Everybody is in some way familiar with the common ideas we collectively have about how a psychopath behaves or characteristics they may have. Whether through watching the depiction of psychopathic antagonists in silence if the lambs, the dark knight, psycho, or a million other different stories based around this enigmatic topic, It’s pretty safe to assume that when you imagine a psychopath you imagine this archetypical villain as presented in such films. This is likely a nonchalant man with expensive taste, an affinity for classical music, oh and of course a taste for gratuitous violence.
Many behaviours that these characters in films display are inaccurate others, however, can be backed up by evidence provided by psychological research – there is however the question of where the association between some behaviours or characteristics came from and whether there is any truth to these. These are five weird behaviours and characteristics that have been proven to have a possible link to psychopathy.
1. Music Taste
An example of a characteristic very commonly associated with psychopathy in films is taste in music; if you were to watch any archetypical psychopath film it’s almost a certainty that the person in question will have an odd obsession with classical music. Where this idea comes from is an unknown, but there is however evidence that your taste in music could reveal how psychopathic you are. A psychology study was done into this topic by researchers at New York University, including Dr Pascal Wallisch. Within the study of 200 people who listened to 260 songs, those who scored the highest in levels of psychopathy tended to highly rate hip-hop artists such as Backstreet and Eminem. Those who scored the lowest preferred pop music such as ‘Titanium’ by Sia.
These results suggest that Psychopaths are no more likely than anyone else to be obsessed with Mozart or Bach, but are in fact more likely to have a preference for Eminem. This characteristic alone obviously cannot solely be used to determine someone’s degree of psychopathy, they might just like rap music.
2. Sleep Chronotype
The majority of people can easily identify which ‘sleep chronotype’ they fall into. Whether they’re an early bird who peaks in the morning, prefers to go to bed early and get up as such or a night owl who stays up till all hours, gets up late, and peaks in the evening. This could act as an indicator of psychopathy or other anti-social personality disorders as evidenced by a study done by Dr Peter Jonason.
He assessed whether 250 people were morning or evening people, and then measured their tendencies towards ‘Dark triad’ personality traits (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy) to determine whether there was a link or not. Jonason found that those who were awake late at night showed greater anti-social tendencies than those who went to bed earlier. Further, he suggested there was an evolutionary basis for the preference to stay up late at night and its link to anti-social behaviour (predatorial advantage as others have diminished cognitive function or are sleeping).
He also linked to this to the fact that “most crimes and sexual activity peak at night, suggesting such a link”. This is evidence for the idea that someone’s ‘sleep chronotype’ and whether they like to stay up late at night could give an insight into if they are psychopathic or not.
Among the many mysteries in life is the almost ‘contagious’ nature of yawning. Psychological research has suggested that it is linked to empathy. This has been used to explain why when seeing someone else yawn you are more likely to imitate the behaviour subconsciously if you know them or have a close relationship – you’re less likely to do so with a stranger or someone you do not like. A key aspect of psychopathy is a complete lack of empathy making someone who is a psychopath, or sociopath essentially immune to this ‘contagious’ behaviour as this key aspect (empathy) is missing.
Researchers at Baylor University conducted a study about this with 135 participants who took the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised (PPI-R), and then a contagious yawn experiment. The ‘Cold-heartedness’ part of the psychopathy scale was found to have a strong correlation to whether or not the person yawned. The more ‘cold-hearted’ and less empathetic a subject was, the less likely they were to yawn. Try doing a mini-experiment at where you work or go to school for example. Try and observe whether there is a difference in this behaviour between people who are very kind and compassionate, and those who are more indifferent and nonchalant, be sure to comment down below what you find!
4. Posting Selfies
Using social media and posting content such as selfies online these days is a complete normalcy and something everyone does, but we all know someone who is constantly filling your feed with countless photos of themselves. This has been suggested to be a possible indicator of how psychopathic they are.
A study done at Ohio state university attempted to link the amount of selfies men posted to how psychopathic they were. They did this using a sample of 800 men aged 18-40. They found the expected link between how narcissistic (an anti-social trait) and self-objectifying these men were and how many selfies they posted online. This also increased with those who edited their photos before posting. They also found that these men who posted more selfies also scored highly on their levels of psychopathy (the scores were above average). If you know any men or are someone who very frequently posts selfies on Instagram or Snapchat this could be a sign of higher levels of anti-social traits such as narcissism and more importantly, psychopathy.
5. Sense of smell
A weirder characteristic that has been suggested to have a link to psychopathy is sense of smell. Having an impaired sense of smell could be linked to Psychopathy according to a study done by Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson (Sydney Macquarie University). Using a sample of 79 diagnosed non-criminal psychopaths aged 19 – 21, they conducted an experiment where the participants had to identify and discriminate scents. They did this using “sniffin’ sticks”, 16 different scented pens (orange, coffee, leather, etc). They found that participants, who were all confirmed as psychopathic, had issues identifying scents and discriminating them from others. Those of the participants who scored highest on a standard scorecard of psychopathic traits did the worst on both measured aspects.
This has been suggested to be due to abnormalities or damage in the orbito-frontal cortex; an area of the brain which has been independently implicated in both anti-social disorders (Including psychopathy) and having an impaired sense of smell. This tell-tale sign is likely a reliable indicator of possible issues in the orbito-frontal cortex which could include psychopathy. If you are a psychopath a key characteristic may be a bad sense of smell, which is undoubtedly a very unbelievable statement without evidence to back it up.
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Mahmut, Mehmet K, et al. “The Relationship Between Psychopathy and Olfactory Tasks Sensitive to Orbitofrontal Cortex Function in a Non-Criminal Student Sample.” Researchgate, Dec. 2013, www.researchgate.net/publication/258845871_The_Relationship_Between_Psychopathy_and_Olfactory_Tasks_Sensitive_to_Orbitofontal_Cortex_Function_in_a_Non-criminal_Student_Sample.
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Rundle, Brian K, et al. “Contagious Yawning and Psychopathy.” Researchgate, Nov. 2015, www.researchgate.net/publication/277815089_Contagious_yawning_and_psychopathy.
Sample, Ian. “Playlist of the Lambs: Psychopaths May Have Distinct Musical Preferences.” The Guardian, 26 Sept. 2017, 10:17, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/26/playlist-of-the-lambspsychopaths-prefer-rap-over-classical-music-study-shows.
Smith, Mark. “Study Finds Night Owls More Likely to Be Psychopaths.” Western Sydney University, 31 July 2013, www.westernsydney.edu.au/newscentre/news_centre/story_archive/2013/study_finds_night_owls_more_likely_to_be_psychopaths.