When Wednesday Addams (as played by Christina Ricci) now famously said in response to being asked what her Halloween costume was, “I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else,” what she was really getting at was what a psychopath really is. While, yes, psychopaths who are serial killers definitely exist, not all psychopaths are serial killers — and, in fact, according to this list of jobs psychopaths are most likely to have, they’re often just, y’know, everyday people. Everyday people with some unique personality traits… but everyday people nonetheless.
The list comes from a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. Written by Kevin Dutton, Ph.D., a research psychologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, and published in 2012, it deals in large part with the idea of what Dutton calls “functional psychopaths” — the people with psychopathic tendencies we’re most likely to encounter in everyday life than, say, the ones who become infamous for committing really heinous crimes. (Hi there, Ted Bundy.) The list of professions in which you’re mostlikely to find psychopaths, which Dutton compiled through a survey he ran called “The Great British Psychopathic Survey,” originally began making the rounds around the time of the book’s publication; since then, it’s continued to pop up again from time to time — and it always inspires some interesting conversations when it does.
While some of the careers on the list are perhaps unsurprising, I do find it a little alarming how many of the others are professions that are ostensibly geared towards helping people. Surgeons, police officers, clergy people — these are the jobs we think of as working for the greater good: Saving lives, keeping order, offering good counsel.
But then again, given the way so many people in these professions seem to behave, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Infact, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by it at all. Maybe it’s something I should have learned to expect by now.
That’s a sobering thought.
This isn’t to say, by the way, that all people working in these jobs are psychopaths; of course they’re not. Psychopaths only make up about one percent of the population, after all, so the takeaway here isn’t “all CEOS are psychopaths,” but rather, psychopaths might be drawn to business as a career. In any event, though, here are the top 10 jobs psychopaths are most likely to have, according to Dutton:
Whole books have been written just on psychopaths incorporate environments; Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare is probably the most well-known of the bunch,but there are plenty out there. (Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test has some particularly interesting stuff on psychopathic CEOs, for example.) And it’s no wonder, really; research published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that people who display the “Dark Triad” personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy are more likely to study business and economics in school.
According to Business Insider, one attorney Dutton interviewed said, “Deep inside me there’s a serial killer lurking somewhere. But I keep him amused with cocaine, Formula One, booty calls, and coruscatingcross-examination.” That is… frightening, to say the least. And, indeed, lines have been drawn by a few people between the Dark Triad traits and con artists, businesspeople, politicians, and — yes — lawyers.
On the plus side, though, if you’re a psychopath, it means you’re also likely fearless and able to withstand large amounts of stress — character traits that stand people in good stead in most workplaces, but particularly in the high-pressure legal field.
3 Media (TV/Radio)
It’s interesting to me that this entry focuses specifically on TV and radio; it doesn’t include, say, those working in print mediums or in film. But, as Andrew Kirell observed at Mediaite in 2013, “TV/media are professions that generally require a great deal of manipulative ‘ladder-climbing,’” which makes their inclusion somewhat unsurprising.
Being a successful salesperson — whether that’s on a smaller retail scale or on a larger corporate one — requires a lot of persistence; interestingly, though, it’s been theorized that one of the reasons that these kinds of jobs attract people with psychopathic tendencies is because of the way they’re advertised to job seekers. Indeed, a job listing for a sales executive that went viral in October of 2016 specifically said it was looking for a “Psychopathic New Business Media Sales Executive.”
Interestingly, surgeons are classified separately from doctors on Dutton’s list — and, in fact, doctors, nurses, care aids, and therapists are among the 10 professions to which psychopaths are least likely to be attracted. So what makes the difference when it comes to surgeons? In a 2014 piece for The Daily Beast, pediatrician Daniel Summers theorized that “the competitiveness and high-stakes environment of a surgeon’s world may be a draw to medical schools’ psychopaths” (while also making sure to note that “the majority of surgeons, no matter where they may rank compared to other professions, don’t have personality disorders”).
The evidence Summers offers is anecdotal, but it’s food for thought all the same; I find it particularly fascinating that out of all his medical school rotation textbooks, he says the only one he had with a “short section devoted entirely to dealing with the sometimes prickly temperaments of those who had entered that field” was the one for surgery.
Ah. There’s the companion to item number three; I’ve been waiting for that proverbial shoe to drop. Over at The Atlantic, however, Lindsay Abrams brings up some important caveats about Dutton’s list in the name of reminding us — as her headline puts it — “Most Journalists Not Actually Psychopaths.” (The same goes for most of the other jobs on this list, too.)
First, Dutton’s survey was somewhat informal; second, most of the 5,500 respondents probably weren’t actually psychopaths, but rather scored highly in some traits associated with psychopathy; and third, that “the same traits that can lead to a diagnosis of psychopath — ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action — can, when kicked into overdrive, be advantageous, especially in certain professions like, say, journalism.” Just, y’know, something to keep in mind.
7 Police Officer
This one is probably the entry that I find the most upsetting, bust also not surprising. It’s hard not to feel discouraged when you see this held up against all of the issues we’ve seen from law enforcement, both in recent years and throughout history.
Another upsetting one. At Psychology Today, Joe Navarro offers some ideas on why religious organizations might be so appealing to predators; among them are the facts that “organizations provide a convenient infrastructure from which a predator can prey on others for financial gain or to otherwise exploit others” and “membership in a legitimate institution, be it a club, a branch of the military, or a corporation, gives legitimacy to individuals.”
To be fair, many traits associated with psychopathy are also the marks of an effective leader; maybe that’s why the restaurant world might attract some psychopaths. Having psychopathic traits doesn’t mean you also can’t appreciate good food. Right?
10 Civil Servant
I mean… insert your own joke about the current state of the government, the political system, etc. here.
They kind of write themselves, don’t they?