New Study Reveals The Most Effective Way To Handle A Psychopath


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

866 New Study Reveals The Most Effective Way To Handle A Psychopath
Darth Vader, a well-known manipulative psychopath, wasn't happy to hear the news. Carlos/Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s not always a hindrance to be a psychopath. Normally associated with lying, cheating, recklessness and impulsivity, manipulative psychopathy can be a boon for those who are good negotiators, good with charm, and those who are highly ambitious.

Being a psychopath doesn’t necessarily mean you are morally bankrupt, but of course, morally bankrupt people can sometimes be psychopaths. To the non-psychopath, then, encountering one may cause them problems, but a new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences has some pertinent advice for those seeking refuge. Although they’re very good at exuding their potentially malevolent skills with a live audience, they are far less effective when being psychopathic over the Internet.


A long line of evidence has suggested that body language is vital to be able to properly communicate with our peers, with verbal communication not being as key as previously thought. As it turns out, even the most gifted psychopaths can’t make up for their missing body language when negotiating online.

“The results of this study are pretty clear – once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier,” Michael Woodworth, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate, or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience.”

Stay behind your computer if you’re being charmed by a psychopath. SvetaZi/Shutterstock

For the study, 200 Canadian students were assessed on their “dark triad” qualities. Aside from their level of psychopathy, which generally describes someone who can switch off their ability to empathize or feel remorse, their degree of self-obsessiveness (their narcissism) and manipulative abilities (Machiavellianism) were also assessed.


Afterwards, the participants were then asked to take part in simple buying and selling negotiations where they could win real sums of money. Some took part face-to-face, whereas others took place online using real-time instant messaging software.

In general, those who ranked highly on the dark triad spectrum did the best in face-to-face negotiations, particularly those who were psychopathic and Machiavellian; narcissism didn’t appear to be related to success in this regard. Remarkably, however, manipulating psychopaths actually fared worse than participants ranking far lower on the dark triad spectrum when negotiating via instant messaging.

There are likely several reasons for this. Firstly, not being able to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses via a visual medium proved a huge problem for those with darker personalities. Secondly, it appears that their negotiating language is considered to be quite hostile without a manipulating visual component alongside it. Lastly, those who don’t belong on the dark triad spectrum will feel more comfortable negotiating online rather than face-to-face.

All in all, it seems that if you want to deal with a Machiavellian psychopath, you should only talk to them online. This may not always be practical, however, and it’s likely you’ll encounter a few in the offline world. Unless you learn how to be somewhat psychopathic yourself, you may, unfortunately, be doomed.


Main image: Carlos/Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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