Are Politicians Psychopaths?
2012-09-06 0:00

By David Freeman |

It’s no secret that politicians can be driven by outsized egos. I mean, who among us really thinks he or she deserves a seat in Congress -- or a desk in the Oval Office?

But can egotism alone explain why so many elected officials seem to get caught telling lies, having affairs, committing financial improprieties or engaging in other scandalous behavior? Not everyone is convinced that it can, and some in the blogosphere have gone so far as to wonder if bad-boy (and bad girl) politicians are actually psychopaths. And a recent article in The Atlantic asks of these pundits:

Could they be right? If these pundits mean that the targeted office-seekers are evil or "crazy," probably not. But if they are pointing out that politicians and psychopaths share certain characteristics, they could be on to something.

Just what does it mean to be a psychopath? Turns out psychopathy isn’t a formal psychiatric diagnosis but a term first popularized by Medical College of Georgia psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley in his 1941 classic The Mask Of Sanity. Psychopaths seem superficially normal but tend to be cold-hearted, lacking in empathy, egocentric, manipulative, irresponsible, and antisocial. Or, as a 2007 Scientific American article put it:

Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it... Psychopaths routinely offer excuses for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead.

Hmm. That description could probably describe more than a few politicians -- though you and I might not agree on whom to nominate for psychopath status. But before indulging in any armchair analysis, I reached out to Dr. Martha Stout. A clinical psychologist who was long affiliated with Harvard Medical School, she’s the author of The Sociopath Next Door and other popular books on emotional disorders (including a forthcoming text that explores the link between emotional disorders and politics). By the way, Dr. Stout tends to use the term sociopath instead of psychopath, explaining to me that the terms are often used interchangeably by mental health professionals.

Anyway, when I asked Dr. Stout if there’s any truth to the contention that politicians are more likely to be psychopaths, she said in an email that no solid statistics were available to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Yet despite the lack of proof, she gave a surprisingly definitive answer to my question:

Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this... That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow -- but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.


Read the full article at:

Tune into Red Ice Radio:

Thomas Sheridan - The Labyrinth of the Psychopath & The Intraspecies Predators

Mike Cross - Hour 1 - Philosophy of a Psychopathic Society

Mike Cross - Hour 2 - Template of Conformity & The Psychopath’s Utopia

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