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Corporate psychopaths common and can wreak havoc in business, researcher says

September 14, 2016 Conferences No Comments Print Print Email Email

Higher than expected levels of psychopathic traits exist among people found in the upper echelons of the corporate business sector, and companies should undertake psychological screening to help identify ‘successful psychopaths’, according to new research being presented at the APS Congress, held in Melbourne, 13 to 16 September.

Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks says many businesses have their recruitment screening back-to-front.

“Too often companies look at skills first and then secondly consider personality features,” he says. “Really it needs to be firstly about the candidate’s character and then, if they pass the character test, consider whether they have the right skills.”

Mr Brooks says emerging studies show while one in 100 people in the general community and one in five people in the prison system are considered psychopathic, these traits are common in the upper echelons of the corporate world, with a prevalence of between 3% and 21%.

Mr Brooks says the term ‘successful psychopath’, which describes high-flyers with psychopathic traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentric, charming and superficial, has emerged in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, prompting a range of new studies.

The research has major implications for the business sector, as the successful psychopath may engage in unethical and illegal business practices and have a toxic impact on other employees, he says.

“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” Mr Brooks says.

As part of his PhD, working with research colleagues Dr Katarina Fritzon of Bond University and Dr Simon Croom of the University of San Diego, Mr Brooks examined psychopathic traits in the business sector. One study of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry showed extremely high prevalence rates of psychopathy, with 21% of participants found to have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits – a figure comparable to prison populations.

The researchers have also developed a corporate personality inventory tool, designed to assist businesses to assess for psychopathic personality disorder during the recruitment process.

“We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there’s an adequate assessment to hopefully identify this problem – to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly,” Mr Brooks says.

Mr Brooks and Dr Fritzon will speak about the emergence of non-criminal psychopathy at the 2016 APS Congress, held in Melbourne from September 13 – 16, 2016.

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