Most Journalists Not Actual Psychopaths

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A list of the occupations most likely to attract psychopaths -- which spread around last week -- consists of interesting observations, but not clinical diagnoses. 

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grafixtek/Flickr

The list is making the rounds: CEOs, lawyers, and people in the media are the most likely to be psychopaths. Ranking in at sixth are journalists, a nugget that MediaBistro latched on to last weekend.

It was hard not to detect just a little bit of pride in the post and in the hordes of journalists who Tweeted the headline, "Journalism is Among Top 10 Occupations Most Likely to Attract Psychopaths."

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It's a fun read, and will surely launch a thousand debates over why surgeons are likely to be psychopaths while doctors are likely not to be, along with some uneasy feelings about what police officers and clergypeople are doing on the list. It's also a great bit of viral marketing for psychologist Kevin Dutton, of the University of Oxford, who developed the list for his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. (There's one more for you, Kev.)

A few caveats are in order, though. First of all, the results come from what Dutton touts as the "Great British Psychopath Survey," which he hosted on his personal website. So, not the most formal of methodologies. I asked him about it, and he told me he received about 5,500 respondents. A sizeable sample, but keep in mind that most (probably) weren't actual psychopaths -- they just scored high for a number of traits that, in their extreme, are associated with psychopathy.

In his book, Dutton writes about how the same traits that can lead to a diagnosis of psychopathy -- ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action -- can, when kicked into overdrive, be advantageous, especially in certain professions like, say, journalism. For example, a tendency to live in the moment means you'll never procrastinate, a huge boon when under the pressures of a 24-hour news cycle.

They key, he also says, is context -- people who have too many of these traits dialed up at once are the makings of Hannibal Lecter, not business tycoons. Unfortunately, Dutton said the survey didn't leave him with any way of understanding how his respondents were calibrated. We can only speculate about which traits are making it possible for the people on the list to do their specific jobs well. And we can only pray that none of them scored too highly for all seven.

Finally, we can only say that journalists, chefs, salespeople, and civil servants are mostly likely to be psychopaths in England -- for the U.S.-centric list, we'll have to wait until Dutton completes the Great American Psychopath Survey. According to Dutton, it's going to featured more detailed information about demographics, so we'll also know which states and political parties are most likely to attract psychopaths.

If you're okay with putting that information out there, you can participate at the link above by indicating how much you agree with certain statements, like:

  • Success is based on survival of the fittest: I am not concerned about the losers
  • For me, what's right is whatever I can get away with
  • Love is overrated.

Still feeling proud, journos?

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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