Psychopaths in the workplace

16 10 2011

Ah yes, my favourite topic again.

During the week a psychologist friend sent me some links to a new movie called Fishead, and an app associated with Bob Hare, the “father” of psychopathy, if such a position can be so described.

Hare was the inventor of the Hare Psychopathy Test, which is essentially an inventory of psychopathic symptoms and characteristics. If you score “yes” in enough of these spectrums, then you get the diagnosis. The Fish-head metaphor relates to the old (but ultimately incorrect) saying, that a fish rots from the head down. It refers to when organisations go wrong it is because the leadership has gone wrong – and the propensity of psychopaths to reach the highest levels of corporate life. Apparently they account for approximately 25% of corporate leaders, whereas in all of society they account for about 1%. (Just as a matter of fact, fish actually rot from the guts – all the fluids and bacteria present in the gut mean they turn to soup quickly. And not a soup you would want to consume. Just saying.)

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronsson (same author as “The Men Who Stare at Goats” – clearly he has an interest in nutters) is based on the Hare test.

This book is essentially Jon going on a training course for the Psychopath test, then diagnosing himself and various other people around him, meeting some people diagnosed as psychopaths, and also a couple of corporate “psychopaths” and trying to work out if he would be able to pick them without the training.

Given that one of the characteristics of the psychopath is that they can appear charming and use this as the basis of being manipulative, he of course is unable to pick them. (Don’t worry, I haven’t given away the end of the story!) Although it has to be said that the corporate psychopaths that he meets in particular are far from “normal”, even if you wouldn’t necessarily pick the correct diagnosis.

The book is subtitled “A journey through the madness industry”, and while he does look at psychology and psychiatry, looks at the development of the new DSM IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual version IV) visits with the leadership of Scientology and gets their views on psychiatry generally, it is also worth pointing out that psychopathy is not a form of madness. It is a personality disorder. That means it is intractable and incurable. At least in part because the psychopaths themselves do not want to be cured – for them, this way of operating works (they get what they want out of it). He is however correct that there is an industry around madness, in particular the pharmaceutical industry. For better or worse. For some people this offers blessed relief from horrific and debilitating symptoms.

Jon has recently been in Australia for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, and has also been interviewed on numerous radio programs. So all this is very topical at the moment.

Anyway, if you are interested in this subject, have a look at and/or download the free app from itunes – hours of fun and entertainment can be had diagnosing those around you, and indeed yourself.


Meanwhile, I have also ordered Hare’s book “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us” and another associated with the Fishead website / movie / app: “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work“.

Stay tuned for more updates, no doubt!




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