If you want to know if someone is a psychopath, you could get them to answer this riddle, check their use of the past tense, and find out how they like their coffee – or you could ask for their zip code. That’s according to a new study, which has been pre-published by the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and is currently awaiting peer review.
In not-so-shocking news, it appears that Washington DC has more psychopathic residents than any other region in the US. The most psychopathic state award, however, goes to Connecticut or the "Nutmeg State", so-called after its early settlers who had a reputation for being incredibly shrewd as they made and sold wooden nutmegs. (Definitely psychopaths.)
The runners-up were California, New Jersey, and Wyoming and New York in joint fourth. As for the latter, it is the home of Patrick Bateman, Gordon Gekko, and Wall Street so perhaps its inclusion on the list is not all that surprising either.
But the Capital is by far and away the most psychopathic place in the US, receiving a standardized score of 3.48 – almost double Connecticut's score of 1.89. Previous research has found that psychopaths are drawn to literal seats of power, successful in the political sphere, and fond of big cities. However, Washington DC may be at a slight disadvantage as it is a dense, urban area and so cannot fairly be compared to states that are larger and more geographically diverse.
The study was conducted by Ryan Murphy, a professor at Southern Methodist University, and is based on previous research, which measured levels of the Big Five personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) across the US, using a sample of 1.6 million people. All states bar Alaska and Hawaii were included.
These personality traits, Murphy explained, can be linked to psychopathic traits, such as disinhibition, boldness, and meanness. “Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness,” he wrote.
He admits the method is indirect but does provide a relatively quick and cheap assessment of psychopathy levels across the US and is certainly easier than getting as many people to complete the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, the most common way of measuring psychopathy. Wyoming is a shock entry on the list, he adds, and this may be because their population size was the smallest in the original research.
If you are a resident of Washington DC and Connecticut and now want to escape your more psychopathic neighbors, you might want to consider moving to West Virginia, which has the rather lovely accolade of being the least psychopathic state. Runners-up on that list were Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New Mexico.