17 Aug

An Investigator’s Guide to the Corporate Psychopath: Part 1 of 3

Part 1: Introduction to the Psychopath

Have you ever been on a diet and immediately regretted something you ate?  Can you recall a time where you felt guilty telling a little white lie to protect a friend or a spouse’s feelings? Was there ever a time you had to apologize for the way you acted?  Maybe you can remember a time where you took a guilty pleasure in getting back at someone who took credit for your work?  If there were a way for you to forever forego these pangs of regret, guilt, and heartbreak, would you be interested?

Choosing to forego the preceding emotions will affectively remove your conscious and allow you to feel what it’s like to be a psychopath. People tend to toss around the term psychopath to explain deviant behavior, but the categorization is often erroneous. While there are plenty of psychopaths who match the stereotype as well as many who are incarcerated, there are also a number of psychopaths who are able to negotiate everyday life.  By themselves, psychopaths represent approximately 15-20% of North America’s prison population but account for about 50% of the serious and violent crimes committed in North America.[1]  In addition, recidivism is extremely high for psychopaths who engage in criminality. The one commonality between the different psychopaths is that they are incapable of feeling emotions such as empathy, regret, and guilt.

The prevailing perception that psychopaths are the same as sociopaths is incorrect.  Psychopathy has been diagnosed as a personality disorder with the afflicted unable to experience emotions such as guilt, regret, and love.  Sociopathy is not a diagnosed psychiatric condition but rather, is a pattern of attitudes and behaviors that are considered anti-social. A sociopath is considered capable of empathy and other emotions but their social sub-culture and group norms establish their sense of right and wrong. [2]

This is a very important distinction for the investigator.  Since psychopaths are incapable of feeling certain meaningful emotions.  Investigators, who attempt to establish empathy with a psychopath, will never be successful.  However, it is common for investigators to perceive they have established rapport through empathetic efforts because the psychopath is very capable of exhibiting the verbal and non-verbal cues the investigator will expect to hear and see.  In a study conducted by psychologist Stephen Porter, psychopaths were able to fake emotions and make it appear they were responding appropriately to the situation.  “”They (psychopaths) were as good as volunteers who scored high on emotional intelligence.”[3]  Therefore, investigators cannot assume that they will be able to immediately recognize the lack of emotion in the psychopath because of their ability to make it appear that they respond to emotional situations just like anyone else.

One of the diagnostic tests to determine psychopathy is the PCL-R.  This test was developed by psychologist Robert Hare and uses a series of questions to determine the level of psychopathy using a scale of 0 to 40.  Most people, if asked to take the PCL-R, would score around 2.  A psychopath would have a score over 27 with more extreme psychopaths scoring in the 30’s.[4]

Further, three distinct sub-types of psychopaths have been identified.  In the classic style, the psychopath scores high on each dimension measured which are categorized in domains identified as interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and anti-social.  The manipulative style psychopath scores very well in the interpersonal and affective domains but not as well on the lifestyle and anti-social domains.  Finally, the macho style psychopath scores high in the affective, lifestyle and anti-social domains but lower in the interpersonal domain.  Contrasting the styles, the manipulative style psychopath has better self-control and is more adept at manipulating others as compared to the macho style psychopath who is more aggressive, abrasive and violent.[5]  All three types of psychopath roam freely, often unchecked, in corporate environments today.

The Internet has provided unlimited opportunities for all types of psychopaths but corporations are still the vehicles that are the most attractive, especially for manipulative style psychopaths.  Where else can a psychopath obtain the power, prestige and large amounts of money that he/she so desires?  In a competitive organization with a number of employees trying to rise to executive positions, psychopaths have inherent advantages.

With no conscious, psychopaths have no issues manipulating others, taking risks, disregarding rules, and exploiting other’s emotions.  Corporate tasks such as downsizing, negotiating one-sided deals, risk-taking, and bullying others are sometimes seen as positive traits for leaders in large corporations. Instead of a disruptive force, the psychopath is seen as a mover and shaker willing to do anything to help the organization achieve its’ goals.  The more success a psychopath has, the more willing other people are to overlook certain behaviors exhibited by the psychopath.  In reality, the psychopath is only there to serve himself/herself.

An investigator who interviews executives and inquires about the psychopath shouldn’t be surprised to hear glowing references to the psychopath’s perceived abilities.  What the executives fail to realize, because of the psychopath’s skill in interpersonal relations, is that the psychopath has been living and promoting off of other people’s work and ideas.  “While they may come across as ambitious – a trait they will play up – they actually have few long-range goals of any consequence, relying more on their ability to seize an opportunity that interests them at any given moment and then weave it into the story they tell others.”[6]

According to Hare and others, corporate executives who possess psychopathic traits are estimated to be between 3 and 25%, which is significantly higher than the general population, which is estimated at 1%.[7]  In a study conducted by Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, took three groups – business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals – and compared how they fared on a psychological profiling test.  The results showed that psychopathic attributes were more prevalent in the business managers than in the other groups.  The main difference between the groups was the business managers scored lower in the anti-social areas of the test.[8]

Compared to extreme psychopaths, many of the manipulative style will score lower than their classic and macho counterparts.  A manipulative psychopath may have a PCL-R score in the mid to high 20’s, which can contribute to higher levels of self-control. Despite the potential to have higher levels of self-control, the presence of a psychopath in your organization almost guarantees that some kind of fraud is being committed.

A major US retailer was the leading brand in its industry.  Although the retailer had been in a rut struggling against competitors and making a few bad acquisitions, the retailer was still in a position of dominance when a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was appointed. The CEO was selected after he led his team to the biggest acquisition ever recorded in that industry.

As soon as the new CEO took over, he replaced every single executive in the corporation with people he could control. Under the guidance of the new CEO, the corporation chased riskier and riskier deals, which significantly impacted operational performance but continued making news headlines. At the same time they were pursuing these acquisitions, the CEO and his counterparts were raiding the corporate bank account using it to fund personal expenses such as luxury vacations, remodeling extravagant estates, and disclose these personal expenses on the corporate accounting records so he manipulated his followers into creating fraudulent accounting entries and transactions to make it appear the corporation was earning a profit, when in fact, they were suffering huge losses.

When the fraud was eventually discovered, the CEO blamed others for the problem and was able to collect a multi-million dollar golden parachute as well as significant debt forgiveness from the corporation.  Today, this same individual is working as an executive in another corporation most likely plotting, sabotaging and manipulating as you read this.  (Note:  This story is real but identifying details were left out in order to protect innocent people.  In addition, this person has not officially been diagnosed as a psychopath but the traits exhibited make a diagnosis of psychopathy possible.)

Having a conscious allows us to experience a world of emotions and these feelings affect our decisions.  Psychopaths know this and have no problem taking advantage of how our emotions can control us at times. Corporate goals frequently clash with emotions involved with the human conscious in that corporations tend to put people at risk to make a profit, manipulate public opinion, aren’t always truthful and do not show guilt or remorse.[9]  A psychopath is uniquely built to excel in these areas. Emotions are part of our conscious and even if we wanted to, we could not just toss our feelings to the side when making our decisions.  A psychopath will try to convince the investigator that he/she is feeling the same emotions as others, but if an investigator peeks behind the curtain, they will see that the effort has no substance behind it.  If you were to review your activities over the last few days, chances are you had multiple occasions where you interacted with psychopaths without even knowing it.



While there are only 1% of the general population estimated to be psychopaths, instances of psychopathy in corporate management ranges from 3 – 25%.  Why are psychopaths not only drawn to the corporate world, but how are they able to succeed?

[1] Hare, R. & Babiak, P. (2006).  Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, HarperCollins, New York, NY.

[2] Carozza, D. (2008).  Identifying Psychopathic Fraudsters, Fraud Magazine, July/August 2008.  Taken from the Internet on September 15, 2016 at https://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=404

[3] Dutton, K. (2012).  The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, Scientific American, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY.

[4] Dutton, K. (2012).  The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, Scientific American, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, New York, NY.

[5] Hare, R. & Babiak, P. (2006).  Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, HarperCollins, New York, NY.

[6] Hare, R. & Babiak, P. (2006).  Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, HarperCollins, New York, NY.

[7] Williams, R. (2013) Why Are There More Psychopaths In the Boardroom?, December 3, 2013.  Taken from the Internet on September 15, 2016 at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201312/why-are-there-more-psychopaths-in-the-boardroom

[8] Dutton, K. (2012).  The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, Scientific American, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY.

[9] Pardue, A. (2011) Psychopathy and Corporate Crime, Thesis for Appalachian State University, Department of Justice and Government Studies, August 2011.  Taken from the Internet on September 8, 2016 at https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/asu/f/Pardue,%20Angela_2011_Thesis.pdf