier expert on psychopathy, profiles a wide cast of characters—murders, predators, con-artists, as well inconspicuous run-of-the-mill types—all united by a single chilling trait: their complete lack of conscience. He also probes questions like: Is psychopathy a product of nature or nurture? Is it treatable? And can we really blame psychopaths for their behavior if they technically suffer from a disorder?
How can you identify them?
In “The Sociopath Next Door” Martha Stout, Ph.D., lists seven core traits of the disorder, such as deceit, remorselessness and impulsivity; a person must exhibit at least three of these characteristics to be classified as a sociopath. Throughout the book run narratives of “ordinary people”—such as a trust fund baby with a habit of killing frogs, and a manipulative nurse with forged qualifications—who lure others into their lies and leave them devastated.
Where do they work?
Psychopaths flock to high-energy, profit-obsessed corporations that value employees with charisma, intensity and the confidence to take risks—particularly in industries such as finance and advertising—according to “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work,” co-authored by Hare and industrial-organizational psychologist Paul Babiak. Psychopathic workers, they find, perform well on the job at first, but tend to outstay their welcome quickly—manipulating supervisors, influencing naïve coworkers, draining company funds, and leaving the workplace in a state of disarray when they exit.
Can they love?
Barbara Bentley thought she’d found the man of her dreams in John Perry—charismatic, intelligent and cosmopolitan. But she soon learned he was also manipulative and dishonest: Perry drove his wife into financial ruin, and eventually tried to kill her. In “A Dance With the Devil: A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath,” Bentley opens up about her years under the Perry’s spell, the courage it took to finally resist his persuasion and her efforts to help other spouses in the same situation.
Could you be a psychopath?
That’s the unsettling question that British writer and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson raises midway through his 2011 hit bestseller, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.” Ronson interviews a number of figures who, according to the Hare Checklist, are clinical psychopaths. But the easygoing demeanor and friendly candor of these subjects leads Ronson to question the validity of the diagnoses—and to wonder if there might be a little bit of psychopath in all of us.