Sociopathy. I have been considering the various aspects of what it's like to be a sociopath. I did some online research, read about it, looked at the DSM manual for the clinical details. After doing this, I began to consider...is being a sociopath actually a benefit to an individual in modern society? I mean, from purely a strategic, competitive point of view. Living without empathy, ability to deceive easily, social aggression and fearlessness, if you weren't to factor in the ethical consequences of being a sociopath but to examine it from a cost-benefit perspective, looking at prospects for general life success, is being a sociopath a plus or minus in the game of life? From a materialistic, competitive, and self-interested point of view.

To clarify, I personally am not a sociopath (I did a self diagnosis based on the DSM and have no identifying characteristics). I am curious about this though, there are some articles that suggest that sociopathic traits are more common in certain high-success occupations, such as CEO and political leader and surprisingly doctors. It is observably the case that sometimes sociopaths rise high in the social ladder, and can take positions of leadership in a country, such as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq. They are often charming, and can be very manipulative if they are intelligent. So ultimately, then, in this sometimes cutthroat and brutal world that we live in, is being a sociopath an advantage or disadvantage?

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I am sure that some managers lack some empathy and morality, but the definition suggests a total lack.  That's pretty strong.

Eh. Maybe just mine. Haha. Just as in everything, i'm sure there are differing degrees of sociopathy, or at least differing degrees of how well it is hidden. Makes one recall "The Mask of Sanity", am i right?

I wouldn't know, but I would not want a sociopathic doctor treating me!

They're not usually "true" sociopaths (see explanation below), they simply share certain personality traits that are not particularly dangerous in and of themselves.

Some of those are advantageous, like not responding to tragedies or problems with negative emotions. Imagine being a soldier on a battlefield finding a mortally-wounded comrade, or being the first person on the scene of an accident.

Imagine the difference between:

* being scared to go near to render assistance...crying...panicking...screaming in terror and thereby adding to the victim's distress...

or

* calmly rendering assistance...comforting the victim through his agony...trying to keep him calm and peaceful as possible.

One of my friends went through that scenario when he was about 4! Traffic accident victim died in his arms.

Both of them might care about the victim, but one of them is contributing to the problem. Negative emotions around sickness, injury, suffering, and death are not for the benefit of the person in distress.

So, don't hold it agains the doctor if he doesn't feel bad because you feel bad. He's actually doing what he's supposed to. Calling him a "sociopath" is somewhat confusing the issue. There are doctors who are sociopathic in the more accurate and dangerous sense of the word, and you're absolutely right, you wouldn't want them treating you, but they are the rare exception not the rule.

Most of my opinions on this subject come from the fact I used to have a friend and roommate who I strongly believe was a sociopath, and my life was in deed impacted by this person in a very negative way.  Following this, I stumbled across a book titled "The Sociopath Next Door" by Dr. Martha Stout, who deals extensively with those who have had their lives impacted by those she considers sociopaths.  In this book, she talks about how sociopathy manifests itself in a variety of ways from  the very charismatic  and socially-popular to the socially-inept and much more passive type of personality.  In this book, Dr. Stout deals with this very question of whether or not being a sociopath is beneficial in any way, and concludes that perhaps it is for the individual in the short term, but in an evolutionary sense, it is not for the benefit of a society or a species to rid themselves of conscience.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this topic as I found much of what she had to say very insightful as well as beneficial.  I wish I could go into more detail on what is found in this book, but I haven't read it in several years and some of what I read has faded a bit.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Antisocial personality disorder is a type of chronic mental condition in which a person's ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive. People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.

Those with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others either harshly or with callous indifference. They may often violate the law, landing in frequent trouble, yet they show no guilt or remorse. They may lie, behave violently or impulsively, and have problems with drug and alcohol use. These characteristics typically make people with antisocial personality disorder unable to fulfill responsibilities related to family, work or school.

The "may" I bolded above is key.  Like most conditions in the DSM, antisocial personality spans a spectrum, and not every individual who suffers from it, even to a pathological degree, will display every characteristic. 

Extreme sociopathy often is accompanied by poor impulse control, inability to plan, inability to envision or appreciate consequences for actions, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, ...

But less extreme examples can be people who fully live by the principle, "The end justifies the means".  And I'd bet government and big business are full of people like that.

I agree that full blown sociopathy is fairly rare in professions of high success, but I would bet there are at least some guys who have it, that are clever enough to pass as a "nice guy". It depends on how well they could hide it from others. That is, until you find out what they are really about. And if you happen to live in a society with a lower degree of rule of law and legal organization, these guys can run rampant. Below is Pablo Escobar Gaviria, one of the most ruthless and successful drug lords of all time. He was by far the richest man in the country of Colombia in his heyday, and one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time (80's-early 90's). He almost gained political control of Colombia, had many high ranking military officers and politicians and judges and an army of cops in his pocket, and had many, many people assassinated. He killed guys at his own house parties if he thought they did something wrong, or probably just to inspire fear in others. 

I am curious about this though, there are some articles that suggest that sociopathic traits are more common in certain high-success occupations, such as CEO and political leader and surprisingly doctors.

If you analyze the context in which the word is used, you'll notice that it actually refers to several different characteristics. The book "The wisdom of psychopaths" sort of clarifies this with some venn diagrams of various chacteristics all lumped together under this term, though the author himself is not clear throughout his writing and often mixes meanings. His father was not a serial killer--and sounds like he was an OK guy.

Doctors, particularly surgeons, have the "low fear response" characteristic. They also have low emotional response levels to problems, and at least some of them lack the chronic low-level chronic anxiety that most people have.

In other words, you can't have an emergency-room surgeon who falls apart emotionally when a grisly auto-accident victim shows up. They don't respond as much emotionally as average people would.

Neither would a senior Buddhist monk. They train themselves to react compassionately but not with negative emotions like terror and anxiety. The man who flatlined a test of reaction to a gun being fired right behind his head (but not at his head) was a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Most people would register a sharp startle response that would be picked up by the EEG. The monk flatlined it. Though he knew what was going to happen, and so was able to put himself into an altered state of consciousness that made it possible not to react emotionally to the loud noise and knowing it was a bullet.

A serial killer or a politician might not react with fear-related responses to an accident victim either--in fact, probably not. Since they think of other people as pieces of meat, seeing a ground up piece of meat doesn't bother them. That's why some people lump those traits together. But there are differences. You're a lot safer in a dark alley with the surgeon or Buddhist monk than you are with the serial killer or politician.

So doctors usually are not truly "sociopathic"; they only share some specific traits with them, but not others.

Lack of empathy

I realize that's commonly said about sociopaths, but sociopaths typically have at least average empathy, and high-functioning sociopaths have higher-than-average empathy.

Empathy refers to the sense of what other people are feeling, thinking, or perceiving. It's what autistics lack, and the reason some of them can't talk--they don't perceive any intention to mom and dad moving their lips and making noise.

People with Asperger's Syndrome often make social faux-pas, but they are not typically sociopathic. They lack empathy. If they come to realize that they hurt your feelings, they'll apologize and mean it. Sociopaths might apologize (or not), but they wouldn't mean it. Typical sociopaths are quite aware of your feelings. They don't CARE about your feelings.

What is missing is CARING about how anyone else feels. Sociopaths lack compassion, not empathy.

Given the somewhat muddled definition of "sociopath", the ones and the only ones who scare me are the ones who can

watch someone being tortured, and see nothing but a piece of meat writhing.

I met my first one when I was about 24. Scared me so badly it changed my personality. I had no idea such a thing existed. Actually, they are fairy common, around 4% of the population.

So ultimately, then, in this sometimes cutthroat and brutal world that we live in, is being a sociopath an advantage or disadvantage?

It depends on the sociopath, the context, and how you define "advantage". Someone mentioned guys in prison. Those are "low-functioning sociopaths". Politicians are "high-functioning sociopaths"; they test for sociopathic traits at higher rates than guys in prison.

I am reluctant to give examples because I am not interested in persuing an argument with someone who disagrees, so I'll state this generically and if someone doesn't believe me, that's fine, I don't need to change anyone's mind, and I won't pursue it:

People are regularly assassinated to steal identities, prevent them from disclosing dirty little secrets, to remove heads of state of foreign countries to be replaced by an agent of the sponsor of the assassination, and in the course of black ops--for example, in one case, a man was assassinated to use his apartment for a false-flag terrorist attack. Most governments confine their wet-jobs to overseas operations, but domestic wet-jobs do happen from time to time when the stakes are high. There are a few fairly well-documented cases, and for that matter it is now somewhat openly admitted that policies exist making possible domestic assassinations.

Terrorist attacks are fairly common, and most of them have government sponsors. The sponsor is not usually the one named in the news.

Real politics would make Macchievelli blush. The high-level politicians who authorize these crimes do not end up in prison; instead they have libraries named after them and they're rewarded with money, coke, and harlots and/or catamites depending on their taste in vice.

Is that "successful"? If money, fame, and vice are the standards of "success", then yes. But Buddhists would refer to them as "hungry hell-beings", and Christianity would say something about "eternal separation from God". Make your choice.

I think you are confusing sociopaths and psychopaths.

 

Psychopaths lack a connection between higher reasoning and base emotional instinct.  In other words, they lack what we would ordinarily refer to as conscience.  People, things, events simply have no emotional resonance.

 

Psychopaths are fairly common, with certain studies showing the numbers as high as 1 in 4 people.  But psychopaths are not, by their nature, bad people.  Most are highly intelligent, and they learn social rules which they (due to personal benefit) learn to abide by.  Mr. Spock would probably be, clinically, classified as a psychopath...he is a beloved character and a positive role model to millions.

 

But yes, some psychopaths behave very badly.  Lacking emotional resonance, the concepts of right and wrong must be defined, and if defined incorrectly, undesirable results can occur.

 

As to the original question, yes, these traits can provide a certain advantage.  But they can also be a significant disadvantage.  As with all things, it is a double edged sword.  And yes, a higher percentage of businessmen and politicians test positive for psychopathic behavior than in the general population.  It is quite compatible with alpha or type-A personalities, and if channeled properly can be used very successfully.

From a materialistic, competitive, and self-interested point of view.

I choose not to use what's left of my precious mental energy considering such points of view.

I'd rather take a nap.

to the OP.  Ever read any John D. Macdonald stories or novels?  That man's villains were almost always sociopaths.

The way I was taught about what a sociapath from my father who is a Marriage and Family Therapist, a sociopath is someone who has no NATURAL sense of morals. These people are not any more disabled from learning these morals from being taught than anyone, they just wont necassarily understand why at the level we do. Here is an example:

Sociopath Joe is taught from a very young age that killing is bad. He knows that killing is bad because the person that kills is no longer able to live, the dead person's family and friends are affected, and because the killer can be sent to prison. Sociopath Joe understands that all of this is true, and he wont do it because that is what he has been taught and it makes sense.

Normal Joe is taught all the same things at the same age. But, unlike his Sociopathic counter-part, he would not kill even if he was never taught those things. Because he can infer that all that would happen without be told. 

Here is where they begin to differ in effect. One man and another man is standing on a platform above a train track. One man all of a sudden realizes that a family of five are tied to the track 500 yards down and a train is coming their way. The only way to stop the train is to push the man next to him off which will stop the train. In this situation, a sociopath would have a higher chance of saving the family because he knows that 5 lives are more important than 1; he has been taught this all his life. But a normal guy will think that it was not the man's destiny, or that he doesn't want blood on his hands, or he will try to convince himself that a miracle will happen and the train will stop before it hits the family and nothing will happen. 

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