Christian Bale in American Psycho

How to spot a psychopath at work

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Suspect someone you work with might be a narcissist or a psychopath? Soon you’ll be able to test them without their knowledge.

A team of researchers at Binghamton University has developed a computerized content analysis tool to measure narcissistic and psychopathic traits.

William Spangler, an associate professor in the School of Management at Binghamton, has been developing the program using it on leaders of Fortune 100 companies. He says it should be available for use sometime next year.

“We focused our study on CEOs of world-class businesses to determine if there was a procedure that could be used to identify these traits,” he explained. Perhaps unfairly, one often suspects CEOs of being narcissists and psychopaths (though when you read farther down you’ll find that there might be something to it). “The total sample was 150 CEOs from Fortune 100 Companies and from the Fortune 2010 Best Companies to Work For.”

Also, Spangler tells me in an email that. “‘Psychopathic,’ in this context does not mean the CEOs are psychopaths. It refers to someone who is not particularly empathetic and tends to be socially aggressive.”

According to Business News Daily, Spangler said the program looks for “self-focus” words, such as “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine” and “myself,” then looks for other words related to several personality traits

“For example, one form of narcissism, called confident of grandiose narcissism depends on extraversion, so the program looks for words indicating exaggeration, confidence, enthusiasm, and energy,” Spangler told Business News Daily. “Another statistical program combines the self-focus words with the extraversion words to produce a measure of extraverted or grandiose narcissism.”

According to a press release, the researchers have analyzed nearly 1,800 publicly available transcripts of CEO television interviews, conference calls, and print interviews. Using the program, researchers believe they can identify specific indicators.

“Narcissism, and psychopathy are aspects of maladaptive personality which can have a serious impact upon individuals and those with whom they interact,” said Spangler. “These characteristics affect the decisions leaders make, their relations with others as well as the productivity and culture of their organizations.

“Perhaps the ultimate use of this research may be to encourage boards of directors making hiring decisions, particularly CEOs, to look closely at candidates’ personality characteristics, including traits of psychopathy, grandiose narcissism and covert or defensive narcissism as well as other information such as track records. This study found there is a reliable and valid way to measure these personality tendencies.”

Since it’s not available yet, you’ll have to rely on your own powers of assessment for now.

To get an idea of what makes a narcissist, you can take the Narcissistic Personality Quiz at Psych Central. Then, once you’re sure you’re not one, you can check out the “narcissism traits” listed in section 2 and see if they apply to anyone you know.

Seven traits of a narcissist:


Not that you’re a narcissist just because you’re self-sufficient. To learn more, go to the quiz.

Meanwhile, the traits of a psychopath include the following:

    Inability to plan for the future

According to The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, by psychologist Kevin Dutton (via The Week), these jobs are the ones in which psychopaths are most likely to be found:

    Media (television/radio)
    Police Officer
    Civil Servant

To see if you’re a psychopath yourself, take Dutton’s Psychopathic Challenge.

See also:

  • The Pinocchio effect: How to spot a liar
  • Four things we decide about a person in four seconds
  • What you can learn from the jerks at work

  • Category: Life At Work
    • Marcantony Lightyear

      See snakes in suits by hare

      • TDNorth

        Yes, you are quite right.
        Hare has real knowledge.
        It also took him a few decades to get there.
        Ronson’s book was fun, too.
        It quotes Hare respectfully.
        He at least took the time to point out the short comings of
        reading an article or book and becoming an expert.
        Thank you

    • Jimbotron

      That list of 9 used to be 10 with CEO being no. 1 in psychopathy.

      • Shaun Lindbergh

        Makes me wonder why the writer left CEO out of the list. Afraid of her boss?

    • Tony Chung

      I’ve been reading “Emotional Vampires At Work” — all psychopathic tendencies have positive and negative effects. The only negative effect is when people don’t recognize they have those tendencies. The only way everyone can get along is if everyone is not like everyone else.

    • Wes Johson

      So, basically, they aren’t using the terms as they are meant to be used, they are just using them. That’s useful info. “How to mislabel people and misuse terminology to sound impressive” would be a better title.

    • Jimbotron

      I’m thinking politician should be on this list but was not included because it’s not a typical or representative occupation in the general public.

      They display many of the the behaviors listed above. Who else can look into
      a TV camera and lie with such comfort. Most people would blush or fidget nervously with uncomfortable body language, this is their conscience doing the talking. Morality and empathy are very low in psychopaths.

      Google ’empathy scale’ and you’ll find a ton of info. on it The lower you score on the empathy scale the more likely you are to be a psychopath. Examples of low scorers are murderers, rapists, lawyers, executives, politicians etc (people who take from society). Examples of people who scored high on the list are care givers, charity workers, teachers, volunteers etc (people who give to society).

      • Jimmy

        Excellent read!!!

    • tokoloshiman

      putting people in neat little boxes just does not work

      • BroadJeremy

        Well you have to cut them up first silly…

    • Dean M

      There is a whole group of people running our lives that clinically fit this profile, so now what do we do about this???

      • tac_mon

        Run !!!

      • Brijanderson

        Learn how to protect yourself and prevent yourself from being used, exploited and cheated. Both types study you for signs of pride, weakness, or emotional needs they then feed – before they feed on you.

      • Pat

        Deal with them boldly and openly. And, yes, then run!

    • Annie Uffelmann

      It’s unfortunate that the same week a major Canadian corporation is running a social media campaign in support of mental health organizations and education on mental health (Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign), Workopolis is running an article on psychopathy and narcissim, both of which are serious mental health conditions.

      • Ann De Krey

        How is it a shame? We need to be talking about things like this in the workplace. Lack of self awareness and the impact these behaviours have in the workplace is a very real issue. The behaviour of people described above can trigger reactions to those that struggle with other mental health issues. The cost to business and the cost to inviduals is very real.

    • Allan Carr

      A fine example of the workplace psychopath is the (in)famous Kevin O’Leary. Here is a gentleman who has battened very well indeed at the corporate trough. For a sample of his latest narcissistic blather take a peek at this:

    • smscamp

      Sadly, these are squeaky wheels who always cry foul, where instead of getting rid of them, or at least make them accountable since they could win acting awards with the way these thick skinned/hard as nails types, suddenly become thin skinned and become so fragile, they always go to the supervisor instead of dealing with the problem themselves (which is what they are supposed to do)

      These are the less than 1% types that the unions, human rights commissions etc are always dealing with

    • Matt

      Really? CEOs are psychopaths? What gave that away? Was it their choice to enter a type of business which affords them zero liability? Was it their choice to hire employees, which because they make profit, essentially exploits people? Is it their use of numbers to analyse almost every decision they make? And narcissistic? Really? They only tried to get the most senior role in the company with the most impressive title and the highest pay… Obviously it’s because they were thinking about everyone else. It’s very clear that successful CEOs are almost always both psychopaths and narcissists, and I can’t see why anyone would come to any other conclusion.

    • David Patton

      so the world is against you … lol

    • Meg Orlinski

      Please remember that only a professional mental health worker with training and diagnosis can properly asses someone. Projection and demonizing from “analyzing others” can be very damning and counter-productive to achieving high quality mental health standards anywhere. The mind is a complicated thing, how many minds interacts is equally as complicated, and a deep understanding based in education and experience is needed to fully asses a situation to take the best steps towards and effective solution.

      • Pat

        Not true. A reasonably intelligent person who has done their research can assess someone as well. Plus, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when you’ve been lied to and drained.

    • Tina Taylor

      These are all good points. I disagree with violence being listed as a psychopathic trait. The majority of psychopaths are not violent which is why they go undetected. Here is a list of behaviors that are common:

    • abracadabra

      I’ve worked with lawyers who have harassed me at work… I was absolutely mismanaged… the traits on the above lists are right on the mark!

    • Stalin2

      Just hire me already… sheesh

    • Pamela Valemont