When we hear the word psychopath we usually think of crazy killers like Hannibal Lector or Ted Bundy. While those two are both remorseless, self aggrandizing, mentally ill guys … there are a lot of less famous and garden variety psychopaths that walk among us today.
What does it mean exactly to be a psychopath? What are the traits? Is there a psychopathic gene?
and for fun … did ANY of the movies get it right?
Let’s dive in at the beginning …
Psychopath Traits and Symptoms
Medically speaking, actual psychopaths are very rare. This term is no longer used by doctors, who now diagnose sociopath and psychopathy behaviors as an antisocial personality disorder.
Antisocial personality disorder is a mental condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others without any remorse. This behavior may cause problems in relationships or at work and is often criminal. – Medline.gov
While rare, people with psychopathic behaviour are in our world.
As illustrated in the video, the top 10 traits of a psychopath are:
- Lack of empathy
- Pathological lying
- Superficial charm
- Lack of remorse
- Proneness to boredom
- Love power and control
So are psychopaths born or made?
The Psychopath Gene
To be clear, no gene can cause people to become a remorseless killer. That said, according to recent studies, one gene in particular IS linked with an increased risk of violent or aggressive behavior.
Known as MAOA (monoamine oxidase A), this “warrior gene” controls the production of a protein that breaks down brain-signaling chemicals like dopamine, noradrenalin, and serotonin, which all influence mood.
People with a variant of the gene, called MAOA-L, produce less of the protein that breaks down these signaling chemicals, which in turn causes them to build up. An excess of these chemicals, scientists believe, leads to impulsive behavior (such as as hypersexuality), sleep disorders, mood swings, and violent tendencies.
Using structural MRI scanning, the study identified that people with MAOA-L were more likely to have a smaller limbic system—the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei and limbic cortex—which participates in emotion, behaviour and long-term memory. (source)
So what does this mean?
It suggests that some people might have a genetic predisposition towards impulsive, violent behaviour.
Does this mean they will all become Hannibal Lector?
But in combination with a lack of love and a stable home life, traumatic childhood experiences or another mental illness … a criminal lifestyle might be the result.
Here is a quick quiz for psychopathy. From the website:
Psych Central quizzes are developed by Dr. John M. Grohol, Psy.D. in conjunction with other psychological researchers, based upon scientific studies and/or the official diagnostic criteria for a disorder.
Psychopath Books: Learn more
Some recommended reading if you’d like to learn more …