Psychopathic colleagues can be 'helpful and co-operative', study finds

Those with the condition are typically thought to be cold, dishonest, unrepentant and impulsive

Matt Payton
Monday 06 June 2016 16:47
Characteristics such as an inability to empathise, superficiality and insincerity are associated with the condition
Characteristics such as an inability to empathise, superficiality and insincerity are associated with the condition

Psychopaths in the workplace are not as disruptive as might be expected, a study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Bonn found some people with psychopathic traits are seen by co-workers as quite helpful and co-operative.

The prerequisite of this discovery is that the person in question have social skills such as an ability of making others feel good about themselves.

Psychopathic people are typically thought to be cold, dishonest, unrepentant and impulsive.

As a result there is a popular assumption that people with marked psychopathic traits are disruptive elements in the workplace.

However, the team from Bonn's Institute of Psychology found that was not always the case.

They interviewed 161 people who markedly exhibited one of these two 'psychopathic' personality traits; fearless dominance or self-centered impulsivity.

Lead author, Nora Schütte explained the two traits: "The first is referred to as 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. We also speak of primary psychopathy.

"The second dimension is self-centered impulsivity: Persons with high values here lack an inner brake.

"Their self-control is thus weak, and they therefore do not have any consideration for others. They are referred to as secondary psychopaths."

On speaking to the subjects and their work colleagues, they found that primary psychopaths with fearless dominance could be described as good team members and pleasant to be around.

Ms Schütte explained: "That was true only when these primary psychopaths also had marked social skills.

"Above all that included skills that are generally important at work - such as the gift of making others feel well."

The study found that secondary psychopaths with self-centered impulsivity were consistently destructive, not very helpful and weak in performance.

"These persons with high values in secondary psychopathy thus really do have the postulated negative effects upon their work environment," Ms Schütte said.

Her doctoral supervisor, Professor Gerhard Blickle, said the popular image of psychopaths was misleading.

"Persons with a high degree of fearless dominance can even be selfless heroes in everyday life, such as life-savers, emergency physicians, or firefighters," he said.

The study has been published in the Journal of Management.

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