When I first heard the words ‘corporate psychopathy’, I was intrigued. Psychopathy is one of the most feared mental disorders of the modern world, yet the thought of corporations doesn’t lead anybody to bat an eye. So what is it? To put it simply, corporate psychopathy is that feared mental disorder, but it appears in people as it begins to benefit their work life.

To identify corporate psychopaths, we first need to learn about the general disorder first. The definition of psychopathy is “a mental condition characterized by a deficit of emotional processing, interpersonal relationships and self-regulation.” This means that psychopaths can seem fine when you first see them, but they have shallow feelings. They usually manipulate people to get what they want, and can’t form strong ties with anybody, although it manifests in different people in different ways. Some of them tend to come off as narcissistic: very charming and and over-confident.

  • Psychopaths make up around 1% of the world’s population (livescience)
  • 15%-25% of people in prison meet the criteria of being a psychopath (Psychology Today)

Ok… so now we know what psychopaths are like. Chances are that you’ve met some in real life! Not all of them are dangerous, but we can see a big correlation with criminals and psychopathic minds. This is because major, multi-offence criminals have a ‘job’ that benefits from this disorder: they must be cunning, good con-artists, and be a smooth speaker. Last but not least, they can’t hold ties with anybody (people will usually weigh them down).

Wonder why I’m telling you this? Well, think about it: don’t these characteristics also benefit businessmen? They need to seem calm and collected to their clients, and their main goal is to get a deal that helps them more than it does the other party. If a businessman does their job well, they are most likely ticking off the boxes of this mental disorder.

Some psychopaths can’t control their behaviors, and take their actions too far. But those that can withhold themselves make excellent bosses at work. These behaviors reward them at work, most likely translated into money and stocks. Corporate psychopaths also tend to be harder on they colleagues and workers, because they do not have a ‘regular’ human conscience.

The corporation, like the psychopathic personality it resembles, is programmed to exploit other people for profit.

– Joel Bakan

What other disorders are found in business places? The two other most common personality disorders are Machiavellianism and narcissism. The same personality cannot have both narcissism and psychopathy. This is because a narcissist’s confidence and charm comes from their need for human interaction and experience those emotions. Psychopaths only behave like that for their personal gain. Meanwhile, Machiavellianism is directed to this world’s big leaders in particular: it is when a person manipulates or exploits another to achieve their goals (mainly for political gain). Unlike narcissism, Machiavellianism can co-exist in a personality with psychopathy. All together, these disorders are called the ‘Dark Triad’.

While psychopaths are found as 1% of the world’s population, that number rises to around 4% in bosses, businessmen, and CEOs. Other studies suggest that it actually rises to 21%!

So what should we all take away from this? Well, psychopathy has been subconsciously normalized in our society. Those that have it can benefit greatly. We hear the word and get chills, but the characteristics themselves are so common that sometimes its hard to distinguish from everyday life. When is the last time that you tricked someone into getting what you wanted? Promising that you’ll do something for them next time? (like that last pizza slice you got at the party) But don’t worry, this doesn’t make you a psychopath — it’s just regular human behavior. Basically, we do what it takes to survive: and if psychopathic tendencies help people survive in the business world? Well, what can we say? That’s how the world is. Sigh.

For another take on this subject, see this amazing Ted-talk by Jon Ronson: Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test

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