Mind & Body

The Top 10 Jobs for Psychopaths

From Buffalo Bill to Jason Voorhees, psychopaths in fiction aren't known for holding 9-to-5 jobs. Although there's also Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman, and Norman Bates — they all had a job of some kind. In real life, the workforce is full of psychopaths, and very few of them are violent murderers like you see in the movies. Here are the jobs that experts named the most appealing to the psychopathic personality.

Careers Without Conscience

In Kevin Dutton's "The Wisdom of Psychopaths," the psychologist takes a surprisingly open-minded approach to the roles that psychopaths can play in modern society. In fact, his list reads more like a recommendation to a job-hunting psychopath than a warning to non-psychopaths about the cunning minds in their midst. Which might be for the best; as Harvard psychology professor Joshua Buckholtz put it, "They're not aliens, they're people who make bad decisions." Without further ado, here's Dutton's top ten roundup:

10. Civil servant. Here's something that might surprise you. In 2014, an official from the UK's Home Office suggested that governments should be recruiting psychopaths due to their ability to keep cool in an emergency. Jobs that require a bit of emotional detachment are perfect for psychopaths.

9. Chef. Psychopaths naturally gravitate toward high-power jobs, and if you feel like "chef" doesn't have the same caliber as some other items on this list, then just remember that absolute power is intoxicating, even if it's confined to a single kitchen.

8. Clergy. This might be the most surprising item on the list, but as Joe Navarro at Psychology Today points out, some people are drawn to innocuous-seeming professions specifically to be able to manipulate others. Perhaps that could explain this correlation.

7. Police officer. Psychopaths thrive in unpredictable circumstances and do even better when they can take advantage of socially sanctioned power dynamics. It's easy to understand why becoming a cop would be appealing to the psychopathic mind.

6. Journalist. With a unique combination of charm, ruthlessness, and single-minded purpose, psychopaths are very well suited to chasing down stories, no matter who gets in their way.

5. Surgeon. One study published in The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England discovered that consultants at hospitals ranked more psychopathic than the general population. Those at teaching hospitals ranked higher on the psychopathy scale than those at general hospitals.

4. Salesperson. Sales is a competitive field, and it's one where self-promotion and carefully curated representations of the truth can take you a long way. No wonder so many psychopaths become salesmen and women.

3. Media personality. Psychopathy and narcissism often go hand in hand, so a position that puts a psychopath in front of as many eyes as possible will make them feel very comfortable indeed.

2. Lawyer. In "Confessions of a Sociopath," M.E. Thomas discusses how a lack of empathy gave her a leg-up as an attorney. Confidence and control are key when you're trying to convince a jury, and so is knowing how to manipulate people.

1. CEO. Yup, "American Psycho" got it right. Whether through manipulative tactics, such as causing chaos while staying cool themselves, or simply through their single-minded nature, psychopaths have a strong tendency to become corporate leaders.

Professional vs. Prison-Bound Psychopaths

If you got to the end of that list and started to see psychopaths in all your coworkers — or in yourself — then it will pay to learn what differentiates the kind of psychopath who gets a job from the kind that ends up in prison. A 2010 study led by Stephanie Mullins-Sweatt from the University of Oklahoma, Stillwater, answered that question exactly. They examined two groups of people with psychopathic tendencies: one group had been convicted and sentenced to prison; the other was composed of individuals who had found great success in business. Both scored largely the same on many of the identifying personality traits of psychopaths, including a shallow affect, callousness and lack of remorse, a general lack of empathy, and an ability to be very charming when necessary. In fact, there was only one notable psychopathic trait that didn't seem to express itself in the successful psychopaths: low conscientiousness.

In fact, successful psychopaths showed signs of pretty high conscientiousness, and you could be forgiven for thinking that that would make them less likely to bring harm to other people living in society. However, being more conscientious doesn't necessarily mean you care more about what other people think, just that you are more aware of it. In other words, a conscientious psychopath is one who is better equipped to cover their tracks. Since experts estimate that about one percent of people are psychopaths, chances are pretty good that you'll encounter one in your professional capacity at some point. If you feel like you're dealing with a psychopath, remember to keep your psyche closely guarded. Don't react emotionally to their jibes, don't be intimidated by their aggression, don't buy into their misrepresentations of the world. Keep calm and confident, and you won't be a target for manipulation.

Curious about some of the other positives of psychopathy? Check out Kevin Dutton's "The Wisdom of Psychopaths" for more. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that or any other Amazon link in this article, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

Written by Reuben Westmaas June 6, 2018

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