[Paleopsych] CHE: Understanding 'The Sociopath Next Door'
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Mon May 9 21:04:56 UTC 2005
Understanding 'The Sociopath Next Door'
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.5.13
By PETER MONAGHAN
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
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