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Transcript II: 8.5 Million Sociopaths: interview with Psychiatrist Donald Black

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Rob Kall:   It may be  that you're working with them.

Donald Black:   That's true.

Rob Kall:   Let's say you work with somebody who is a sociopath.  What kind of patterns of behavior would you expect?  What kind of feelings would you have that might be in response to somebody who is a sociopath?  Because maybe that is interesting all by itself, and maybe it might also apply to online behavior, too.

Donald Black:   Well you're absolutely correct, and there is a book on the market that gets into that, and it's called Snakes in Suits.  They're essentially the white-collar criminal, and say your co-worker is essentially a snake.  But I think for just an ordinary work situation, let's say your co-worker is absent a lot - so a lot of absenteeism; or the person lies frequently, so you ask them about being absent or away, and they concoct lies that maybe later are exposed; or there are are petty arguments that develop, or disputes, or even fights in the workplace.  This is how it probably manifests most often, and it's probably not all that apparent or dramatic in most situations. 

It's probably just quiet problems.  You notice that there's something not quite right about your co-worker.  They're away a lot, or they don't do the work that's assigned to them, and maybe you end up having to do more work because they're not doing it, and yet they produce all kinds of excuses which are probably just lies.  This would accumulate over time, and eventually they'd get fired or reassigned, or maybe they'd just quit because they think they're being taken advantage of.  So those are typical of the sorts of things that you might see in the workplace.

Rob Kall:   How about really smart sociopaths?  I have a feeling that they all think that they're really smart, but what about high IQ ones and high-functioning ones who are working as administrators, managers, even CEOs.  What would they look like?  How would you detect potential sociopathic behavior among high-level, high-functioning people?

Donald Black:   Well that's an excellent question, and I'm not sure exactly how to answer that, other that perhaps they engage in behavior that's sleazy or criminal, and if they're caught engaging in some criminal [act].  Let's say someone in high finance who developed some illegal investment scheme, and then they lie about it, and they cover up.  But at that level, they probably have lawyers and others, and layers of protection.  I mean, we certainly see this sort of thing: sometimes it's exposed and the person gets caught, other times, not.  But it's a problem, because how do you identify it and call it for what it is?

Rob Kall:   Sounds like something that ought to be researched.  It probably could be costing our society billions of dollars.

Donald Black:   I think there's no question about that.

Rob Kall:   But like you said there's no research.  Why do you think that is, that there's no research?  I mean, literally one study on sociopaths!  Considering how many studies there must have been on bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, and other disorders with similar occurrences of 4.5% of the population, it is bizarre and crazy and inexplicable why there is so little research!

Donald Black:   I agree, and I don't understand this.  There's a government website called Reporter , and it lists all of the research grants funded by the federal government.  This is run by the National Institutes of Health, so it's the NIH website.  And you can enter into their search box keywords like "Anti-social," or even "Psychopath," or "Sociopath," or "Personality Disorder,"  and I did that as I was rewriting my book last summer, and I put these facts in the book.  But there were like five research grants in which the term "Anti-social Personality" appeared in the title; and I thought, this is wrong.  If you do that with "Schizophrenia," you literally get hundreds (if not thousands) of hits, whereas "Anti-social," almost nothing.  Psychopathy was a little bit more, but not much.  It's clearly underrepresented in the research field.  It's like no one cares about it, and yet it is this common and highly problematic disorder.

Rob Kall:   I would imagine it would be extremely difficult to identify and collect a collection of subjects who were corporate CEOs who were also sociopaths.

Donald Black:   Well, I don't think it would be that difficult.  For example, a researcher named Adrian Raine who studies anti-social personality disorder, I was at dinner with him once, and I said, "Well, how do you recruit these people?  Because you don't put an ad in the paper saying you want anti-socials!"  He said, "Well, what we do is we go to temporary work agencies, and just ask if we can interview all the people seeking work.  A very high percentage actually meet criteria for anti-social personality disorder, and they're just being recruited for a study that look s at brain function, so they don't know necessarily that they're being recruited because they have anti-social personality disorder."  That's the sort of strategy that you would use.  Ideally you could go into prisons, because the have such a high prevalence of anti-social personality.  But the government has /

Rob Kall:   (interjecting) But what you just described, you're really only going to be getting the ones who are the low functioning ones, the ones who aren't getting caught.

Donald Black:   That's true.  So you'd have to get people at the other end of the income spectrum.  You'd have to use some clever recruiting tool; and I'm not quite sure what that would be, but you couldn't just say, "I want people who have hurt their spouses, or lied in the workplace, or been arrested," or things of that nature, because no one would volunteer.

Rob Kall:   That's right.  All right, a couple more questions.  What about leaders?  What about a leader who just sends out orders to kill people without any laws or any judges getting involved?  Does that make somebody a sociopath?

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Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor . He is also published regularly on the

Listen to over 200 of Rob's Podcast interviews here.

Rob is, with the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 100 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.

Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom-up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey and Positive Psychology. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media. Watch me speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

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I think lots of the time we prefer to distance our... by anna kakol on Monday, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:06:14 PM
When I think about the typical narcissistic person... by anna kakol on Monday, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:25:09 PM
...because things are not always what they seem.&n... by anna kakol on Monday, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:53:55 PM
Shared on Saddam Hu... by paulvcassidy on Monday, Jun 10, 2013 at 5:39:44 PM
How about classifying corporates according to the ... by paulvcassidy on Monday, Jun 10, 2013 at 5:40:14 PM
statistics but my question is "why do they all hav... by Archie on Tuesday, Jun 11, 2013 at 11:27:29 AM