Psychopathy is a poorly defined “condition”.
It’s not identifiable or describable by a sole characteristic; rather, it’s the tendency of a person to show a range of related traits and behaviors. These include a lack of empathy, an ability to become emotionally detached, a poor sense of self-preservation, has anti-authority proclivities, a lack of fear, and unconscientiousness.
Psychopaths are also more likely than others to be exhibit narcissism, just as they’re more likely to be Machiavellian (manipulative). When you think about it, capitalism is an ideal playground for ambitious psychopaths – climbing the social or career ladders without a thought to those pushed out of the way.
Still, none of these traits automatically make psychopaths “crazy” or “evil”, and in fact, although it does make those with high psychopathic tendencies appear to be somewhat ruthless and perhaps cold.
Frank Underwood: a machiavellian psychopath? Netflix via YouTube
Violent psychopaths can be both good and evil, so to speak – the example of James Bond and Dr. No are often cited in this case. Non-violent psychopaths have incredibly useful roles in society for the most part. Think negotiators, surgeons, spies, astronauts, mountaineers and, funnily enough, journalists.
As you can see, it’s complicated. Ultimately then, this study is something of a game-changer.
The team hope that by finding one clearly defined neurological driver of psychopathy, the definition of the condition becomes more scientifically rigorous and tangible.
It helps to highlights the fact that the brains of psychopaths aren’t unsolvable, impenetrable enigmas. They’re just wired differently, and that in itself doesn’t necessarily make them evil or monsters – it just makes them different.
“They're not aliens,” Buckholtz concludes. “They're people who make bad decisions.”