What do successful politicians have in common with psychopaths? Plenty. From Scientific American:
Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders. Individuals, in other words, running not from the police. But for office. Such a profile allows those who present with these traits to do what they like when they like, completely unfazed by the social, moral or legal consequences of their actions.
Okay, that last part is a little worrisome. But I wouldn't mind seeing a little ruthlessness from our Republican candidate. Not as much as, say, this:
If you are violent and cunning, like the real-life “Hannibal Lecter” Robert Maudsley, you might take a fellow inmate hostage, smash his skull in and sample his brains with a spoon as nonchalantly as if you were downing a soft-boiled egg. (Maudsley, by the way, has been cooped up in solitary confinement for the past 30 years, in a bulletproof cage in the basement of Wakefield Prison in England.)
Maybe more like this:
Psychopaths are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused. Yet, contrary to popular belief, they are not necessarily violent. Far from its being an open-and-shut case—you're either a psychopath or you're not—there are, instead, inner and outer zones of the disorder: a bit like the fare zones on a subway map. There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority of A-listers resident in the “inner city.”
So maybe what Romney has to do -- as I say to Peter in the post below -- is taste a little blood next week, during the first debates. Obama may be a composed guy, but he's not a cool customer. He can get rattled and prickly -- and that's unattractive.
Romney should aim to expose that side of our irritating and irritable president. But to do that, he's going to have to tap into the psycho side of a successful person:
In 2005 Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, then at the University of Surrey in England, conducted a survey to find out precisely what it was that made business leaders tick. What, they wanted to know, were the key facets of personality that separated those who turn left when boarding an airplane from those who turn right?
Board and Fritzon took three groups—business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals (those who were psychopathic and those suffering from other psychiatric illnesses)—and compared how they fared on a psychological profiling test.
Their analysis revealed that a number of psychopathic attributes were actually more common in business leaders than in so-called disturbed criminals—attributes such as superficial charm, egocentricity, persuasiveness, lack of empathy, independence, and focus. The main difference between the groups was in the more “antisocial” aspects of the syndrome: the criminals' lawbreaking, physical aggression and impulsivity dials (to return to our analogy of earlier) were cranked up higher.
Can a person actually tune into their inner psycho? Yes, apparently:
Think of psychopathic traits as the dials on a studio mixing deck. If you turn all of them to max, you'll have a soundtrack that's no use to anyone. But if the soundtrack is graded, and some are up higher than others—such as fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness, for example—you may well have a surgeon who's a cut above the rest.
Or, maybe, a presidential candidate.