Rob: It's a fascinating study that you did there, and you didn't include Obama...
SL: We did not.
Rob: Have you looked at how he would fit in at all?
SL: No, we don't have...so we had the Presidents up to and including George W. Bush...42, so we did not...the historians did not fill out any information on Obama, so we don't know. My own impression as just an outsider is I wouldn't think of him as particularly elevated on those traits. Some people have disagreed with us on that but I think it does certainly strike me as that way...a good family man and certainly seems to have good impulse control and so in regardless of what one thinks of his politics he doesn't strike me as particularly psychopathic....
Rob: Although he is a bit cold blooded...
SL: I'm sorry?
Rob: Although he does have a reputation for being cool and cold blooded.
SL: Right. Well, I think there's often a fine line here between being calloused and cold, which I'm not sure that he is....as opposed to being able to sort of temp down one's emotions. So if that's...that's always an interesting question...what makes the difference between someone who is cold and unempathic on the one hand, versus someone, maybe, who's just someone who's sort of a no drama person who just is able to sort of disengage emotionally. And that's always an interesting question because moving away from the domain of politics, you have lots of cases, although haven't been widely studied, of people like surgeons for example, who are certainly quite warm, empathic people, at least with their families, but when they're in the operating room, can turn it off almost at will and they can disengage emotionally. So that's an interesting question, sort of that emotional modulation. Question is how do people do that and I think has...actually it has applications for psychopathy as well.
Rob: Well you know, I wrote recently an article about how some of the most popular TV shows are based on psychopaths. Breaking Bad and Dexter, House of Cards....and what I feel like is that some of the characteristics of psychopaths are really very desirable in some ways. You don't want to be a psychopath but it would be nice to be bold and to be calm in the midst of chaos. And it sounds like that's what you're looking at by looking at successful psychopaths.
SL: Well that's right. I think this...the...in some ways, a lot of these TV psychopaths are hybrids, right...that's what kind of makes them interesting is their combinations of traits. There are people who are both bad at one level, or at least have some bad traits, sometimes even some sinister traits and dangerous traits. On the other hand they can be quite charming, they can be quite engaging. And that, I think, is partly what makes them alluring -- we're fascinated with those people because they are often bad boys or bad girls -- more often bad boys, given that psychopathy is more common in men than women. So they are often people with some of these negative traits. On the other hand, sometimes it can be hard, at least superficially, to dislike them because they are fascinating, they are alluring, they are seductive. And they sometimes can seduce us so it's not a surprise that so many characters on TV and in film and in literature have had that very interesting mix of traits that on the one hand can be fascinating and alluring, but also can be quiet dangerous in some settings....interpersonally and in rare cases, physically.
Rob: Right. Do you have an idea of what percentage of psychopaths get arrested and end up in jail?
SL: I don't think we know that. I think it's hard to estimate. Admittedly, I'm always a little reluctant to give exact percentages because I don't see psychopathy as a all or none thing. I think most of the evidence just...we're probably looking at a continuum or dimension of traits so...that may be a bit counter-intuitive because I think we often see these people as very different from the rest of us -- it's sort of a us or them thing. And there's no question that at the extremes we are looking at people who are somewhat different. But in reality I don't think the difference between us and them is necessarily as great as we sometimes think. So I'm always a bit reluctant to draw any direct cutoffs. I think what we can say is that if we look at psychopathy in the general population, we certainly see a number of people...large number of people who exceed research based cut-offs for the condition -- in my view those cut-offs are somewhat arbitrary. And probably large percentages, maybe a majority of those people are keeping out of trouble -- at least overt trouble. So I think there's almost no question certainly that there are plenty of people out there with marked levels of these traits who are not in jail, not behind bars.
Rob: So I've read and spoken to a number of experts -- FBI profilers, psychiatrists, James Fallon who recently wrote the book...he's a neuroscientist who acknowledges he's a psychopath -- and everybody gives different estimations of the percentage of psychopaths in the population. And then in addition to psychopaths, sociopaths and the related personality disorders -- the narcissist and the what have you. What...can you give me some stats?
SL: Yeah, you know I'm probably an outlier -- I may be different from some of your guests in that I try to resist those percentages because I think that, again, I see the cut-off there as arbitrary so I don't think there's any direct percentage. It would be, to me it would be like asking how many people are tall because it depends on where you draw the cut-off for height. So I think what I would say is that you're probably looking at a dimension or continuum -- there's probably no particular cut-off, there's no boundary point where suddenly someone becomes a psychopath or non-psychopath. Again, if you use the research criteria for example, that had been developed by Robert Hare in Canada, and he's developed a pretty good measure called the psychopathy checklist, which one can use to measure psychopathy, you're probably looking at about one percent or so of people in the general population who exceed PCL or now PCLR revised standards for psychopathy. Again, to me though, one has to realize that we're probably just looking at a fairly arbitrary cut-off that could be used for research purposes. We're not talking about a true cutoff that exists in nature.
Rob: Okay, that's fair enough. And from what I've read of your writing and the writing you've been involved with, this idea of this continuum is an important one -- it's not like somebody is or is not a psychopath -- there's a lot of gray area to it. It's a matter of how many characteristics that they have and what have you.
SL: That's right.