The following questionnaire is based on research and experiences of socialised sociopaths. For each trait, decide if it applies to the person you suspect may be a socialised sociopath, fully (2 points), partially (1 point) or not at all (0 points).
1) Do they have problems sustaining stable relationships, personally and in business?
2) Do they frequently manipulate others to achieve selfish goals, with no consideration of the effects on those manipulated?
3) Are they cavalier about the truth, and capable of telling lies to your face?
4) Do they have an air of self-importance, regardless of their true standing in society?
5) Have they no apparent sense of remorse, shame or guilt?
6) Is their charm superficial, and capable of being switched on to suit immediate ends?
7) Are they easily bored and demand constant stimulation?
8) Are their displays of human emotion unconvincing?
9) Do they enjoy taking risks, and acting on reckless impulse?
10) Are they quick to blame others for their mistakes?
11) As teenagers, did they resent authority, play truant and/or steal?
12) Do they have no qualms about sponging off others?
13) Are they quick to lose their temper?
14) Are they sexually promiscuous?
15) Do they have a belligerent, bullying manner?
16) Are they unrealistic about their long-term aims?
17) Do they lack any ability to empathise with others?
18) Would you regard them as essentially irresponsible?
A score of 25 or above suggests strong psychopathic tendencies. This does not mean the person is a potential mass-murderer: socialised psychopaths are not mad, nor do they have to resort to violence. Even so, a close professional or emotional relationship with a socialised psychopath is likely to prove a damaging experience.
Glib and superficial
Sociopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming.
Typically, Sociopaths attempt to appear experts in sociology, psychiatry, medicine, psychology, philosophy, poetry, literature, art or law. A signpost to this trait is often a smooth lack of concern at being found out that they are not.
Egocentric and grandiose
Sociopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement. They see themselves as the center of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.
Sociopaths are seldom embarrassed about their legal, financial or personal problems. Rather, they see them as temporary setbacks, the results of bad luck, unfaithful friends or an unfair and incompetent system.
Sociopaths feel that their abilities will enable them to become anything they want to be. Given the right circumstances—opportunity, luck, willing victims—their grandiosity can pay off spectacularly. For example, the psychopathic entrepreneur “thinks big,” but it’s usually with someone else’s money.
Lack of remorse or guilt
Sociopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others. Often they are completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.
Sociopaths’ lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalize their behavior and to shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment to family, friends, associates and others who have played by the rules. Usually they have handy excuses for their behavior, and in some cases they deny that it happened at all.
Lack of empathy
The feelings of other people are of no concern to Sociopaths. Sociopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for their own gratification. The weak and the vulnerable—whom they mock, rather than pity—are favorite targets.
Sociopaths display a general lack of empathy. They are indifferent to the rights and suffering of family members and strangers alike. If they do maintain ties with their spouses or children it is only because they see their family members as possessions, much like their stereos or automobiles.
Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some Sociopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling. For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
However, except in movies and books, very few Sociopaths commit crimes of this sort. Their callousness typically emerges in less dramatic, though still devastating, ways: parasitically bleeding other people of their possessions, savings and dignity; aggressively doing and taking what they want; shamefully neglecting the physical and emotional welfare of their families; engaging in an unending series of casual, impersonal and trivial sexual relationships; and so forth.
Deceitful and manipulative
Lying, deceiving and manipulation are natural talents for Sociopaths. Given their glibness and the facility with which they lie, it is not surprising that Sociopaths successfully cheat, bilk, defraud, con and manipulate people and have not the slightest compunction about doing so. They are often forthright in describing themselves as con men, hustlers or fraud artists. Their statements often reveal their belief that the world is made up of “givers and takers,” predators and prey, and that it would be very foolish not to exploit the weaknesses of others.
Some of their operations are elaborate and well thought out, whereas others are quite simple: stringing along several women at the same time, or convincing family members and friends that money is needed “to bail me out of a jam.” Whatever the scheme, it is carried off in a cool, self-assured, brazen manner.
Sociopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings. While at times they appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression that they are play-acting and that little is going on below the surface.
Laboratory experiments using biomedical recorders have shown that Sociopaths lack the physiological responses normally associated with fear. The significance of this finding is that, for most people, the fear produced by threats of pain or punishment is an unpleasant emotion and a powerful motivator of behavior. Not so with Sociopaths; they merrily plunge on, perhaps knowing what might happen but not really caring.
Sociopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences. “I did it because I felt like it,” is a common response.
More than displays of temper, impulsive acts often result from an aim that plays a central role in most of the psychopath’s behavior: to achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief. So, family members, employers and co-workers typically find themselves standing around asking themselves what happened—jobs are quit, relationships broken off, plans changed, houses ransacked, people hurt, often for what appears to be little more than a whim.
Sociopaths tend to live day-to-day and to change their plans frequently. They give little serious thought to the future and worry about it even less.
Poor behavior controls
In Sociopaths, inhibitory controls are weak, and the slightest provocation is sufficient to overcome them. As a result, Sociopaths are short-tempered or hot-headed and tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline and criticism with sudden violence, threats and verbal abuse. They take offense easily and become angry and aggressive over trivialities, and often in a context that appears inappropriate to others. But their outbursts, extreme as they may be, are generally short-lived, and they quickly resume acting as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
Although Sociopaths have a “hair trigger” and readily initiate aggressive displays, their ensuing behavior is not out of control. On the contrary, when Sociopaths “blow their stack” it is as if they are having a temper tantrum; they know exactly what they are doing. Their aggressive displays are “cold;” they lack the intense emotional arousal experienced by others when they lose their temper.
It’s not unusual for Sociopaths to inflict serious physical or emotional damage on others, sometimes routinely, and yet refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem controlling their tempers. In most cases, they see their aggressive displays as natural responses to provocation.
Need for excitement
Sociopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement—they long to live in the fast lane or “on the edge,” where the action is. In many cases the action involves breaking the rules.
Some Sociopaths use a wide variety of drugs as part of their general search for something new and exciting, and they often move from place to place and job to job searching for a fresh buzz. Many Sociopaths describe “doing crime” for excitement or thrills.
The flip side of this yearning for excitement is an inability to tolerate routine or monotony. Sociopaths are easily bored. You are not likely to find them engaged in occupations or activities that are dull, repetitive or that require intense concentration over long periods.
Lack of responsibility
Obligations and commitments mean nothing to Sociopaths. Their good intentions—”I’ll never cheat on you again“—are promises written on the wind.
Truly horrendous credit histories, for example, reveal the lightly taken debt, the shrugged-off loan, the empty pledge to contribute to a child’s support. The irresponsibility and unreliability of Sociopaths extend to every part of their lives. Their performance on the job is erratic, with frequent absences, misuse of company resources, violations of company policy, and general untrustworthiness. They do not honor formal or implied commitments to people, organizations or principles.
Indifference to the welfare of children—their own as well as those of a man or woman they happen to be living with at the time—is a common theme among Sociopaths. Sociopaths see children as an inconvenience. Typically, they leave children on their own for extended periods or in the care of unreliable sitters.
Sociopaths are frequently successful in talking their way out of trouble—”I’ve learned my lesson;” “You have my word that it won’t happen again;” “It was simply a big misunderstanding;” “Trust me.” They are almost as successful in convincing the criminal justice system of their good intentions and their trustworthiness. Although they frequently manage to obtain probation, a suspended sentence or early release from prison, they simply ignore the conditions imposed by the courts.
Early behavior problems
Most Sociopaths begin to exhibit serious behavioral problems at an early age. These might include persistent lying, cheating, theft, fire setting, truancy, class disruption, substance abuse, vandalism, violence, bullying, running away and precocious sexuality. Because many children exhibit some of these behaviors at one time or another, especially children raised in violent neighborhoods or in disrupted or abusive families, it is important to emphasize that the Sociopaths’s history of such behaviors is more extensive and serious than that of most others, even when compared with those of siblings and friends raised in similar settings.
Early cruelty to animals is usually a sign of serious emotional or behavioral problems. Cruelty to other children—including siblings—is often part of the young Sociopaths’s inability to experience the sort of empathy that checks normal people’s impulses to inflict pain, even when enraged.
Adult antisocial behavior
Sociopaths consider the rules and expectations of society inconvenient and unreasonable, impediments to their inclinations and wishes. They make their own rules, both as children and as adults.
Many of the antisocial acts of Sociopaths lead to criminal convictions. Even within prison populations Sociopaths stand out, largely because their antisocial and illegal activities are more varied and frequent than are those of other criminals.
Not all Sociopaths end up in jail. Many of the things they do escape detection or prosecution, or are on the “shady side of the law.” For them, antisocial behavior may consist of phony stock promotions, questionable business and professional practices, spouse or child abuse, and so forth. Many others do things that, although not illegal, are unethical, immoral or harmful to others: philandering, cheating on a spouse, financial or emotional neglect of family members, irresponsible use of company resources or funds, to name but a few. The problem with behaviors of this sort is that they are difficult to document and evaluate without the active cooperation of family, friends, acquaintances and business associates.
The complete picture
Sociopaths are not the only ones who lead socially deviant lifestyles. For example, many criminals have some of the characteristics described above, but because they are capable of feeling guilt, remorse, empathy and strong emotions, they are not considered Sociopaths. A diagnosis of psychopathy is made only when there is solid evidence that the individual matches the complete profile—that is, has most of the above symptoms.