Signs Of A Psychopath: Meaning, Symptoms & Traits

Most people find the signs of a psychopath difficult to spot, but the symptoms are there if you know where to look.

Most people find the signs of a psychopath difficult to spot, but the symptoms are there if you know where to look.

The two key traits of a psychopath are being callous and unemotional.

Being callous means having a cruel disregard for others.

Callous people lack compassion, are cold-blooded and heartless.

On top of this, psychopaths typically have difficulty responding to the emotions of others in a normal way — they also appear unemotional themselves.

For example, psychopaths tend to show no feeling when they see others in pain.

Despite popular belief, being a psychopath does not automatically make someone a criminal — although it does help.

Common signs and symptoms of a psychopath

Around one in 200 people is a psychopath.

However, many more people than that share some traits with psychopaths.

Common signs of psychopaths include:

  1. Narcissism
  2. Superficial charm
  3. Being disagreeable and low in conscientiousness
  4. Manipulative
  5. Lack of empathy
  6. Fearless dominance and impulsivity
  7. Focusing on rewards and ignoring consequences
  8. Being great at lying

Causes of psychopathy

Psychopathy is probably a result of many different factors interacting.

Some of the main ones are:

It is striking that all criminal psychopaths have a history of grotesque physical and/or psychological abuse during childhood.

Treatment of psychopaths

There are few systematic treatments for all psychopaths, only for specific types, such as violent offenders.

Most psychopaths are not interested in changing themselves because they believe there is nothing wrong with them.

More subtle signs of a psychopath

Here are some other more subtle signs of psychopathy…

1. Profession with the most psychopaths

CEOs, lawyers and people in the media lead the list of professions with the most psychopaths.

None of this means that every CEO or lawyer is a psychopath, nor should the suggestion be that having psychopathic tendencies is helpful in any of these jobs (although it may be!).

Rather, there is an overlap between psychopathic personality traits and the types of people who go into those professions.

2. Signs of ‘bad’ psychopaths

Not all psychopaths are the same.

There are two types of psychopaths — primary and secondary — according to research.

Primary psychopaths can be cooperative, helpful and friendly.

Secondary psychopaths, though, are usually destructive, unhelpful and perform badly at work.

Ms Nora Schütte, the study’s first author, said that primary psychopaths are marked out by the trait of ‘fearless dominance’:

“People with this character trait want to get their way, have no fear of the consequences of their actions, and can withstand stress very well.”

3. Psychopaths are often late to bed

People who have a tendency to stay up late are more likely to exhibit anti-social personality traits, like narcissism and psychopathy.

Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy — menacingly called ‘the Dark Triad’ — were all linked with the preference for late bedtimes

Dr. Peter K. Jonason, explained:

“Those who scored highly on the Dark Triad traits are, like many other predators such as lions and scorpions, creatures of the night.

For people pursuing a fast life strategy like that embodied by the Dark Triad traits, it’s better to occupy and exploit a lowlight environment where others are sleeping and have diminished cognitive functioning.”

4. Psychopaths are less empathetic

Yawning after seeing someone else yawn is linked to empathy and bonding.

But psychopaths are selfish, manipulative, fearless, domineering and, critically, lack empathy.

The study found that people with psychopathic tendencies were less likely to yawn when they saw someone else yawning.

5. The criminal signs of a psychopath

Despite popular belief, being a psychopath does not automatically make someone a criminal — although it does help.

Many criminals have psychopathic traits, such as impulsive and antisocial behaviour.

However, a lack of self-control and a strong focus on rewards is strongly linked to criminal behaviour.

Brain scans have revealed this is the critical difference between an ordinary psychopath and a criminal psychopath.

6. Psychopaths like bitter foods

Having a preference for bitter tastes is linked to psychopathy, narcissism and everyday sadism, a study finds.

A predilection for tonic water or coffee, therefore, could indicated some psychopathic tendencies in a person’s personality.

In contrast, people who dislike bitter tastes tend to be more agreeable, the researchers discovered.


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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