Staying in good physical and mental health is the goal here at Rogue Health and Fitness, and that goal includes avoiding being the victim of a violent assault (physical health) or getting otherwise involved with a psychopathic predator (mental health). I believe that people should know at least as much about avoiding psychopathic predators as they do do about where the fire extinguisher is located, or how to use a gun: the need may not come around often, but when it does, you want to be prepared.
The problem is that awareness of the psychopaths among us is, in my experience, quite low. Psychopaths constitute at least 1% of the general population, although I’ve read claims of up to 4%. But since more men than women are psychopaths, even at 1% of the population, perhaps double or triple that fraction of them are men.
Psychopaths are manipulative and very adept at hiding who they are, which makes detection of them all the more difficult, and which contributes to the general unawareness of them. Ordinary people are like sheep to the psychopaths’ wolves.
A common misunderstanding is that psychopaths are all violent. While the converse may be close to reality, that really violent men are mostly psychopathic, most psychopaths are not violent, another factor that contributes to lack of awareness.
One huge clue to the presence of a psychopath is pathological lying. Obviously someone may lie to you once or a few times and you can’t detect this; but if you discover a pattern of lying in someone, chances are good you’re dealing with someone on the psychopathic end of the personality spectrum.
Psychopaths, even non-violent ones, typically do so much damage to people’s lives because the ordinary person doesn’t see what’s coming. Normal people have a degree of trust in others that prevents them from seeing the psychopath as someone who should be given a wide berth. It behooves the normal person to understand their nature and how to identify them.
Robert Hare, who has done original work in the study of psychopaths, and is arguably the leading authority on them, has developed a psychopathy checklist. The 20 traits evaluated are the following:
glib and superficial charm
grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
need for stimulation
cunning and manipulativeness
lack of remorse or guilt
shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
callousness and lack of empathy
poor behavioral controls
early behavior problems
lack of realistic long-term goals
failure to accept responsibility for own actions
many short-term marital relationships
revocation of conditional release
In essence, psychopathic predators can come across as socially adept, likable – at least at first – and the life of the party. Even after getting to know them, normal people often have the sense that something is wrong, but they don’t know what, because they aren’t use to thinking in terms of predatory behavior that will never change. Psychopaths, 99% of the time, are not reformable, and normal people who get in their way often spend considerable effort and energy into reforming them, which makes the normal person all the more vulnerable.
Psychopathic criminals are skilled at assessing the vulnerability of potential victims. Psychopathy and Victim Selection: The Use of Gait as a Cue to Vulnerability (full paper here)
Previous research has shown that victims display characteristic body language, specifically in their walking style (Grayson & Stein, 1981). Individuals scoring higher on the interpersonal/affective aspects of psychopathy (Factor 1) are more accurate at judging victim vulnerability simply from viewing targets walking (Wheeler, Book, & Costello, 2009). The present study examines the relation between psychopathy and accuracy in assessing victim vulnerability in a sample of inmates from a maximum security penitentiary in Ontario, Canada. Forty-seven inmates viewed short video clips of targets walking and judged how vulnerable each target was to victimization. Higher Factor 1 psychopathy scores (as measured by the PCL-R; Hare 2003) were positively related to accuracy in judging victim vulnerability. Contrary to research with noninstitutional participants (Wheeler et al., 2009), inmates higher on Factor 1 of psychopathy were more likely to rationalize their vulnerability judgments by mentioning the victim’s gait. Implications of these findings are discussed.
Psychopathic criminals see ordinary people primarily as potential victims, so it seems as if a lifetime of experience hones the skill of choosing victims.
Victim selection in this paper refers specifically to being the victim of a violent assault. It appears that if you do not act like a victim, that is, you walk and talk with confidence and some show of strength, that alone may keep you from being victimized. Psychopaths, like all criminals, prefer soft targets.
You can of course be victimized in other ways, such as financially or in matters of love and sex. The item in Hare’s list called “criminal versatility’ means that psychopaths will do just about anything that they feel like, whether stealing, sexual assault, forging checks, and so on. So you need to watch out for a lot more than violence.
Glibly charming people who lie pathologically or who have been caught stealing should be like a flashing red warning light.
You should steer completely clear of them.