New research tells us why psychopaths are sometimes able to succeed in society
A new study published in the Personality Research Journal highlights an important connection between the trait of psychopathy and charisma. Research supports that a higher level of charisma in psychopathic individuals can make them perform better.
“Psychopathic people are known to be interpersonally unpleasant, insensitive, and abrasive,” says psychologist Emma-Clementine Welsh of the State University of New York at Binghamton, who co-authored the paper with Professor Mark F. Lenzenweger. . “However, some psychopathic people have been described as ‘charming’ or ‘charismatic’. A person with psychopathic traits can also be engaging, gentle, confident, or persuasive, regardless of their intentions.
Welsh and Lenzenweger’s study attempted to understand how the trait of psychopathy can produce positive outcomes (both professional and criminal) and whether charisma had anything to do with obtaining these outcomes.
More specifically, the objectives of the study were to:
- Comprehensively define what success means for people with psychopathic traits
- Understand why many psychopathic individuals are described as charismatic
- And, assess whether charisma helps psychopathic individuals achieve more successful life outcomes
To do this, the researchers assessed the personality traits, behaviors and life outcomes of 315 adults. They found a positive association between psychopathy and charisma – that is, people who scored higher on the trait of psychopathy also tended to be more charismatic. They also found that these people were more likely to “work the system” to be successful.
“Psychopathic individuals who were highly charismatic were able to get away with and avoid punishment for bad behavior (e.g., cheating on romantic partners, lying, abusing work privileges, or criminal activities) more often than less charismatic psychopathic individuals “, explains Welsh.
According to Welsh, charisma is associated with interpersonal abilities such as persuasion, social skills, confidence, and influence. Thus, it becomes easier for a charismatic and psychopathic individual to deceive, manipulate, or exploit others because of these abilities.
However, not all psychopathic individuals exhibited all components of charisma. For example, in the study, Welsh used two measures of charisma: one measure of leadership ability and another measuring more general, “everyday” charisma.
They found that psychopathy was associated with leadership charisma and influencing others, but not getting along with others or making them feel comfortable.
This suggests that psychopathic individuals exhibit a “shallow charm.” Charismatic psychopaths may come across as confident, persuasive, and charming, but they aren’t necessarily “kind” or “warm.”
For someone in a close relationship with a potentially charismatic psychopathic individual, Welsh has the following words of warning:
“You may enjoy being around them because of their charm, confidence, and fearlessness,” she says. “However, people in close contact with psychopathic individuals are also at risk of being exploited, manipulated, lied to, deceived, or even abandoned once the charismatic psychopath gets what he wants or gets bored.”
According to Welsh, the same is true for employers and colleagues of psychopaths. They can be captivating, but they will also more frequently abuse work privileges, violate company policies, harass and/or exploit other employees, and even steal from their organization, often without being caught or disciplined.
A full interview with psychologist Emma-Clementine Welsh discussing her research can be found here: Is charisma the reason why psychopaths succeed in society?