Some time ago, SAS hero Andy McNab agreed to be subjected to one of the gold standard tests for psychopathy by Dr. Kevin Dutton, research psychologist at Oxford University. This involved measuring brain activity while he was bombarded with nauseating images of road accidents, torture and death. The results were revealing.
In most of the population, these images have the grey matter firing like the brain’s answer to Guy Fawkes’ night. But Andy’s graphs were as flat as a pancake.
In psychopaths, like Andy, a section of the amygdala, the part that corresponds to fear, is underdeveloped and, when Kevin explained this to him, many things about his life slotted into place. Andy says…
Even as a kid, I never thought of anything as dangerous. I thought of it as fun, like going through the levels on a video game. In fights, I felt detached, like I was watching myself in slow motion and thinking clearly about what needed to be done and how I was going to do it. There was no fear, no emotional connection to what was happening.
Whenever most of us hear the word ‘psychopath’, images of infamous serial killers flash across our minds. But psychologists use the term to refer to a much wider group of individuals who have a distinct cluster of personality traits.
As you might expect, reduced empathy for others and lack of conscience are among them. But they also include ruthlessness, fearlessness, impulsivity, self-confidence, focus and coolness under pressure.
Imagine each of these as a dial on one of those recording studio mixing desks. No one characteristic is necessarily ‘bad’ in itself. It’s the particular combination of levels at which they are twiddled up or down that matters.
Finding out that I could be classified in this way was certainly a surprise to me but it turns out that I’m what they call a ‘good psychopath’ and it’s certainly done me no harm in life. In fact, I believe it’s the reason I’ve been so successful.