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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of âmadnessâ along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.
Dutton argues that there are indeed âfunctional psychopathsâ among usâdifferent from their murderous counterpartsâwho use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more âpsychopathicâ people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the worldâs most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.
As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focusedâqualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that itâs our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success. Â
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There are interesting references to studies as to the why and how of being a psychopaths.
I would agree that certain psychopathic behaviors are, arguably, more well-suited for our modern society. For example, the average person generally fears rejection by the others; the psychopath does not. The average person might dwell and feel defeated by failures; the psychopath does not. The average person's behaviors made more sense when we lived in small, tight-knit social groups where reputation was everything; when we lived in areas where threat of ambush by a predator was immediate and so mistakes were deadly. But it is arguable the psychopath's behaviors are more suited in the world we live in now: large cities where we pass by countless strangers we will never meet again; where all predators have been eradicated so mistakes are less costly.
However, the author's admiration of many of the psychopathic traits is too palpable and a turn off. The book would have been more enjoyable if only the author wrote in a more clinical fashion.
But I could not stand the breathless, pop-psychology writing style of the author. There were too many rhymes, puns, and silly witticisms. It was distracting. I would have liked this book more if it did not talk down to its audience, assuming that the reader needs all this "entertainment" to keep reading. It should have been written in a more sober and scholarly way, given the serious subject matter.
Anyway, the one annoying side of this book is that it is written in a very pop-y, self-conscious voice. The subject matter speaks for itself, yet the author feels it necessary to interject annoyingly unnecessary metaphors and turns of phrase that seem to be there solely for the sake of making the reader see just how hip he is. That detracted from the book. If not for that, I'd give it a solid 5 stars, because it is one of the more insightful psychology books I've read in awhile.
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 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.
Is it wrong to add another component to the Five Factor Theory? As Dutton himself points out even Eysenk added Psychopathy as a third trait to his original two trait model of Extroversion and Neuroticism.
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.' I would consider this chapter the weakest.
On other hand this book does cover psychopathy in a model psychological framework and for that reason alone is worth a read.