Study: Drinking Personalities May Be a Thing

You may have seen articles like “the 23 Types of Drunk People You See on a Night Out,” but can changes to personality traits linked to intoxication from alcohol consumption be empirically categorized? A study in the journal Addiction Research & Theory sought to use the Five-Factor Model of personality as a framework to describe variations in “drunk personality,” identify clusters of personalities, and assess how cluster membership is linked to alcohol-related harms.

A total of 187 undergraduate “drinking buddy” pairs (mean age 18.4) were recruited for the study in which participants completed a survey on demographics, alcohol consumption patterns, alcohol-related consequences (measured with the Young Adult Alcohol Problems Screening Test), and a 50-item scale from Goldberg’s International Personality Item Pool on their own behavior when sober, behavior when drunk, their friend’s behavior when sober, and their friend’s behavior while intoxicated.

Four clusters were identified:


•This was the largest group; only slight changes in behavior were reported when intoxicated
•This group decreased less in Conscientiousness (being prepared, organized, prompt) and Intellect (being imaginative, understanding abstract ideas) than the other groups
•Not associated with experiencing more alcohol-related consequences
•Encapsulates the majority of drinkers that do not undergo drastic changes or experience harm while drinking

2. Mr. Hyde

•This group had larger than average alcohol-related decreases in Conscientiousness, Intellect, and Agreeableness
•Compared to the other groups, this group tended to be less intellectual, more hostile, and less responsible under the influence of alcohol compared to when they are sober
•Only group that was statistically more likely to have alcohol consequences, indicating that they are more likely to incur acute harm (memory blackout, being arrested for drunken behavior) and have less pleasing personality characteristics when they drink

3. Mary Poppins

•14% of the sample were classified in this group
•When sober this group is highly Agreeable; when intoxicated, this group decreases less than average in Conscientiousness, Intellect, and Agreeableness
•This group reported fewer alcohol consequences overall compared to the Mr. Hyde group
•Considered the sweet, responsible drinkers who experience less alcohol-related problems versus those that are most affected

4. The Nutty Professor

•This group tended to be introverted when sober but showed an increase in Extraversion and decrease in Conscientiousness when drunk
•Compared to the other groups, this cluster had the biggest discrepancy between reported sober and drunk five-factor model traits
•However, this group was not associated with having experienced more alcohol-related consequences
•While the personality change for this group was most dramatic, this cluster was not associated with increased harm, possibly due to the fact that the mean drunk levels for these traits, while different from their sober levels, were still within normal range


This is the first empirical investigation into unique personality changes due to intoxication from alcohol consumption. While not all personality types had a risk of experiencing negative consequences from drinking, tempering alcohol consumption is advised for anyone regardless of “drunk personality.”

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18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming — we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind — and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

They ask the big questions.
Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.
Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

A study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where other don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.

Placebos Work Better for Nice People


Having an agreeable personality might make you popular at work and lucky in love. It may also enhance your brain’s built-in painkilling powers, boosting the placebo effect.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina and the University of Maryland administered standard personality tests to 50 healthy volunteers, identifying general traits such as resiliency, straightforwardness, altruism and hostility. Each volunteer then received a painful injection, followed by a placebo—a sham painkiller. The volunteers who were resilient, straightforward or altruistic experienced a greater reduction in pain from the placebo compared with volunteers who had a so-called angry hostility personality trait.

Facebook Preferences Predict Personality Traits

Research shows a strong association between liking “curly fries” on Facebook and having high IQ.

Every day, millions of people click on Facebook “Like” buttons, boldly declaring their preferences for a variety of things, such as books, movies, and cat videos. But those “likes” may reveal more than they intend, such as sexual orientation, drug use, and religious affiliation, according to a study that analyzed the online behavior of thousands of volunteers.

Your preferences define you. Researchers have known for decades that people’s personal attributes—gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and personality type—correlate with their choice of products, concepts, and activities. Just consider the different populations at an opera and a NASCAR race. This is why companies are so eager to gather personal information about their consumers: Advertising is far more effective when it is targeted to groups of people who are more likely to be interested in a product. The only aspect that has changed is the increasing proportion of personal information that is available as digital data on the Internet. And Facebook has become a major hub for such data through its like button. A team led by Michal Kosinski, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom as well as at Microsoft Research, wondered just how much people’s likes reveal about them.

The Likes data are public information. The hard part was getting the data on intelligence and other such attributes to compare with the likes. For that, Kosinski and his Cambridge colleague David Stillwell created a Facebook app called myPersonality. After agreeing to volunteer as a research subject, users of the myPersonality app answer survey questions and take a series of psychological tests that measure things such as intelligence, competitiveness, extraversion versus introversion, and general satisfaction with life. Kosinski and Stillwell not only get those data but also data from the user’s Facebook profile and friends network. In return, users get a peek at their own information. More than 4 million people have volunteered already.

The researchers used data from 58,000 U.S.-based myPersonality volunteers to build a statistical model. Then, they used a sample of myPersonality volunteers to test how well the model could predict personal attributes from likes.

Facebook likes are an amazingly good predictor of personal attributes, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The most accurate predictions were for gender (93%) and race (95%), as limited to Caucasian versus African American. But people’s likes also predicted far more sensitive personal attributes such as homosexuality (88% for men, 75% for women), religion (82%), political party membership (85%), and even use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs (73%, 70%, and 65%, respectively). Many of the likes that had the strongest prediction power make intuitive sense, such as “Jesus” for Christians and “Glee” for gay men. But others were harder to explain, such as the strong association between liking “curly fries” and having high IQ.

“What was traditionally laboriously assessed on an individual basis can be automatically inferred for millions of people without them even noticing,” Kosinski says, “which is both amazing and a bit scary.”

Science NOW contacted Facebook’s in-house social scientists about the work. The study’s results are “hardly surprising,” the company contends in their official response. “On Facebook, people can share the things they like—like bands, brands, sports teams, public figures, etc. By using Login with Facebook on third party sites, people can take their Likes and interests with them around the web—to have more personalized experiences.”

“I am glad that Facebook is aware that likes allow predicting individual traits,” Kosinski says. “I am afraid, however, that users [of Facebook and other online environments] do not realize that by ‘carrying around’ their likes, songs they listen to, Web sites they visit, and other kinds of online behavior, they are exposed to a degree potentially well beyond what they expect or would find comfortable.”

Whether people are comfortable, advertisers are sure to start paying attention to what they like, now that a Rosetta stone exists for translating it into personal data.

Wisdom from psychopaths?


Adapted from The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success, by Kevin Dutton, by arrangement with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC (US), Doubleday Canada (Canada), Heinemann (UK), Record (Brazil), DTV (Germany), De Bezige Bij (Netherlands), NHK (Japan), Miraebook (Korea) and Lua de Papel (Portugal). Copyright © 2012 Kevin Dutton

“Got anything sharp?” the woman at reception barks, as I deposit the entire contents of my briefcase—laptop, phone, pens—into a clear, shatter-resistant locker in the entrance hall. “Now place the index finger of your right hand here and look up at the camera.”

Once you pass through border control at Broadmoor, the best-known high-security psychiatric hospital in England, you are immediately ushered into a tiny air lock, a glass-walled temporary holding cell between reception and the hospital building proper, while the person you are visiting—in my case, a psychologist assigned to escort me to my destination—gets buzzed by reception and makes his way over to meet you.

It’s a nervy, claustrophobic wait. As I sit flicking through magazines, I remind myself why I’m here—an e-mail I had received a couple of weeks after launching the Great British Psychopath Survey, in which I tested people in different professions for psychopathic traits. One of the survey’s respondents, a barrister by trade, had written to me. He had posted a score that certainly got my attention.

“I realized from quite early on in my childhood that I saw things differently than other people,” he wrote. “But more often than not, it’s helped me in my life. Psychopathy (if that’s what you want to call it) is like a medicine for modern times. If you take it in moderation, it can prove extremely beneficial. It can alleviate a lot of existential ailments that we would otherwise fall victim to because our fragile psychological immune systems just aren’t up to the job of protecting us. But if you take too much of it, if you overdose on it, then there can, as is the case with all medicines, be some rather unpleasant side effects.”

The e-mail had got me thinking. Might this eminent criminal defense lawyer have a point? Was psychopathy a “medicine for modern times”? The typical traits of a psychopath are ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action. Who wouldn’t at certain points in their lives benefit from kicking one or two of these up a notch?

I decided to put the theory to the test. As well as meeting the doctors in Broadmoor, I would talk with some of the patients. I would present them with problems from normal, everyday life, the usual stuff we moan about at happy hour, and see what their take on it was. Up until now it had seemed like a good idea.

“Professor Dutton?” I look up to see a blond guy in his mid-30s peering around the door at me. “Hi, I’m one of the clinical leads at the Paddock Center. Welcome to Broadmoor! Shall I take you over?”

The Paddock Center is an enclosed, highly specialized personality disorder directorate comprising six 12-bedded wards. Around 20 percent of the patients housed there at any one time are what you might call “pure” psychopaths. These are confined to the two Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) wards. The rest present with so-called cluster disorders: clinically significant psychopathic traits, accompanied by traits typically associated with other personality disorders—borderline, paranoid and narcissistic, for example. Or they may have symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations indicative of psychosis.

Suddenly, reality dawns. This is no drop-in center for the mocha-sipping worried well. This is the conscienceless inner sanctum of the Chianti-swilling unworried unwell—the preserve of some of the most sinister neurochemistry in the business. The Yorkshire Ripper is in here. So is the Stockwell Strangler. It’s one of the most dangerous buildings on earth.

We emerge from the mazy, medicinal bowels of the hospital to the right of a large, open-air enclosure, topped off with some distinctly uncooperative razor wire. “Er … I am going to be all right, aren’t I?” I squeak.

My guide grins. “You’ll be fine,” he says. “Actually trouble on the DSPD wards is relatively rare. Psychopathic violence is predominantly instrumental, a direct means to a specific end. Which means, in an environment like this, that it’s largely preventable. And in the event that something does kick off, easily contained.

“Besides,” he adds, “it’s a bit late to turn back now, isn’t it?”

Getting to Know the Locals

We enter one of Broadmoor’s ultrasequestered DSPD wards. My first impression is of an extremely well appointed student residence hall. All blond, clean-shaven wood. Voluminous, freshly squeezed light. There’s even a pool table, I notice. A man named Danny shoots me a glance from behind his Nintendo Wii. Chelsea are 2–0 up against Manchester United. “We are the evil elite,” Danny says. “Don’t glamorize us. But at the same time, don’t go the other way and start dehumanizing us, either.”

Larry, a gray, bewhiskered, roly-poly kind of guy, takes a shine to me. Dressed in a Fair Isle sweater and beige, elasticized slacks, he looks like everyone’s favorite uncle. “You know,” he says, as he shakes my hand, “they say I’m one of the most dangerous men in Broadmoor. Can you believe that? But I promise you, I won’t kill you. Here, let me show you around.”
Larry escorts me to the far end of the ward, where we stop to take a peek inside his room. It looks like a typical single-occupancy hospital room, though with a few more creature comforts such as a computer, desk space, and a raft of books and papers on the bed. Next is the garden: a sunken, gray-bricked patio affair, about the size of a tennis court, interspersed with benches and conifers. We then drop in on Jamie.

“This guy’s from Cambridge University,” announces Larry, “and he’s in the middle of writing a book on us.”

Jamie stands up and heads us off at the door. A monster of a man at around 6′2″, with char-grilled stubble and a piercing cobalt stare, he has the brooding, subsatanic presence of the lone, ultraviolent killer. The lumberjack shirt and shaven, wrecking-ball head don’t exactly help matters.

“So what’s this book about, then?” he growls, in a gangsterish Cockney whisper, arms folded in front of him, left fist jammed under his chin. “Same old bollocks, I suppose? Lock ’em up and throw away the key? You know, you’ve got no idea how vindictive that can sound at times. And, might I add, downright hurtful. Has he, Larry?”

Larry guffaws theatrically and clasps his hands to his heart in a Shakespearean display of angst. Jamie, meanwhile, dabs at imaginary tears.

“I happen to think that you guys have got something to teach us,” I say. “A certain personality style that the rest of us can learn from. In moderation, of course. That’s important. Like the way, just now, you shrugged off what people might think of you. In everyday life, there’s a level on which that’s actually quite healthy.”

Jamie seems quite amused by the idea that I might be soliciting his advice. “Are you saying that me and Larry here have just got too much of a good thing?”

Back at other end of the ward, Danny has just been named Man of the Match. “I see he hasn’t killed you, then,” he says casually. “You going soft in your old age, Larry?”

I laugh. More than a little nervously, I realize. But Larry is deadly serious.

“Hey,” he says insistently. “You don’t get it, do you, boy?” He looks at me. “I said I wouldn’t kill you. And I didn’t, right?”

And it hits me that Larry may not have been bluffing. The curtain comes down on the football game. Danny zaps it off. He leans back in his chair.

“So a book, eh?” he says.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m interested in the way you guys solve problems.”

Danny eyes me quizzically. “What kind of problems?” he asks.

“Everyday problems,” I say, and I tell him about some friends of mine who were trying to sell their house.

Ruthless People

How to get rid of an unwanted tenant? That was the question for Don and his wife, Fran, whose elderly mother, Flo, had just moved in with them. Flo had lived in her previous house for 47 years, and now that she no longer needed it, Don and Fran had put it on the market. Being in an up-and-coming area of London, the house had drawn quite a bit of interest. But there was also a problem. The tenant. Who wasn’t exactly ecstatic at the prospect of hitting the road.

Don and Fran had already lost out on one potential sale because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pack his bags. But how to get him out?

“I’m presuming we’re not talking violence here,” inquires Danny. “Right?”

“Right,” I say. “We wouldn’t want to end up inside now, would we?”

Danny gives me the finger. But the very fact that he asks such a question at all debunks the myth that violence, for psychopaths, is the only club in the bag.

“How about this, then?” rumbles Jamie. “With the old girl up at her in-laws, chances are the geezer’s going to be alone in the house, yeah? So you pose as some bloke from the council, turn up at the door and ask to speak to the owner. He answers and tells you the old dear ain’t in. Okay, you say. Not a problem. But have you got a forwarding contact number for her, cuz you need to speak to her urgently?

“By this stage he’s getting kind of curious. What’s up? he asks, a bit wary, like. Actually, you say, quite a lot. You’ve just been out front and taken a routine asbestos reading. And guess what? The level’s so high it makes Chernobyl look like a health spa. The owner of the property needs to be contacted immediately. A structural survey has to be carried out. And anyone currently living at the address needs to vacate the premises until the council can give the all clear.

“That should do the trick. With a bit of luck, before you can say ‘slow, tortuous death from lung cancer,’ the wanker will be straight out the door.”

Jamie’s elegant, if rather unorthodox, solution to Don and Fran’s stay-at-home tenant conundrum certainly had me beat. The idea of getting the guy out so sharpish as to render him homeless and on the streets just simply hadn’t occurred to me. And yet, as Jamie quite rightly pointed out, there are times in life when it’s a case of the “least worst option.” Interestingly, he argues that it’s actually the right thing to do.

“Why not turf the bastard out?” he asks. “I mean, think about it. You talk about ‘doing the right thing.’ But what’s worse, from a moral perspective? Beating someone up who deserves it? Or beating yourself up who doesn’t? If you’re a boxer, you do everything in your power to put the other guy away as soon as possible, right? So why are people prepared to tolerate ruthlessness in sport but not in everyday life? What’s the difference?”
Winning Smiles

Jamie’s solution to Don and Fran’s tenant problem carries undertones of ruthlessness. Yet as Danny’s initial qualification of the dilemma quite clearly demonstrates—“I’m presuming we’re not talking violence here, right?”—such ruthlessness need not be conspicuous. The dagger of hard-nosed self-interest may be concealed, rather deftly, under a benevolent cloak of opaque, obfuscatory charm.

Psychopaths’ capacity for charm is, needless to say, well documented. As is their ability to focus and “get the job done.” It’s a powerful, and smart, combination.

Leslie, another inmate, has joined us and has a rather nice take on charm: “The ability to roll out a red carpet for those you cannot stand in order to fast-track them, as smoothly and efficiently as possible, in the direction you want them to go.”
With his coiffured blond locks and his impeccable cut-glass accent, he looks, and sounds, like a dab hand. He also has a good take on focus, especially when it comes to getting what you want. Leslie realized from a rather young age that what went on in his head obeyed a different set of operating principles than most.

“When I was a kid at school, I tended to avoid fisticuffs,” he tells me. “You see, I figured out pretty early on that, actually, the reason why people don’t get their own way is because they often don’t know themselves where that way leads. They get too caught up in the heat of the moment and temporarily go off track.

“Jamie was talking about boxing there a minute ago. Well, I once heard a great quote from one of the top trainers. He said that if you climb into the ring hell-bent on knocking the other chap into the middle of next week, chances are you’re going to come unstuck. But if, on the other hand, you concentrate on winning the fight, simply focus on doing your job, well, you might just knock him into the middle of next week anyway.”

The triumvirate of charm, focus and ruthlessness can predispose someone for long-term life success. Take Steve Jobs. Jobs, commented journalist John Arlidge shortly after the Apple chief’s death in 2011, achieved his cult leader status “not just by being single-minded, driven, focused … perfectionistic, uncompromising, and a total ball-breaker.” In addition, Arlidge noted, he had charisma. He would, as technology writer Walt Mossberg revealed, drape a cloth over a product—some pristine creation on a shiny boardroom table—and uncover it with a flourish.

Apple isn’t the world’s greatest techno innovator. Far from it. It wasn’t the first outfit to introduce a personal computer (IBM), nor the first to introduce a smartphone (Nokia). What Jobs brought to the table was style. Sophistication. And timeless, technological charm.

Apple’s setbacks along the road to world domination serve as a cogent reminder of the pitfalls and stumbling blocks that await all of us in life. Everyone, at some point or other, leaves someone on the floor, so to speak, and there’s a pretty good chance that that someone, today, tomorrow or at some other auspicious juncture down the line, is going to turn out to be you.

Neural Steel

Psychopaths, lest Jamie and the boys have yet to disabuse you, have no problem whatsoever facilitating others’ relationships with the floor. But they’re also pretty handy when they find themselves on the receiving end. And such inner neural steel, such inestimable indifference in the face of life’s misfortunes, is something that all of us, perhaps, could do with a little bit more of.

Studies of psychopaths have even revealed a brain signature for this relative indifference to setbacks. Anthropologist James Rilling of Emory University and his co-workers scanned the brains of those scoring high in psychopathy after these individuals experienced having their own attempts to cooperate unreciprocated. The scientists discovered that, compared with “nicer,” more equitable participants, the psychopaths exhibited significantly reduced activity in the brain’s emotion hub, the amygdala. This diminished activity, suggestive of a muted emotional reaction, could be considered a neural trademark of “turning the other cheek,” a response that can sometimes manifest itself in rather unusual ways.

“When we were kids,” Jamie chimes in, “we’d have a competition. See who could get the most elbows (rejections) on a night out. You know, from girls, like. The bloke who’d got the most by the time the lights came on would get the next night out for free.

“Course, it was in your interest to rack up as many as possible, right? A night on the piss with everything taken care of by your mates? Sorted! But the funny thing was, soon as you started to get a few under your belt, it actually got f— harder. Soon as you realize that it actually means jack, you start getting cocky. You start mouthing off. And some of the birds start to buy it!”

The Feel-Good Emergency

Mental toughness and fearlessness often go hand in hand. Of course, to many of us lesser mortals, fearlessness may seem quite foreign. But Leslie explains the rationale behind this state—and how he maintains it. “The thing about fear, or the way I understand fear, I suppose—because, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it—is that most of the time it’s completely unwarranted anyway. What is it they say? Ninety-nine percent of the things people worry about never happen. So what’s the point?

“I think the problem is that people spend so much time worrying about what might happen, what might go wrong, that they completely lose sight of the present. They completely overlook the fact that, actually, right now, everything’s perfectly fine.

“So the trick, whenever possible, I propose, is to stop your brain from running on ahead of you.”

Leslie’s pragmatic endorsement of the principles and practices of what might otherwise be described as mindfulness is typical of the psychopath. A psychopath’s rapacious proclivity to live in the moment, to “give tomorrow the slip and take today on a joyride” (as Larry, rather whimsically, puts it), is well documented—and at times can be stupendously beneficial. In fact, anchoring your thoughts unswervingly in the present is a discipline that psychopathy and spiritual enlightenment have in common. Clinical psychologist Mark Williams of the University of Oxford, for example, incorporates this principle of centering in his mindfulness-based cognitive-behavior therapy program for sufferers of anxiety and depression.
“Feeling good is an emergency for me,” Danny had commented as he’d slammed in his fourth goal for Chelsea on the Wii. Living in the moment, for him and many psychopaths, takes on a kind of urgency. “I like to ride the roller coaster of life, spin the roulette wheel of fortune, to terminal possibility.”

A desire to feel good in the here and now, shrugging off the future, can be taken to an extreme, of course. But it’s a goal we could all perhaps do with taking onboard just a little bit more in our lives.

“Settle in okay?” my guide inquires as we jangle back to clinical psychology suburbia. I smile.


KEVIN DUTTON is a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Center for Evolution and Human Sciences at Magdalen College, University of Oxford. He is author of Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and New Science of Changing Minds (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

(Further Reading)

The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Reinterpret the So-Called Psychopathic Personality. Hervey M. Cleckley. C. V. Mosby, 1941.

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us. Robert D. Hare. Guilford Press, 1999.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare. Regan Books, 2006.

Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy. Jennifer L. Skeem, Devon L. L. Polaschek, Christopher Patrick and Scott O. Lilienfeld in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 12, No. 3, pages 95–162; December 2011.

Take part in the Great American Psychopath Survey and learn much more about psychopaths at Dutton’s Web site: