Most criminals are sociopaths

Economics Pinstripe psychopaths are prone to crime

About one percent of people are considered psychopaths. A particularly large number of them end up in management: Canadian psychology professor Robert D. Hare estimates their share in business management at six percent. No wonder, because there they find a lot of what they want: success, recognition and power.

Not all psychopaths are the same

For Professor Volker Lingnau and his team from the Chair of Corporate Accounting and Controlling at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, these people are particularly exciting, he says: "We are particularly interested in them because we assume that they can cause lasting damage to companies." Therefore, they investigated whether people with psychopathic traits are more likely to engage in white-collar criminals than others. The work was published in the renowned journal "Journal of Business Economics".

There are very different forms of psychopathy, explains Lingnau. That is why it is important to differentiate in everyday understanding: One should not imagine corporate psychopaths, such as in the thriller "American Psycho" with US actor Christian Bale in the lead role, who is conspicuous as Patrick Bateman through brutal physical violence. Psychopaths could be very successful in companies and use high intelligence to hide their dark traits well. The Canadian criminal psychologist Hare calls them "Factor 1 psychopaths". They can be particularly dangerous for the economy, according to Lingnau.

Corporate scandals, such as the American energy giant Enron, which went bankrupt in 2001 due to massive balance sheet fraud, show that corporate psychopaths can pose an existential threat to the economy and society due to their ability to lie and manipulate without remorse.

Prof. Volker Lingnau, Technical University of Kaiserslautern

Balance sheet manipulation and insider trading

In their study, the researchers investigated the extent to which people with the characteristics of a corporate psychopath are more willing to accept balance sheet manipulation and insider trading - two of the classic forms of white-collar crime that often occur together. For their investigation, they carried out two online surveys with a total of 469 participants.

The result: the factors that reflect the "dark" character traits of a corporate psychopath predict a significantly higher level of approval for the two forms of white-collar crime. So there is apparently a connection between psychopathic character traits and the propensity for white-collar crime.

The two factors cold-heartedness and the so-called Machiavellian egoism, which is characterized by particular ruthlessness and manipulative abilities, were particularly meaningful. Both personality factors can therefore be seen as absolute risk factors and should be taken into account in recruitment tests, for example.

Prof. Volker Lingnau, Technical University of Kaiserslautern

But how can companies protect themselves from a charismatic corporate psychopath climbing the career ladder? Lingnau and his team also give an answer to this in their study: For example, social working conditions could expose such personalities, as sooner or later they would become conspicuous in them due to their social incompetence. Appropriate training could also be helpful in identifying psychopaths. The researchers are also discussing new incentive systems and how they could help make advancement more difficult for psychopaths or make the company appear unattractive to them.

The dark triad

Most psychopaths not only show this one side, but also have other "dark" traits. Psychologists call this phenomenon the "dark triad" - the dark triad. It was only in the past few years that the personality traits that make up this personality construct have been defined:

The narcissist
addicted to attention and admiration

The Machiavellian
ice cold and eager for power

The psychopath
without compassion for others, so no empathy