[Paleopsych] CHE: Understanding 'The Sociopath Next Door'

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Understanding 'The Sociopath Next Door'
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.5.13



    Martha Stout, a former clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard

    Recent studies suggest that one in 25 Americans is a sociopath,
    without conscience and ready to prey on others. But not all of them
    are the cunning killers of television crime dramas, says Ms. Stout,
    who dissects the phenomenon in The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless
    Versus the Rest of Us (Broadway Books).

    Q. Aren't many sociopaths likely to be in prison, and not among us?

    A. It turns out very few sociopaths apparently are in jail, and, as a
    matter of fact, people who are in jail are not all sociopaths. And
    most sociopaths are not violent.

    Q. But 4 percent seems high, no?

    A. Statistical studies are difficult to interpret... but my colleagues
    tend to tell me that they think it's an even larger number than that.
    ... When you realize that the absence of conscience can motivate
    lesser behaviors than going out and being a serial killer, the
    statistic starts to make more sense. ... We're talking about the boss
    who ridicules people just to make them jump, or the spouse who abuses
    the other spouse just to make him or her jump.

    Q. And that's where sociopathy enters everyday life?

    A. Exactly. Most sociopaths are just like everybody else. They're
    average people with average intelligence or sometimes even
    less-than-average intelligence. And the games they play are much
    lesser, more personal, and private games.

    Q. Does culture drive sociopathy?

    A. It appears to be about 50 percent inheritable; as for the other 50
    percent that seems to be caused by the environment, nobody has really
    explained that. Sociopaths are not abused more as children than other
    groups. So probably the cultural explanation is a good one. In certain
    Far Eastern countries, notably Japan and Taiwan, the observed rates of
    sociopathy are far less -- and in those cultures there's more an
    emphasis on contributing to the group, and on respect for life, while
    our culture has its capitalistic emphasis on winning at all costs.

    Q. If not violent, sociopaths are generally getting their own way,

    A. Exactly. I hear comments such as, "This was the most charming
    personI ever met, the sexiest, the most intense. ..." I call this a
    predatory charisma that is difficult to explain but definitely exists.
    They're also very good at faking the emotions that the rest of us
    actually feel, such that they look normal.

    Q. Is it treatable or curable?

    A. Unfortunately not. We don't know how to instill conscience where
    there is none. ... Sociopaths seldom come into treatment unless
    they've been court-referred, and they don't seem to be in any kind of
    psychological pain.

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