Not all psychopaths are convicted criminals. Actually, most of them are not cold-blooded, loving the sight of blood, as would be tempting to think. Rather, there is such a thing known as successful psychopathy whereby the individual displays characteristics of a psychopathic personality which he uses to his own advantage to get what he wants in life (often at the expense of others) without being a serial killer. A professor of psychology from Emory University, Scott O. Lilienfeld, and a PhD student Ashley Wyatts, put into perspective the subject in an article on The Conversation.
Psychopathy itself is a condition whose definition is not clearly spelled out. Experts describe it as a personality disorder. Statistics show that the majority of them are males. They allegedly constitute one percent of the general population.
It is argued that this proportion is not representative of the true figure that would include people who show some degree of psychopathy; some will only have a few characteristics thereof without fitting all the criteria. This implies that not all of them are dangerous or evil. Rather, on the contrary, only few of them translate their psychopathic traits into violence. They might be more at risk of committing crimes without feeling remorse but that would apply to a minority group of the larger one.
The majority would only use the personality traits pertaining to psychopathy to live successful lives in society. This condition known as successful psychopathy is albeit controversial.
Why is it widely believed that psychopaths are by definition cold-blooded criminals? This might be due to the fact that most studies on the subject were conducted by focusing on prisons. A great part of the research body is carried out on criminals in jails. This means that most theory and research deals with ‘unsuccessful psychopaths’, those who got convicted as criminals. On the other hand, many exhibiting some of the psychopathic features are not in jail or prison. Some might actually be successful professionals.
The occurrence of successful psychopathy is debated though. Some experts argue they have never witnessed it. Others dismiss it as illogical. Yet others have denounced it as an oxymoron because psychopathy cannot allegedly be associated with success.
However, a number of studies conducted decades ago have shown the relevance of the possibility. Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley from the US wrote in an article in 1946 that some psychopathic people might be successful in their interpersonal relationships and in their jobs. In another study focusing on “non-institutionalised psychopaths”, Catherine Widom found people through a newspaper advertisement who displayed a personality profile comparable to convicted psychopaths.
Another study provides more insight into the “success” attributed to this form of psychopathy. Adrian Raine from the University of Pennsylvania identified people showing psychopathy from temporary employment agencies. Some of the participants were convicted for crimes while some had not. The latter group was described as being successful psychopaths; they were found to have better performances in tasks that necessitated modulating their impulses. They also had social anxiety. This implies that successful psychopaths can remain unnoticed because they have some social anxiety and impulse control that would keep them away from being caught.
Furthermore, it is thought that some of these ‘successful psychopaths’ might be spread across professions involving politics, law enforcement, military services, high-risk sports, and even fire-fighting.
It is believed that they might perform better than others in situations entailing high risks or high stakes because of traits like social poise, charisma, audacity, and emotional resilience such that they are able to fool others and conceal their true nature.