High Functioning Psychopaths And Sociopaths Hide Their True Personality

How so many high functioning psychopaths and sociopaths slip into positions of power without being detected.

How so many high functioning psychopaths and sociopaths slip into positions of power without being detected.

High functioning psychopaths and sociopaths, those who also have high IQs, can hide their true personalities, research finds.

It helps explains how people who are dangerous risk-takers are able to fake their way into powerful management positions.

High functioning psychopaths and sociopaths still have the major attributes: they have little regard for other’s emotions and easily lie, cheat and manipulate.

However, high functioning psychopaths and sociopaths are able to mask these negative aspects of their personalities in order to get what they want.

Due to high levels of education and interpersonal skills they can attain exalted levels in society.

Incidentally, from a clinical perspective there is no difference between a psychopath and a sociopath — the words can be used interchangeably (see: Psychopath vs Sociopath: Here’s The Difference).

The research

The conclusions come from a study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, which was inspired by the unusually high levels of psychopaths and sociopaths among business managers (Bate et al., 2014).

Research has found that while around 1 percent of the general population are psychopaths, the level rises to 3 percent among business managers.

Ms Carolyn Bate, the study’s first author, said:

“I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business.

The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie – they are quite manipulative and lack empathy.”

The charming psychopath or sociopath

The psychopaths in business are quite different from the lurid picture painted by the media, Ms Bate explained:

“The ones who are at the top of businesses are often charming and intelligent, but with emotional deficits, as opposed to psychopaths who are quite erratic and tend to commit gruesome crimes and are often caught and imprisoned.”

To test these ideas the researchers gave a group of people a standard test of psychopathy.

They were also shown a series of pictures which tested their levels of empathy and, at the same time, their galvanic skin response was measured to assess their emotional reaction to the pictures.

Psychopaths and sociopaths with average or high intelligence were able to regulate their galvanic skin response so that their tests appeared normal.

Those psychopaths with low intelligence in the study, though, showed abnormal responses typical of psychopaths.

Perhaps with this, and other techniques, high functioning psychopaths with high intelligence are able to blend in with other people by pretending to have the same responses as them.

Symptoms of high functioning psychopaths and sociopaths

Along with high IQ, other signs and symptoms of high functioning psychopaths include:

  • Charm: high functioning psychopaths often have very good social skills.
  • Addictive behaviours: those with high-functioning personalities are sometimes prone to addictive behaviours.
  • Sensitivity: these types of people may be quick to anger.
  • Lack of empathy: like other psychopaths, the high functioning often have a lack of empathy and little interest in how their actions affect others.
  • Secretive: they like to keep things private unless they want to manipulate someone.
  • Calculation: they work out how to get what they want and then stick to the plan whatever the cost to others.


Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

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.

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