Why Katie Hopkins acts like Katie Hopkins, as explained by the psychologists

The Sun columnist has recently come under fire for saying dementia sufferers are 'blocking beds' and suggesting they'd be better off dead

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The Independent Online

Katie Hopkins has managed to forge a career by saying she's "telling it like it is".

Whether the columnist is a craftily calculated public persona or just someone who can type faster than she can think, she's managed to get the nation talking.

She recently tweeted that dementia sufferers were "blocking beds":

Hopkins is no stranger to getting lots of people cross and perhaps slightly baffled. Last May, she told an audience of Cambridge University students that she didn't "really like fat people" and that she "wouldn't like to meet a ginger in the dark".

Her lucky dip of obnoxious quotes has also produced classics such as "suicidal prisoners should just kill themselves", that women shouldn't breastfeed in public and the unkind remark that Nigella Lawson is a "self-obsessed flirt".




So what makes someone like Katie Hopkins act like Katie Hopkins? We spoke to two psychologists.

"I think she’s probably quite an individual case," says Karen Niven, a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester Business School. "She's able to forge a career out of being controversial which is not something most of us can do or would want to do."

Do you think that most people want to be liked? "There’s definitely differences in extents to which people care about other people think," Niven explains. "Some people are so concerned by the opinions of society that it governs their behaviour and they edit their actions to fit in.

"Some don’t care what others think, or they care less about what other people think than they do about being known or seen in the public eye.

Benefits Row 07.jpg "I wonder if she’s developed public persona divorced from her real personality – criticism is water off a ducks back and that’s how she really feels about it."

But how can you possibly get through a full day with so many people tweeting angrily at you and knowing that you've upset people? "People in Katie's position may think: 'Maybe they hate me but at least they know who I am', so it becomes a positive," Niven says. "Negative comments are a sign of her success."

However, Dr Gayle Brewer, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, argues that trying to please people can be a sign of low self-esteem.

"I think that most of us are concerned about what other people think," Dr Brewer says. "Some have low self-esteem, and out perception of ourselves is completely dependent on others."

But Hopkins' behaviour is quite extreme.

"If someone’s doing it for a reaction, it’s an insight into their personality," Dr Brewer explains. "They want to see the impact of what they can do on the world – it’s quite a powerful feeling, I imagine."


Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.

How do you think someone in Hopkins' position would handle getting so much negative attention? "Well I think it depends on what it is that they’re being hated for and how that’s come about. It could be that they’re – for example – a comedian and their public persona is to say controversial things – it’s a character they portray and it’s lucrative and not problematic and their friends and family understand what their real personality is."

So if you court the attention it hurts less? "If it was something that someone was planning, it makes it different. If you compare it to Monica Lewinsky, who was catapulted into a high-pressure situation unintentionally, it's going to feel very different."

But most of us want to be liked, surely? Hopkins has to be an exception? "I do think most of us want society’s approval," Dr Brewer says. "We want to fit in and we grow up being told it’s good to make friends and to do the right thing, so it’s quite different to see people going against that."

Niven is co-editor of Should I Strap A Battery to My Head (And Other Questions About Emotion). Dr Brewer edited Media Psychology (Palgrave MacMillan).