While Hollywood often portrays psychopaths as serial killers, not all psychopaths are that evil. Many of them exhibit psychopathic traits to a much lesser degree.
In fact, you've likely encountered a few psychopaths in real life. Psychopaths are actually quite common in the corporate world.
While about 1 percent of the general population exhibits psychopathic traits, about 3 percent of business leaders scored in the psychopathic range in a 2010 study published in Behavioral Sciences & the Law. By comparison, about 15 percent of the U.S. prison population meet the criteria for being psychopaths.
Before you can spot a psychopath, you have to understand what that really means. Psychopath isn't an actual medical diagnosis. Psychopaths--along with sociopaths--fall under the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.
Antisocial personality disorder may stem from a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Far more men than women meet the criteria. Symptoms tend to peak during the early 20s and sometimes improve on their own during the 40s.
Even for a trained therapist, psychopaths aren't always easy to spot. They're often quite likable--at least initially. But over time, their true nature becomes increasingly apparent.
Here are five telltale signs you're dealing with a psychopath:
1. They're extremely charming.
Psychopaths are almost always well-liked. They come across as delightful people who are great at making small talk. Their quick wit tends to draw people to them.
They usually have interesting stories as well. Their convincing tales portray them in a favorable, yet believable light. People walk away from conversations with a psychopath feeling pretty good.
2. They don't experience any remorse.
A lack of guilt might be the first red flag that signals someone might be a psychopath. Psychopaths don't accept any responsibility for hurting other people's feelings. Instead, they blame other people and deny any responsibility.
A psychopath may say someone "deserved" to be treated poorly. Or, they may shrug off reports that they offended someone by saying things like, "Well, she just needs to be less sensitive" or "Oh, well, guess she can't handle the truth." They aren't capable of feeling any genuine remorse.
3. They're really arrogant.
Psychopaths have an inflated sense of importance. Much like narcissists, they think the usual laws and rules don't apply to them.
They also tend to have grandiose ideas about their potential. They believe they deserve to be the CEO or they're convinced they're the best at everything they do.
4. They take big risks.
Psychopaths have little regard for safety issues, especially other people's safety. They often lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. Their behavior can be especially toxic.
While not all psychopaths engage in illegal activity, those who do plan their crimes well in advance. Their misconduct is usually well-organized, and they leave few clues behind. Psychopaths tend to be very intelligent, which makes them great con artists.
5. They're master manipulators.
They don't experience genuine emotions toward others. But they can mimic other people's emotions, and often they come across as very genuine. As a result, their loved ones often have no idea they're incapable of truly caring for other people.
Psychopaths are really good at manipulating other people's emotions. They flatter others in a subtle yet effective manner, and before long they persuade others to do things they wouldn't normally do. They also use guilt trips or gain sympathy to get their needs met.