Review of the Wisdom of Psychopaths

This is an interesting book. It is written by an academic (25% of the book is notes); the author Kevin Dutton, is a professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford. He does approach the topic with academic rigours and makes a number of pragmatic and very interesting observations. However he admits also that the desire to understand his father, an East End market trader was another (Freudian?) reason for writing the book.
The book begins with a Aristotelian observation ‘There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.’ Dutton argues that there are times when madness can be helpful and psychopathy in particular can confer significant advantages. Dutton then considers a number of successful examples where the emotional detachment of the psychopath is combined with the ability to focus totally on the present. Among these examples are the landing by Armstrong on the moon with only 10 seconds of fuel, bomb disposal experts, SAS assassins, a top surgeon making his first incision and investment banking traders. In times of stress the heart rates of most people rise, for psychopaths it drops.
In the second chapter Dutton tries to fit the psychopath into theories of the personality. starting with the Greeks and moving onto the 16 personality factors of Cattell. However when Dutton tries to map psychopaths onto the Five Factor personality model, he runs into difficulties. It is such a pity Dutton is not familiar with the seven factor 7MTF/Humm-Wadsworth.
Five of seven factors in the Humm match the OCEAN Five Factor model, but it is one the two remaining factors, The Hustler, that includes psychopaths in all their glory. According to the Humm, Hustlers contain some mix of five subcomponents: egocentricity, anti-social tendencies, gambling, cynicism, scheming. Besides their psychopathy, they are Machiavellian and narcissists. According to the Humm model about 15% of the population have a stronger than average Hustler component and they are often successful. Good examples are John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Indeed as Dutton points out corporate psychopaths are successful because their psychopathic traits morph in the characteristics of the influential leader and these traits are not excessive.
Another good section of the book is when Dutton talks about the empathy of psychopaths. Far too many people immediately conclude that empathy and psychopathy are mutually exclusive. Dutton demonstrates that while psychopaths do not have emotional empathy, they certainly have cognitive empathy. Indeed they have superior persuasion and manipulation skills because they can spot emotional weaknesses in other people and can fake emotions (crocodile tears) if they need to.
In the final chapter Dutton examines whether you can become a partial psychopath. He argues that ability to totally disregard the past and future and live only in the present can be taught. He quotes Buddhist monks after years of meditation reaching a stage of only present mindfulness and suggests that we can train people to have cooler heads. Psychopaths have an advantage in that they have a natural talent for ‘coolness under pressure.’
On other hand this book does cover psychopathy in a model psychological framework and for that reason alone is worth a read.


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