Sadistic 'snakes in suits' in the office identified by new psychological test

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The Independent Online

If you suspect your boss is a sadistic control freak with violent tendencies, or fear the head of accounts is a psychopath likely to run off with the pension fund, then help is at hand.

A leading authority on psychopathy is about to publish a guide to identify "corporate psychos".

The 107-point questionnaire, known as a "B-scan", which stands for business scan, enables companies to spot potential managers who are likely to turn violent or defraud the company.

The man behind the new guide, Professor Robert Hare of the University of British Columbia, a consultant for the FBI, estimates that about one per cent of the population in North America are psychopaths and that about 15 per cent of the male prison population in that country also suffer from the disorder.

Until now Professor Hare, who is giving a lecture titled "Snakes in Suits" in Cardiff tomorrow, has concentrated on devising tests to identify convicted offenders who have the disorder (his "P-scan" questionnaire is considered the standard test for criminals).

But he believes that psychopaths' ability to manipulate others without remorse, coupled with a veneer of charm, can also make them extremely successful in many walks of life, including business.

So the professorand a colleague, Dr Paul Babiak, have devised a new system to detect undesirables within the business world.

Under the B-scan, workmates and a supervisor of the person being tested fill in a questionnaire that considers four aspects of the subject's personality - "Anti-Social Tendencies", "Organisational Maturity", "Inter-Personal Relations" and "Personal Style".

Within each category there are questions that are used to discover personality traits, including being insincere, arrogant, untrustworthy, manipulative, remorseless, impatient, erratic, unreliable, dramatic, unethical and bullying.

There is no set "score" to determine whether someone is a psychopath, but anyone who has more than about a quarter of the traits could have a problem, while a total of more than three quarters puts the subject into the dangerous category.

As an example of a successful businessman who could also have been a psychopath, Professor Hare will highlight on Tuesday the case of Robert Maxwell, the former proprietor of Daily Mirror who robbed the paper's pension fund to shore up his ailing commercial empire, before drowning after falling off his yacht.

Professor Hare explained: "There are many similar core personality characteristics in criminal psychopaths that are found in other walks of life.

"We are not necessary looking for psychopaths in organisations, but for clues that individuals share some of their traits.

"The idea is not to give these people the boot. Some organisations would value some of the traits, such as being remorseless."

Professor Hare, who helps the FBI identify serial killers and has a website at, said the B-scan is available from February.


If you answer yes to three or more of these questions you could have a psycho boss:

* Does the person make slick presentations that are too good to be true?

* Have career goals that are ambitious but unrealistic?

* Comes across with an inflated, almost grandiose self image?

* Is hungry for money, power and status at any cost?

* Has no clear life plan?

* Takes credit for the work of others?

* Borrows equipment and supplies promising to return them, but keeps them?

* Flies into a rage, which dies down quickly, but continues as if nothing had happened?

* Comes across as a thrillseeker?