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The Wisdom of Psychopaths

What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

By Kevin Dutton
16-minute read
Audio available
The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success  by Kevin Dutton

Not all psychopaths are locked away in maximum-security prisons and mental hospitals. Many of them live among us, in the midst of society. Indeed, a great number of highly successful political and financial leaders exhibit psychopathic traits. This book investigates why they are so successful, what makes them different from psychopathic criminals and what all of us can learn from them.

 

  • Anyone with a general interest in psychology, criminology or popular science
  • Anyone who wants to find out what we can learn from psychopaths and which of their traits could be useful in our professional lives

Kevin Dutton is a researcher at the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science in Oxford. Dutton claims that his own father was a psychopath – one of the reasons he’s so interested in this particular field. In addition to The Wisdom of Psychopaths (2012), he has also published other bestsellers and writes for well-known publications like the Guardian and Psychology Today.

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths

What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

By Kevin Dutton
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success  by Kevin Dutton
Synopsis

Not all psychopaths are locked away in maximum-security prisons and mental hospitals. Many of them live among us, in the midst of society. Indeed, a great number of highly successful political and financial leaders exhibit psychopathic traits. This book investigates why they are so successful, what makes them different from psychopathic criminals and what all of us can learn from them.

 

Key idea 1 of 10

Psychopaths are often charming and intelligent – and know no fears.

We generally associate the term “psychopath” with violent criminals whom we hope have all been arrested and locked up for good. But the fact is that one to two percent of the population could be labeled as “psychopaths,” and by no means all of them are imprisoned or would even deserve to be. So what is it, exactly, that makes someone a psychopath? 

On the surface, psychopaths are extremely engaging most of the time: they’re often very charming, good speakers and entertaining to others – all of which distracts from what’s going on inside them and covers up their “evil” side.

Given their manner, it’s no surprise that so many psychopaths end up occupying high positions – becoming tenured professors, executives, surgeons and mayors.

But what does the inner life of a psychopath look like? Many of them are extremely intelligent, though they lack emotions like fear, shame and guilt. They are mentally agile and shrewd, yet deficient in emotional impulses. 

Researchers have found that psychopaths’ brains exhibit abnormalities in the areas that determine emotions, which explains their lack of fear. In situations where “normal” people would worry – e.g., because they left the gas stove on – psychopaths stay cool and composed.

That can turn out to be an advantage because fear, as an emotion, has lost a great deal of its former significance: when people still had to fear being eaten by saber-toothed tigers, responding to dangers with intense fear was a question of life or death. Today, in a time when saber-toothed tigers aren’t at the top of the list of threats and most of our fears are unjustified, the ability to not experience the paralyzing emotion of fear can mean success.

Psychopaths rarely hesitate, e.g., to take a risk: if they want to do something, they simply do it without being afraid of failure. Which can ultimately lead to time in prison – or to powerful financial and political positions. 

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