Transcript for Kevin Dutton on "The Wisdom of Psychopaths"

Jim Fleming: But first, have you ever wondered if you might be a psychopath?You'd be in good company. Psychologist Kevin Dutton says some of the most successful people in the world are psychopaths. And they don't eat their dinner guests either. Dutton is the author of "The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success." He tells Steve Paulson the word psychopath is largely misunderstood.

Kevin Dutton: No sooner is the word psychopath out, than images of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and a whole list of discreditable politicians come sliding out the badlands of our minds, but you know what, being a psychopath doesn't automatically mean you are a criminal. And it doesn't mean you are a serial killer either. In fact, a lot of psychopaths aren't even in prisons.  They are out there locking other people up. Now why is that? Now when psychologists talks about psychopaths, we are talking about a person with a distinct set of personality characteristics. Things like ruthlessness, fearlessness, charm, manipulation ability, focus, and extreme coolness under pressure, as well as a lack of empathy, and a lack of conscience. Now, notice that I never mentioned violence amongst that, OK. Now, if you happened to have these personality characteristics, and you also happen to be violent and stupid, then to be perfectly honest, your prospects aren't going to be that great. You're going to end up as a low-level criminal, or an enforcer for a criminal gang, or something like that. Either way, you're going to wind up in prison pretty quickly. But now image you've got those kinds of personality characteristics, but you are not naturally violent, and you are intelligent, now it's a different story altogether. Now, you're more likely as the famous writer's headline once put it to be more likely to make a killing in the market, not anywhere else.

Steve Paulson: I suppose we can then looks at lots of people at the top of their professions, I mean, not just day traders, but they could be lawyers, surgeons, CEOs. It sounds like those qualities that you just describe might serve these kinds of people very well.

Kevin Dutton: Steve, you've hit the nail right on the head, mate. Actually, I'll give you some documentary evidence for that. Last year, in 2011, I launched the great British psychopath survey. Now, participants were directed onto my website, where they completed the Levenson self-report scale of psychopathy. It's a standardized psychometric test which measures psychopathy characteristics within the general population. And what I wanted to find out was what was the most psychopathic profession in the U.K. So as well as actually getting their score, feedback on their score, participants actually entered their employment details. What kind of job they did, how much money they owned over the course of the year. And we got over five and a half thousand respondees to that survey. And when I looked at the analysis, when I looked at the data at the end, the results really were an eye opener. I mean, of course you had at the top of the tree the most psychopathic professions were CEOs. They, in fact, were number one. But I have to say it to you, pal. Number two was media, radio, and TV, actually. Journalism was down I think, number six, or number seven. So there you go. You've got a lot to answer for. But really interesting, round around number seven or eight were the clergy. Now that was a real eye opener, but I've spoken to a lot of people since, and perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised. The bottom line is that any kind of profession where you've got a power structure, where you've got an organization, or a hierarchy, where there is the chances of wielding control and power over other people, then you're going to get psychopaths doing very well in that particular kind of milieu.

Paulson: It seems like there's a kind of paradox here because you're saying one of the qualities of psychopaths is they tend to be charmers. They can win people over, partly by the force of their personality, and yet, another quality would seem to be a total lack of empathy. And yet, if you have people skills, usually you have empathy along with that.

Dutton: You've got it. Now, one of the interesting things there, I always remember interviewing a psychopath a few years back, and he said, "You know, what you don't need to have color vision in order to know how a traffic light works." OK?You don't need to see the red, or the green. All you need to do is know which bits are lit up, and then you can act accordingly. Now what we know about psychopaths is, there's two different kinds of empathy, Steve. You've got what's called a cold empathy, and you've got a hot empathy. Now, cold empathy has to do with reasoning and rational thought. Hot empathy I describe as the feeling of feeling what another person is feeling. OK? So psychopaths, it's true, don't have the hot empathy. They don't feel what you're feeling, but they have a cold empathy. They are very, very good at cognitively and dispassionately gauging what you might be feeling. And that allows them to be able to push the psychological buttons that really kind of get the rest of us going with relative impunity. And that's what makes them very, very good persuaders.

Paulson: Well, it sounds like you're saying then that most of us have some qualities of the psychopath. It's just not to the extreme that the true psychopaths, I mean the killers that we hear about would have.

Dutton: Absolutely right, Steve, again. You've actually absolutely hit the nail right on the head, and now an analogy that I use for this, now one of the reasons that I wrote the book in the first place is to debunk the myth that being a psychopath is an all or nothing affair. You're either a psychopath, or you're not. Now those characteristics of the psychopath I've mentioned to you earlier. So we've got charm, persuasiveness, ruthlessness, fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and conscience, imagine those characteristics as being the dials on a studio mixing desk, OK? Now, they can be twiddled up and down, in various combinations. Now, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this one's heading. If you twiddle all those dials up to max, you overload the setting, and you wind up getting thirty years inside. You blow the circuit, OK? However, if you turn some of them up high, and some of them down low, depending on the circumstances, you become, in other words, as I say, a method psychopath, a little bit like a method actor. Then you are going to have, perhaps, the kind of personality combination in a given context to predispose you to success, to give you quite an advantage. So just like height, weight, or IQ, all those personality characteristics that make up the psychopathic personality profile, they're all on a continuum. They're all on a kind of a mixing desk slider, and we are all on there, somewhere between minimum and maximum. It just depends. The combination of them that you have turned up higher and turned down lower at any given time.

Paulson: Now you actually subjected yourself to something called, or as you call it, a psychopath makeover. Can you tell me about that experience?

Dutton: See, as I was writing a book on psychopaths, I wanted to see if I could turn myself into one. You'll be glad to know it's worn off. Wore off quite a while ago. Paulson: I'm relieved. Thanks for telling us. Dutton: Some of my friends would wonder about that, but what I did was, I have a friend of mine, who is a special forces, an ex special forces sergeant back in the U.K., I've measured him, and he is pretty high, as you would expect actually. A lot of special forces guys are pretty high on the psychopathic spectrum. He is pretty ruthless, he is pretty fearless, he's mentally tough, he's very focused, all of those kinds of things. I set up a test of cool in my lab, where I wanted to see if I was cooler than my friend. So, the way it worked was like this. First of all, we sat down in front of a screen, and we were wired up to various electrophysiological measures: heart rate, galvonic skin response, EEG, stuff like that. And we were watching a very quiet, meditative scene, wired up in these chairs to this equipment. Just to get our baseline measures, and then, at an undisclosed moment, that scene changed to a scene of carnage, pretty nauseating, noxious, horrific images. And they really, really were bad scenes of dismemberment, really, really pretty bad stuff. And it was very strange because, as we were both waiting for the scene to change, both my physiological readings and those of my special forces friend were both higher obviously than our baseline levels, but actually, when all the scene changed and the carnage and the mayhem, and I should add it was accompanied by white noise and blaring klaxons and sirens, when all that, we were confronted with it, my physiological readings continued to go up, but my friend's readings started to go down. And that's really spooky. It was almost like in the heat of battle he thought, "This is no big deal. I can handle this. This is nothing." Now then I underwent what you rightly described as a psychopath makeover. Now, there's a technique out there called TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is a way of stimulating, turning up or down, various areas of the cerebral cortex, which is kind of the top layer of the brain. The newest layer. And that, the cerebral cortex, has projectioned to deeper core brain structures, such as the emotion areas. So we can emulate, we can mimic the brains of state of the psychopath by turning various areas of the brain up or down. So using this TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, which pulses high-frequency electromagnetic pulses to these specially selected areas of the brain, we can turn these areas up or down. So I had my, it was the first anyone had done it, Steve, and it was very scary. I did feel a difference.

Paulson: What changed for you? Dutton: Well, I'll tell you what changed. First of all, in order to find the correct coordinates of the emotion areas of my brain, my colleague actually started stimulating the somatosensory cortex responsible for the movement of the little finger in my right hand, and the spookiest thing of all, possibly, was just sitting there, and just suddenly feeling a little finger in my right hand moving uncontrollably, because he was pulsing this electromagnetic field into the area of the brain. Once he'd got those coordinates, he could then kind of map out the important areas of the brain that we were targeting. After about ten or so minutes, Steve, the only way I can describe it, mate, it felt like I'd had about half a bottle of wine. Or a few shocks of electromagnetic Jack Daniels.

Paulson: So you basically became desensitized, desensitized to the kind of violent images that you'd been looking at. Dutton: I did, indeed. I became very relaxed. I really couldn't care too much about, you know, general, everyday concerns. Actually, when I was subjected to the images the second time around, to see if I could be cooler than my friend with the psychopath makeover, it was all filmed, and I'm actually on camera saying, "You know, the guy before me," in other words, me without the psychopath makeover, "found these images very disturbing. But this time around, I'm finding it very hard to suppress a smile." And not only that, but all the electrophysiological that went along with that, corroborated my sentiments. All my readings went down by about two thirds, compared to what they were before. I still wasn't cooler than my friend, but I certainly was reduced on my disgust response, on my anxiety response. Those kinds of natural physiological responses that I had. And it really did, you really did feel different.

Paulson: One final question. You call your book "The Wisdom of Psychopaths."  Do the rest of us, who don't think of ourselves as psychopaths in any particular way, do we have something to learn from this kind of research you've been talking about, of these traits of psychopaths?

Dutton: Yeah, absolutely, Steve. Psychopaths have a conglomeration of very positive traits that they use in everyday life. I mean, psychopaths are assertive, psychopaths don't procrastinate, psychopaths focus on the positives of situations. They don't take things personally. They don't beat themselves up when things go wrong. They don't overly criticize themselves. And of course they are very cool under pressure. So these are everyday characteristics that we can use in our life, not just at work, but also when we are with our friends, when we're with our family. You know, we could all do, perhaps, with turning a few of those dials up a little bit higher to the right. One example I always give is imagine if you're working, if you're at work and you've been thinking about putting in for a raise. You know, like a lot of people are scared of putting in for a raise, asking their boss for a raise, because they're scared of not getting it. They're scared of what their boss might think of them if they don't get it. They're scared of the consequences. Well, psychopath up.  Don't focus on the negatives. Focus on the positives, focus on the reward of getting it. Be confident and go for it. You are way more likely to get these kinds of things if you're confident, if you're positive, if you focus on the rewards, rather than being negative and a little bit scared of these kinds of situations.

Paulson: OK, there is a little bit of wisdom to take away. Psychopath up. I'll remember that. Thanks, Kevin. Dutton: Not at all. Thanks, Steve. It was a real pleasure, mate.

Fleming: Kevin Dutton is the author of  "The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success."  He spoke with Steve Paulson. So, do you think tapping your inner psychopath could improve your life?Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, on our website, ttbook.org.

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