6 Totally Normal Behaviors That Might Mean You're a Psychopath, According to Science
Most people are familiar with the major characteristics of psychopathy (which is essentially the same thing as sociopathy as far as clinicians are concerned). Psychopaths don't feel empathy or remorse, are superficially charming, and prone to manipulating those around them for their own gain. However, research has found links between more out-there characteristics and psychopathy, like the kind of foods you eat or the music you listen to.
Psychopathy occurs in an estimated 1 percent of the population, but don't worry—people who have psychopathic characteristics aren't necessarily serial killers. In 2005, neuroscientist James Fallon, while studying the brain activity of psychopaths (including murderers) in the lab, discovered that his brain showed many of the same patterns.
Below are six unexpected characteristics linked to being a psychopath, according to recent studies. Take this list with a grain of salt: It's entirely possible to have several of them and be perfectly well-adjusted, and many of these studies are small. Still, it's interesting to consider the potential dark side of common traits.
1. YOU STUDIED BUSINESS.
Different jobs attract different personality types. Most painfully shy people don't go into sales, for instance, while the job might be very appealing for someone who's extremely outgoing and extraverted. If you're a psychopath, on the other hand, you probably are drawn to business. A 2017 Danish study that analyzed how personality traits correlate with choice of undergraduate majors found that students who scored higher on measures of the "Dark Triad"—a collective term for narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy—were more likely to study economics or business than law or psychology. "The desire for power, status, and money characterizing Dark Triad individuals," the researchers write, seems to guide their choice of majors. In other words, going into the business world may not make people unscrupulous as much as unscrupulous people tend to go into business.
2. YOU DON'T CATCH YAWNS.
Being a psychopath is often linked to a lack of empathy for other people. There's more to empathy than just feeling others' pain, though. One of the theories for contagious yawning is that it's an empathy response, one found in multiple animal species. Psychopaths, however, don't catch yawns, according to a 2015 study of 135 university students in Texas. The students who scored higher on measures of psychopathy didn't yawn as much in response to watching videos of other people yawning, the researchers found. If you're impervious to the sight of yawns, you might have an empathy problem.
3. YOU'RE A NIGHT OWL.
Our internal clocks are particular beasts. Some of us will just never be morning people, no matter how hard we try, and others will never be able to go to bed early. To some extent, your circadian rhythm is genetic, though in general, it does change over your lifetime. People with antisocial tendencies, though, may be more likely to stay up late. A small 2013 study found that people on a night owl schedule exhibited greater Dark Triad traits than early risers. Seems like a useful adaptation to have if you're predisposed to doing bad deeds under the cover of darkness.
4. YOU LOVE EMINEM.
Plenty of die-hard music fans believe that their tastes speak to their soul, but in the case of psychopaths, personality might be influencing what's on your playlist. According to a preliminary study from New York University, people with higher degrees of psychopathy tend to prefer "No Diggity" and "Lose Yourself" over songs like "My Sharona." The results weren't exactly rock-hard evidence, but the findings were significant enough that the researchers are launching a larger investigation into links between musical tastes and psychopathic traits.
5. YOU'RE CREATIVE.
A desire to break the rules doesn't always result in a desire to break the law. Artists and other creatives march to their own beat, too. In 2016, Filipino researchers found that certain traits associated with psychopathy—especially boldness—were linked with scores on a divergent thinking test, a common psychological method for measuring creativity. Being a risk taker can help you think more creatively. Some people put that love of risk to work on the canvas, while other people might come up with more nefarious uses.
6. YOU'RE STILL FRIENDS WITH YOUR EXES.
Psychopaths are known for cold calculation and manipulation, and that trait may lead them to keep their exes around long after the relationship ends. A September 2017 study from Oakland University psychologists found that in a sample of more than 800 people, people with psychopathic traits tended to keep exes in their lives for pragmatic, transactional reasons, like wanting the ability to hook up with them again later or knowing they had money. "Narcissists hate to fail or lose, so will do what they can to maintain some connection if they didn't make the choice to end it," as narcissism expert Tony Ferretti told Broadly.