Nothing too surprising about that, I suppose -- psychologists have been using checklists to identify mental maladies for decades. But what's particularly interesting is that he used a survey to apply the checklist to CEOs.
Turns out that about four percent of CEOs are psychopaths. But then so is an estimated one percent of the overall population.
The difference is that psychopathy tends to increase with social status, which may go a long way to explaining the likes of Bernie Ebbers, Andy Fastow, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. When I mentioned this at my book club the other night, the general reaction was surprise that the estimate of psycho CEOs wasn't higher.
The psychologist who designed the checklist and came up with the estimate of psychopathy in board rooms is Robert Hare. In his book, Without Conscience: The Psychopaths Among Us , he explains that the part of the brain called the amygdala doesn't function in psychopaths as it does in other human beings.
When regular people see someone in dire straits, their amygdalas become overstimulated, provoking an extreme anxiety response in the central nervous system.
When a psychopath experiences the same stimuli, his amygdala doesn't miss a beat: there is no anxiety response. Psychopaths don't experience empathy.
Empathy -- the experience of tuning in to another's feelings -- is what separates us from psychopaths.
Hare guards the Psychopath Checklist carefully and warns that its use by the untrained is dangerous. But if you want to see if you have what it takes to occupy a corner office -- or if you want to evaluate the current occupant -- there's an online version over at OkCupid.