Every now and then, a riddle appears online that purports to tell you if you’re a psychopath or not. There are several that are often cited, but here are two somewhat notorious examples picked out by Business Insider.
The first is a tale of murder and funerals.
“While at her own mother's funeral, a woman meets a guy she doesn't know. She thinks this guy is amazing — her dream man — and is pretty sure he could be the love of her life. However, she never asked for his name or number and afterwards could not find anyone who knows who he was. A few days later the girl kills her own sister – but why?”
There are many ways to answer this question, but if you suggest that it’s because the girl thought the man would turn up at her sister’s subsequent funeral, you’re apparently a bit of a psychopath.
The second, which actually comes from an official questionnaire used in several studies, involves a battle between individual rescue and the greater good – an assessment of utilitarianism. It goes as follows:
“A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people and you are standing on a footbridge next to a large stranger; your body is too light to stop the train, but if you push the stranger onto the tracks, killing him, you will save the five people. Would you push the man?”
If you push the man, it arguably makes you more of a psychopath. Even if you’re saving more people, you’re still committing a murder to do so.
Here’s the problem: psychopathy, a personality disorder that falls on something of a spectrum, cannot be defined by answering just one single question, or even one survey.
That first riddle about the funeral has been thoroughly debunked several times before, and it’s not entirely clear where it came from.
The second riddle has been used in studies and it has some merit, but no academic worth their salt would claim that one single question can reveal the psychopaths in your midst. This is why many such questions are used by researchers to just get an idea of how psychopathic someone may or may not be, but even then, this doesn’t properly identify a psychopath.
Business Insider points this out themselves, but there’s even more to this than first meets the eye.