Nurture your inner psychopath?

Talk about lateral thinking.

In a Scientific American piece, John Horgan points out the unexpected connection made by Oxford University psychology professor Kevin Dutton in his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success:

Next time you face a difficult situation, Dutton said, imagine what you’d do if you had no fear. 'Psychopath up!' Another way to become more psychopathic, Dutton suggested, might be to meditate. In a study that he calls 'Monks Versus Punks,' Dutton has carried out psychological tests of Buddhist monks and compared them to psychopaths. Like psychopaths, monks are often calm and decisive in the face of stress; free of anxiety, even in the face of death; and able to read others’ expressions accurately.

The big difference, Dutton said, is that monks are motivated by compassion for others, whereas psychopaths seek only their own pleasure.

If insight comes from making the connection between widely differing things - and that is what the IdeaFestival does really, really well - then the idea of success as a single-minded sheering, of emotion-free targeting, or of finding similarities between how a monk and killer might size up success, certainly made me think.

On the whole, Dutton's connection is impressive. But perhaps - as Horgan suggests at the conclusion of his piece - linking a certain kind of ruthlessness to success, even if that ruthlessness is motivated by compassion, makes a rather more uncomfortable point. If contemporary society is already too self-absorbed, is maximizing personal freedom the right goal?

Scientific American's "'Dexter' and British Psychologist Ask: Who Wants to Be a Psychopath?" is here.

Horgan may be best known for his book, The End of Science.


Image credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta and Showtime