Previous month:
April 2011
Next month:
June 2011

Chief Psychopathic Officer?

PsychopathA Canadian psychologist, has developed a checklist to cull psychopaths from the rest of us.  

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.







Anger and polarization

Anger_management I delivered the manuscript for Otherwise just yesterday.

Now I'm already stumbling across information I wish I had included in the book.

So this blog will now become a supplement of sorts to a book that won't be out until early next year. 

A good example is an article by Lee Drutman over at Miller-McCune.  It summarizes research on the role anger plays in political discourse.

To sum up his findings: much anger is rooted in fear.  It resolves feelings of uncertainty by finding someone to blame and lashing out at them.

Anger is a strong motivator to action, but it also tends to close down the ability to absorb new information that could mitigate the threat that evoked fear and anger in the first place.

Anger might engage and mobilize people, but it also polarizes them and promotes a politics of blame.

To be Otherwise, we have to understand the emotional roots of people's apparent pig-headedness.  

In Drutman's words "the answer is to spend more time acknowledging the complexities and ambiguities of public problems, trying to reduce certainty and blaming that leads to anger."