Psychopaths are low on both the personality traits of conscientiousness and agreeableness, research finds.
People who are not conscientious are disorganised, careless, irresponsible and do not follow through on their obligations.
Unconscientious people also find it hard to resist temptation.
Psychopaths are also disagreeable, which means they tend to be unfriendly, cold and not tactful — rarely taking into account other people’s feelings.
Psychopaths are particularly low on three critical aspects of agreeableness:
- They are not straightforward: psychopaths are deceitful and manipulative.
- They are not compliant: psychopaths have strong heads, are aggressive, antagonistic and quarrelsome.
- They are not modest: psychopaths are arrogant, conceited, proud and vain.
On top of these charming characteristics, psychopaths are also high in certain aspects of neuroticism.
They tend to be:
- Angry and hostile: psychopaths get upset very easily.
- Impulsive: psychopaths cannot resist temptations and may overeat or indulge themselves in other ways.
Psychopaths also show one aspect of high extraversion, which is that they seek out excitement.
However, unlike many extraverts they are not warm — instead they are interpersonally cold and emotionless.
This makes them hard to get to know.
The results come from collecting together data from 83 different sources including over 20,000 people across multiple studies.
The study’s authors sum up the psychopath in the following terms:
“Behaviourally, the psychopath is considered as an impulsive risk-taker involved in a variety of criminal activities.
Interpersonally, the psychopath has been described as grandiose, egocentric, manipulative, forceful and cold-hearted.
Affectively, the psychopath shows shallow emotions, is unable to maintain close relationships, and lacks empathy, anxiety and remorse.”
Both psychopaths and people with antisocial personality disorder were included in the study.
Antisocial personality disorder is very similar to psychopathy, although the researchers found some nuances:
“…low levels of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness were substantive features of both disorders, but psychopathy was characterized by a significantly lower level of Agreeableness and lower scores on Straightforwardness, Compliance and Modesty.[…]
Lower levels of Modesty (A5) are in line with the grandiosity and arrogance reflected in psychopathy descriptions.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the European Journal of Personality (Decuyper et al., 2009).