Thursday, April 11, 2013
Why we need psychopaths (part 2)
As psychopaths become less associated with demonic bloodlust a more accurate image is formed of just what this set of symptoms really looks like. They have “shallow emotions” which simply means their emotions are much less intense than non-psychopaths (DSM-IV-TR (2000) 4th ed., text. rev.). To demonstrate, imagine that a company is interviewing candidates to fill a vacant position. After several mediocre interviews, the recruiters are introduced to a charismatic, energetic, intelligent and striking woman whose credentials align perfectly with the job description. Obviously she is hired on the spot. Her low emotionality keeps her calm under pressure and cool-headed when resolving conflicts with co-workers. She’s able to make critical decisions for the company because “it’s not personal; it’s a business decision,” and has no problem sleeping at night while putting hundreds of employees out of work. Some of her co-workers go home emotionally exhausted after a day of rejected sales attempts, but not her. Little do they know her attractive outwardly appearance merely serves as a cover for the hollow shell within. Emotional detachment and regulation are important while in a business setting but for psychopaths their emotions are consistently “turned down.”
The flip side to this would be someone who is overemotional, which is often synonymous with “irrational.” This is why people are granted bereavement time from work. When mourning the loss of a loved one, they will be overcome by emotion and unable to concentrate effectively on their job duties. In some careers, such carelessness can be dangerous. It is this same extreme emotional state that sets the stage for crimes of passion because emotions have a tendency to distort reasoning - unbalanced emotions overwhelm balanced judgment (Hare 1999). For psychopaths, problems are evaluated in black and white terms with very little “gray area” distortion. Factor in the other leading characteristic, lack of empathy, and it is understandable why they describe having an “unburdened mind.” (Thomas 2013)
Psychopaths compensate for these deficits by learning to be experts on human behavior and honing their ability to mimic appropriate emotions. This overcompensation is often described as “deception” and “manipulation” in diagnostic criteria, but it is the same concept as “impression management” techniques regular people frequently utilize (DSM-IV-TR (2000) 4th ed., text. Rev). It is also called social masks in some literature. This is the idea that people slightly alter their personality depending on the situation they are in, thus “playing to the crowd” (Hare 1999). An example would be maintaining a professional appearance and demeanor while at work but “being yourself” at home. Adolescents or even young adults may use crude language in front of their friends but refrain in the presence of their families. Trying to show your best attributes during a first date and gradually “letting your guard down” describes the same concept. This could be “making a good impression” or being manipulative and deceptive depending upon perspective.
Regardless of one’s opinion of such practice, another important part of impression management and successful social interaction is learning to display proper emotion at certain times with appropriate intensity. Failing to display appropriate social cues can be off-putting and uncomfortable for the people who would describe this person as “hard to read.” So people learn to smile on cue, chuckle at a joke whether it is humorous or not, feign concern over a matter that doesn’t genuinely trouble anyone but the people involved, and so on. This process is generally automatic although errors occur occasionally, which is called “sending mixed signals.” It could be chalked up to having good manners and refined social skills but just how much feigned emotion people can handle is debatable. At what point is a person accused of “putting on a show” or being “fake?” When someone’s ego is at risk of injury they attempt to “save face” or avoid negative action. There is not a clearly defined manual for impression management and some pull it off better than others.