When the average person thinks of a psychopath, we think of someone like Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter, or the Joker as portrayed by Heath Ledger in Batman. We think of a murderer or someone capable of inflicting pain without remorse. In fact, a lack of remorse is a key aspect of the psychopath’s or sociopath’s makeup. The medical definition of the word is: “a mentally ill or unstable individual, especially one having an antisocial personality.” Key traits include a lack of empathy, shallow emotions and fearlessness. In a psychopath, as defined by psychologists, these traits are typically coupled with things like superficial charm and lying, overconfidence and egocentricity, as well as a lack of long term goals and a short attention span. This can all be compounded, of course, by a dangerous propensity for aggression and violence.
Brain scans show differences in the brains of people classed as psychopaths, especially in areas to do with processing emotion (or a lack thereof). However, not all of these people walk around killing indiscriminately or killing at all; a person may fit the psychopathic personality profile, but may have been raised in such a way that he or she would be unlikely to actively and amorally inflict violence upon others. That said, the tendencies may translate to what we refer to as “killer instincts”. In fact, possessing the psychopathic traits as listed above can actually be of benefit in some lines of work. Author Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, has studied the psychopathic brain extensively and has compiled a list of the jobs most likely to attract and foster the psychopathic personality. According to Dutton, psychopathic traits are most likely in the following ten careers – so if you fall into one of these categories, you might want to take Dutton’s Psychopath Test to see if you have the potential to be a real-life Patrick Bateman.
10. Civil Servant
Have you ever been sitting across from a government employee asking for help only to have them refer to section 3.44 of some city code or bylaw and then look you in the eye and blankly refuse to bend on something most would find paltry?
Part of being a bureaucrat is the ability to remain emotionally uninvolved from each individual case. Having psychopathic traits comes in handy in this line of work, where empathy and embarrassment have no place. The psychopath will appreciate, too, not having to take responsibility for decisions made. In this line of work, the psychopath may be able to hide behind the “those are the rules” wall.
It is widely known that chefs have huge egos. It doesn’t take a genius to see that much. Consider how Gordon Ramsay speaks to people, or how exacting Julia Child was, to the point of seeming unforgiving when it came to the wrong ingredients or a kitchen mishap. Overconfidence is something that would certainly come in handy over a fire, and chefs are known too for their inflated idiosyncrasies such as carrying their own set of knives with them everywhere, that no one else must touch. No one else’s knives could possibly do the job. Narrow focus? Check. Aggressive? Just ask a sous-chef…
A U2 song has the lyrics: “I’m in the waiting room / Can’t see for the smoke / I think of you and your holy book / While the rest of us choke.” These words sum up certain aspects of psychopathy. Studies show that clergy, whether priest, imam, rabbi, or nun, are able to blot out reality and responsibility due to “God’s” or “the Prophet’s will.” Talk about blame externalization! Historically, many clergymen have shown emotional ease when confronted with atrocities, sometimes even helping to carry out horrible human rights’ violations. In modern communities, some still show an overconfidence they are the “correct” ones, instead of the humility religious leaders should embody.
7. Police Officer
It is often said that those who become police officers come from the same background and general lifestyle as those who become criminals. In fact, many who go into law enforcement reach a point in their lives where they must decide which side of the law to be on. Wielding extreme power, not always with much regard for those they wield it over, unfortunately sums up some members of the law enforcement. What other psychopathic traits fit well with in this job? Lack of fear, ease with lying to someone’s face, egocentricity, narrow focus, extreme confidence or overconfidence, and a low threshold for frustration/violent displays.
Journalists have to break the tough stories, and must be willing to do just about anything to get a scoop. They will leave a family dinner or church gathering for a good lead, and will never, ever reveal their source. A lack of emotional connection with others is almost a given, as with many occupations that demand constant interruptions to one’s personal time. Overconfidence can come in handy when pumping others for information. Lying to someone with a straight face is also useful: bluffing, for instance, that you already have the information. Among paid occupations, few can display less empathy than journalists – their obligation to report impartially means they have to stay almost cold even in the face of wide scale disaster. Indeed, for many a great journalist, no individual is exempt when it comes to getting the story, no matter whose toes have to be stepped on in the process.
One would think that surgeons should be very empathetic. Just the opposite, in fact. A good surgeon can and should remain objective, which is much easier for someone with little natural empathy. Surgeons have the reputation of being arrogant and cocky or overconfident, of being egocentric to the point of being divas, and are able to have an extremely narrow focus for the task at hand. In this rare case, the latter is actually a good thing. And when you’re about to crack someone’s chest cavity and put your hand right on their beating heart a lack of fear’s not a bad thing either. At least in this case, such actions are sanctioned.
You know that salesperson who comes on too strong, who is sure he or she has just the thing for you and follows you around despite your attempts to shake them? That can seem maybe a little sociopathic. In this field, where commission is often the way people make a living, extreme confidence and fearlessness are positive things. A nervous Nellie with poor self-esteem would hardly inspire you to spend! Shallow and insincere? Check. Ability to lie right to your face? Sounds about right. An inability to plan for the future? Well… some people do this for forty years.
3. TV & Radio Media
How could one be attracted to a job involving the limelight and/or the admiration of one’s work without having an over-inflated ego? If a person did not have a big ego to begin with, would this be possible to avoid after spending time pursuing such a career path? The career attracts people who like their faces and voices to be recognized. It’s important in this line of work to be able to make light conversation on a regular basis (read shallow and insincere), to not have (or at least not exhibit) fear, to be overly confident, and to have somewhat of a narrow focus to the task at hand, each job being very particular. Is Oprah Winfrey a psycho, or Barbara Walters? If these famously sensitive women suffer from a lack of empathy, then they’re also experts at pathological lying!
Lawyers have had a bad rap since time immemorial. Seen by many as the underbelly of the professional world, albeit a necessary underbelly, these people are often described as being cold and slimy. The cold part fits with psychopathic tendencies, at least. To regularly be in a position of defending the guilty, one would need a certain lack of empathy; with every perpetrator comes victims. By association, it’d pay (literally) to be an expert at not feeling guilt or shame, to be good at blame externalization (‘I had to defend that wife-abuser; it’s the law’), and to have an over-inflated ego. In certain cases, unfortunately, convincing lying is required too. We can see how some lawyers fit the bill.
There’s something almost preternatural about many top execs, as if they are untouchable – and worse, as if they have an almost infinite reach. Let’s rely on Dutton’s checklist for this No. 1 “psychopathic” occupation. Lack of empathy: often. Ability to hide this lack of empathy through outright lying, superficial charm and insincerity: definitely. Lack of remorse: goes without saying. Lack of taking responsibility: this is what many a CEO will say the little guy does i.e. themselves displaying classic blame externalization. Overconfidence: why not? Remember that long reach? Low tolerance to frustration and a parasitic lifestyle? We’re not saying this profile matches every CEO out there, but studies show it hits close to the mark for many.