Christian Bale in American Psycho

How to spot a psychopath at work

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Suspect someone you work with might be a narcissist or a psychopath? Soon you’ll be able to test them without their knowledge.

A team of researchers at Binghamton University has developed a computerized content analysis tool to measure narcissistic and psychopathic traits.

William Spangler, an associate professor in the School of Management at Binghamton, has been developing the program using it on leaders of Fortune 100 companies. He says it should be available for use sometime next year.

“We focused our study on CEOs of world-class businesses to determine if there was a procedure that could be used to identify these traits,” he explained. Perhaps unfairly, one often suspects CEOs of being narcissists and psychopaths (though when you read farther down you’ll find that there might be something to it). “The total sample was 150 CEOs from Fortune 100 Companies and from the Fortune 2010 Best Companies to Work For.”

Also, Spangler tells me in an email that. “‘Psychopathic,’ in this context does not mean the CEOs are psychopaths. It refers to someone who is not particularly empathetic and tends to be socially aggressive.”

According to Business News Daily, Spangler said the program looks for “self-focus” words, such as “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine” and “myself,” then looks for other words related to several personality traits

“For example, one form of narcissism, called confident of grandiose narcissism depends on extraversion, so the program looks for words indicating exaggeration, confidence, enthusiasm, and energy,” Spangler told Business News Daily. “Another statistical program combines the self-focus words with the extraversion words to produce a measure of extraverted or grandiose narcissism.”

According to a press release, the researchers have analyzed nearly 1,800 publicly available transcripts of CEO television interviews, conference calls, and print interviews. Using the program, researchers believe they can identify specific indicators.

“Narcissism, and psychopathy are aspects of maladaptive personality which can have a serious impact upon individuals and those with whom they interact,” said Spangler. “These characteristics affect the decisions leaders make, their relations with others as well as the productivity and culture of their organizations.

“Perhaps the ultimate use of this research may be to encourage boards of directors making hiring decisions, particularly CEOs, to look closely at candidates’ personality characteristics, including traits of psychopathy, grandiose narcissism and covert or defensive narcissism as well as other information such as track records. This study found there is a reliable and valid way to measure these personality tendencies.”

Since it’s not available yet, you’ll have to rely on your own powers of assessment for now.

To get an idea of what makes a narcissist, you can take the Narcissistic Personality Quiz at Psych Central. Then, once you’re sure you’re not one, you can check out the “narcissism traits” listed in section 2 and see if they apply to anyone you know.

Seven traits of a narcissist:

    Authority
    Self-Sufficiency
    Superiority
    Exhibitionism
    Exploitativeness
    Vanity
    Entitlement

Not that you’re a narcissist just because you’re self-sufficient. To learn more, go to the quiz.

Meanwhile, the traits of a psychopath include the following:

    Uncaring
    Irresponsibility
    Overconfidence
    Selfishness
    Inability to plan for the future
    Violence

According to The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, by psychologist Kevin Dutton (via The Week), these jobs are the ones in which psychopaths are most likely to be found:

    Lawyer
    Media (television/radio)
    Salesperson
    Surgeon
    Journalist
    Police Officer
    Clergy
    Chef
    Civil Servant

To see if you’re a psychopath yourself, take Dutton’s Psychopathic Challenge.

See also:

  • The Pinocchio effect: How to spot a liar
  • Four things we decide about a person in four seconds
  • What you can learn from the jerks at work

  • Category: Life At Work,