Thursday, June 20, 2013

Identifying sociopaths (and then what?)

This was an interesting post from author of Liars and Outliers, Bruce Schneier, about the identification of sociopaths. He first quotes Scott Adams (Dilbert comic author) predicting the future identification of "sociopaths and terrorists":

My hypothesis is that science will someday be able to identify sociopaths and terrorists by their patterns of Facebook and Internet use. I'll bet normal people interact with Facebook in ways that sociopaths and terrorists couldn't duplicate.

Anyone can post fake photos and acquire lots of friends who are actually acquaintances. But I'll bet there are so many patterns and tendencies of "normal" use on Facebook that a terrorist wouldn't be able to successfully fake it.

Adams says that the reason that it would work is the same reason that fraud detection programs work: "[C]rooks don't know there is a normal pattern and so they don't know when they violate it. I think the same would be true for Facebook. There must be dozens of normal Facebook patterns that sociopaths and terrorists wouldn't know about, and therefore couldn't fake." This does not seem implausible, and is one of several reasons why I think that remaining completely anonymous and undetectable is not going to work for the rising generation of sociopaths.

Schneier has another criticism:

Okay, but so what? Imagine you had such an amazingly accurate test...then what? Do we investigate those who test positive, even though there's no suspicion that they've actually done anything? Do we follow them around? Subject them to additional screening at airports? Throw them in jail because we know the streets will be safer because of it? Do we want to live in a Minority Report world? 

The problem isn't just that such a system is wrong, it's that the mathematics of testing makes this sort of thing pretty ineffective in practice. It's called the "base rate fallacy." Suppose you have a test that's 90% accurate in identifying both sociopaths and non-sociopaths. If you assume that 4% of people are sociopaths, then the chance of someone who tests positive actually being a sociopath is 26%. (For every thousand people tested, 90% of the 40 sociopaths will test positive, but so will 10% of the 960 non-sociopaths.) You have postulate a test with an amazing 99% accuracy -- only a 1% false positive rate -- even to have an 80% chance of someone testing positive actually being a sociopath.

He ends with this thought: "Many authors have written stories about thoughtcrime. Who has written about genecrime?"

The comments are also really worth reading for their intelligence and insight. For instance, there was this comment:

First you'll need a useful definition of "sociopath" that is not, for practical purposes, equivalent to "non-conformist" or "adherent to a religion not on the approved list", etc. 

Followed by this comment:

You may underestimate the ability to create tautological tests. If you define a sociopath as someone who fails the sociopathy test, then the sociopathy test is 100% accurate in identifying sociopaths. 

That's all well and good, until people begin to think that an attribute thus defined is useful for anything.


  1. None of the people I rate as intelligent are even on Facebook. Where does that leave your thesis?

  2. The text of Bruce Schneier is amazingly clear, first he talks about test accuracy of 90% then he talks about having postulated a test with 99% accuracy, then a false positive rate of 1%,... I wonder if anyone understood anything.

    And the whole thing to say: remember you have to apply Bayes’s theorem to calculate a conditional probability because whether the probability of having a detection if it is a sociopath is of 90%, the probability to have a sociopath when there is a detection is lower, closer to 80%, because there are 4% sociopaths in the population.

    Well, then, what about making a more restrictive test? Even at the price of allowing more false negatives (so some sociopath would not be detected) but that the probability of having a real sociopath when positive is of 99%. In that case, the chance of someone testing positive actually being a sociopath is 97%.

    "Who has written about genecrime?"

    Who has written about the massacre that human beings are doing against viruses and bacterias? Freedom for Variola!!

    1. You keep getting more interesting, Jessi. Who would've thought you'd have a strong statistical background? You certainly know more than me, though within the next few years ideally I'll be helping to design clinical trials, so I'll need to pick up some Biostatistics.

      As for the test, it would be a good idea to do a preliminary screen to increase the proportion of true sociopaths tested. You could start by testing those who had well-documented behavioral problems as children. I, of course, would be overlooked in such a screen, though you'd get a good amount of potentially dangerous sociopaths.

      We've done a decent job of taking out viruses, polio is almost gone! However, bacterial strains such as MRSA are still killing us, and HIV continues to kick our ass. Besides that, our bodies contain more bacteria than they do our own cells (by number), and they are essential for us to remain healthy. Fecal transplants (yup, that's a thing) are very effective at treating GI infections, particularly C. dificile. Yes, for some illnesses, literally eating shit is the best cure. Yum.

    2. I'd say woman with Aspergers are ALL soiopaths. God they're so nutty. I dated some who had hid it from me. Ooooooh that was an interesting time. Wacko jacko's. Lol

  3. The sociopaths that use facebook and the internet are probably not the dangerous (stupid) ones anyways. Also, a computer program that can make sense of people's retarded facebook posts would have to be self-aware, and I'll bet Skynet has better things to do than hunt down internet sociopaths.

    Also, maybe you have some crazy sociopath facebook tendencies, but I'm pretty sure I don't. I very mechanically and methodically click 'like' on all the cat pictures people post, just like anyone else! Then again, people like you and Birdick are more similar to each other than I am to either of you. You were apparently little devil children who were aware you were different from others very early on. I was practically a saint. Except, of course, for the fact that churches made me more uncomfortable than any other place I've visited.

    Practically, a lack of affective empathy does not make me much different from 'normal people'. I have never and will never succumb to mob mentality. I obey authority figures, but not without question. I am mindful of the thoughts and feelings of others, and refuse to privately or openly mock people. My code of ethics requires that my actions allow me to be well-regarded by others.

    As socially accepted behavior changes, so will I change. Also, I cannot speak to how I would act if my reputation were destroyed, though I think I'd make a marvelous villain.

    1. "methodically click 'like' on all the cat pictures people post"

      I don't.

      Authority figures, well-regarded by others... What about your private life? Do you think that if someone would watch you all day long everything you do everyday would they see something odd? There are no people in your past who can give you away?

    2. Nope. I can't objectively describe an outside perspective of myself, but I fit the picture of a shy nerd. When I'm socializing I'm much less shy, but otherwise I probably just seem a little awkward.

      As for people, I usually try not to hurt anyone, but if I do I apologize or otherwise try to make amends. I had to give a speech at my high school graduation, and I literally apologized to everyone I may have hurt. No enemies, ever.

    3. "The sociopaths that use facebook and the internet are probably not the dangerous (stupid) ones anyways."

      Au contraire Mr Glass, I would argue that the sociopaths that use FB are the stupid ones.

    4. "No enemies, ever."

      A man with no enemies is a man with no character. - Paul Newman

    5. That's a funny one. The guy who gave the speech at my high school also apologized to everyone :). I still consider him a bastard who tried unsuccesfully to get clean with cheap words. I don't know which type of people you have hurt, but I don't remember anyone thinking different from him after the speech. Maybe sociopaths value too much their persuation skills and ability to clean up a mess.

    6. Anon, good point. My sociopath is not stupid, he has lots of FB friends and usually clicks 'like' on cats' pics...

    7. I mean, in his official account, not in the other ones...

    8. @4:53 Sometimes when people make an argument, they make an argument. Just a friendly suggestion :)

      @4:57 Agreed.

      @Jessi I was an asshole unintentionally, and in very minor ways. I was sensitive to them, though.

      Also, don't forget that your spath was smart enough to fool you, at least for a while :P

    9. Even a stupid can fool anyone who is willing to trust, at least for a while ;)

    10. @4:53-
      People are on Facebook for different reasons. The reasons for smart sociopaths might be different than dumb sociopaths, but to categorically assume there is nothing a smart sociopath might find appealing/useful about Facebook is.... stupid.

    11. Lol, Andy, I do pretty much the same thing on facebook

    12. ALL woman are sociopaths. But someone has to reproduce.SOB

    13. You're such a liar, Andy. If you think that you'd make a great villain ,then you deserve to be hunted down.

      That Paul guy's also a liar. Honestly, what good is having enemies all the time? That's an improper way to live. If you have no friends at all, what's the point of living?

      As for the one who claimed that all women are sociopaths, he's a liar and a sexist. So to hell with him.

  4. always more convenient to live in a foreign country.

  5. Dear M.E.,
    It seems that you have an underlying concern that there might one day be a
    "general round-up" of sociopaths and that you might get caught up in the
    sweep. Rest assured. No such dragnet is possible.
    First of all, there has NEVER been a consensus on what a sociopath is.
    I remember seeing a movie called "Compulsion." It was loosely baised on the
    Leopold and Leob case. L&L were two wealthy, intellegent, narasistic kids
    who thought they were Superman. They would commit the perfect crime.
    They lured a young relative of Leob's, Bobby Franks to their car and
    bludgened him to death. They poured acid on his face and hid him in a
    drain pipe. As often happens, (Except in Orlando FL and Boulder CO) they
    were tripped up by a stupid mistake. Leob left his custom made designer
    eye glasses at the scene. There were only a few dozen in existence.
    Leopold and Leob were defended by the famous Clearence Dorrow.
    Everyone knew they were going to get convicted. Darrow's task was to
    keep them from recieving the death penality. He argued that because of
    the boys' delusion that they were "Supermen," they had a compulsion to
    commit the crime. I don't know wether he outright went for the insanity
    defense, but that was his stragety.
    The state also had their psychatrists. They give completely contradictory
    to Dorrow"s "experts." Darrow commented, "I think the state's doctors
    should analyzie each other and see what they come up with!"
    It got a laugh. Darrow"s elequince carried the day and the boys got life.
    The point I'm trying to make is that psychiatry is an inexact science.
    Again, back to Casey Anthony. Forensic Psychatrist Michael Stone, inventer of the "Scale of Evil" (He wrote the book "Anatomy Of Evil.)
    said in a radio interview that Casey Anthony was a psychopath.He should
    know shouldn't he? If you use the test developed by Robert Hare, she sure
    is. Dr. Drew Pinski of H.L.N. who's expertise is in drug counselling
    says, "No she suffers from neurological (temporal lobe) problems like
    the man Pineas Gage, who had a steel rod driven through his head in an
    explosion and that accounts for her pathology. And then there's "crome
    dome" Keith Ablow of FOX who (like the state appointed psychatrists)
    said she's not a psychopath. She's a victim of sex abuse and this caused
    her mind to fracture. Varying claims have been made about Jodi Arias as
    well. Is she boaderline? Is she psychopatic? Is she a combination of both? And there's also books with titles like "Almost Psychopaths"
    What nonsense! So do worry M.E. There's no way they're going to do a
    "general round up" of sociopaths. They'd have to start with themselves!
    Have you seen the things are "trusted government" is up to?

    1. I don't think there will be a general round up, but I do think that there could be a sociopath registry that looks a lot like our sex offender registries, and the biggest danger of those is the morons in the general population who get ahold of addresses and then think they are on some sort of mission from God to make these individual's lives a living hell.

  6. Hey, there's a probably foolproof way of detecting psychopaths... the fear response caused changes in skin conducitivity.

    I'd say it ought to be in the driver's licence or on the ID card..

    1) good psychopaths would agree that if they know they're being watched, they're less likely to do anti-social shit.

    2) psychopaths would exploit less people that way, and would have to be more pro-social

  7. The NPR interview with M.E is great! I am getting a lot out of it.

  8. hunting down sociopaths is just the diversion from the economical crisis the poletitions need
    after the axes of evil
    time for a sociopath (witch hunt)
    i can see some spindocter comming up with something like that and sepported by lovefraude

  9. ME has a lovely voice. It sounds musical.

    Dr Phil did not let her talk like the NPR interviewer did.

    I have to say I had a man size crush on the man M.E.

    1. I read it, Monica. It's good. I am looking for the audio so I, too, can listen to her mellifluousness. Is there a handy link to it?

      Way to go, M.E. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. The link is on the Forum, Sweetie.

  10. I wonder what the interviewer thinks of baby emmie

  11. Immediately two potential benefits a sociopath classifier come to mind, I'm sure there are others: (These two benefits may apply to many human classifications.)

    Marketing and Medicine

    As a demographic sociopaths may be especially interested in certain products, services, or information.

    As a demographic sociopaths may have common physical/mental characteristics that may impact their health and health care.

    There are potential downsides to any human classification aka "labels"... such as negative social stigmas and bigotry. These negatives are not caused by the classification itself, but are the result of a deeper issue with many humans treating that which they classify "different or strange" with hostility.

    I suspect this almost visceral reaction to the "different" is related to the biases we generate as part of the learning process. Hopefully challenging these biases regularly will allow us to reap the benefits of classification without falling into the trap of treating certain classifications as "wrong" or "lesser."

  12. once you catch them you teain them to be stockbrokers ofc

  13. Top comment by Anonymos just proved your thesis right. Arrogant disdain of others and lack of understanding or caring for social etiquette

  14. How to identify a sociopath:

    I can tell by their expressions, generally they move the FRONT PART OF THEIR FACES while the sides/back of the face remains rather stoic, hard, they mainly move their eyebrows and mouth. A natural expression requires movement of more muscles.

    Also, their facial expressions are SMOOTH, kind of flowing like a song as if rehearsed, and not random noise which would be the natural way of reacting to different emotions on the spot.

    For example watch the following video of DAVID BOWIE:

    Or JESSE JAMES (Sandra Bullock's exhusband):


    Try it and let me know what you find, but you may have to observe for long periods of time to notice the pattern.

    Disclaimer: The examples may or may not be sociopaths, I just showed them as an example of their facial expressions, although they do portray sociopathic traits.

  15. Replies
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