5 Weirdly Fascinating Facts About Psychopaths

by Eliza Castile

Anyone even vaguely familiar with pop culture can tell you that as a society, we're more than a little obsessed with outsiders. If you don't believe me, believe pages upon pages of Google results when you search for facts about psychopathy — there's something alluring about the idea of a wolf in sheep's clothing, someone who appears one way on the outside while they're actually gliding through life thinking of no one but themselves. Or rather, it's alluring in theory; in practice, it's safe to say most people would rather not anger Hannibal Lecter (or, for that matter, Hannibal's decidedly unbalanced incarnation of Will Graham) without an escape route firmly in place.

In reality, however, the stereotype of the violent psychopath is more than a little overblown. While people with psychopathy lack empathy and often have an overblown sense of their own importance, their impulsiveness is far more likely to manifest in the form of irresponsible decisions than the desire to eat the rude. Psychopathy may be synonymous with insanity in pop culture, but the disorder is more "charisma and emotional detachment" than "sophistication and torture chambers." Think Amy from Gone Girl, not the Joker.

But that's not the only misconception about psychopathy out there — here are five facts about psychopathy you might not have realized.

1. There's Little To No Difference Between Psychopathy and Sociopathy

First up, it's time to clear up an enormous misunderstanding in pop culture. Anyone who has taken the time to explain to you (probably in painstaking detail) the difference between psychopathy and sociopathy probably hasn't picked up a psychology textbook in a long time. As psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova explains in a beautiful rant directed at the titular character in the BBC's Sherlock, there's little difference between the two terms in modern psychology. In fact, they both fall under the umbrella diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (essentially the Gray's Anatomy of psychology).

"Psychopathy is the term used in modern clinical literature, while sociopathy is a term that was coined by G. E. Partridge in 1930 to emphasize the disorder's social transgressions and that has since fallen out of use," Konnikova wrote for io9. Although considerable debate has begun to surface in recent years, psychopathy is the preferred term for now, while sociopathy has stuck around like that awkward nickname you've been trying to get rid of since elementary school.

2. People With Psychopathy Don't Learn From Mistakes

According to a study from the University of Montreal, people with psychopathy don't learn from their mistakes in the same way that most people do. Researchers performed MRI scans on three groups of people — healthy non-offenders, violent offenders who had been diagnosed with psychopathy, and violent offenders without psychopathy — while they played an image-matching game. Analysis of the scans showed that those with psychopathy didn't change their behaviors in response to "punishment" in the game, leading to poorer quality decisions over time.

In the end, researchers concluded that people with psychopathy may only consider the positive consequences of their decisions while the negatives go unheeded, which could go a long way toward explaining why people with psychopathy tend to make impulsive choices.

3. Most People With Psychopathy Are Men

Researchers still aren't sure why, but people with psychopathy overwhelmingly tend to be men. Go figure.

4. They Don't Respond To Yawns Well

If you managed to remain unmoved by the sight of other people yawning, you might just be on the road to Lecterdom. In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who were more coldhearted (a trait highly related to psychopathy) were less likely to yawn when they saw video of other people yawning.

5. People With Psychopathic Tendencies Post Tons Of Selfies

According to a study from Ohio State comparing personality traits and social media usage, men who were more narcissistic and less empathetic tended to post more selfies and spend more time on social media overall. Researchers stressed that these men weren't diagnosed with psychopathy; rather, they just exhibited psychopathic traits, like a lack of empathy and the unwavering assurance that they were hot stuff. If you're thinking this sounds like your ex, you're probably not the only one.

Images: NBC; Giphy (5)