Norwich Science Festival 2018: The Psychology of Psychopaths – Is Your Partner Trying to Kill You?

Would you hire a psychopath? Do psychopaths make great sportspeople? Is your partner a psychopath? I attended a talk with Steve Gaskin at the Norwich Science Festival to uncover these truths and try to understand a little more about the mind of a psychopathic killer.

Steve Gaskin is a former Metropolitan Police Detective and now director of the corporate team building company Right Angle. He is also an advisor to the BBC hit show Silent Witness, and has studied Harold Shipman extensively over the years, so knew his stuff.

He started out by categorising a psychopath and their traits – the most common among most studies is the combination of extreme ego-centricity, cold-heartedness, lack of empathy and an inability to love – ‘It’s all about them’ (if this sounds like your partner, move out!), so why do they go to the extreme to maim and kill? Steve categorised four main reasons, with some of the most serious serial killers demonstrating a combination of the below;

* Visionary – They hear voices from a god/are sent by a higher ‘being’ to kill

* Missionary – They believe their life mission is to kill

* Hedonistic – Purely for the fun of it

* Power and Control – To exert power over their victims

This was the case for serial killers such as Harold Shipman and Peter Manuel, the worst kind of people who left indescribable misery in their wake. However, these are psychopaths on an extreme scale and the next part of the talk was how a lot of psychopathic tendencies are common in modern society.

Elite sportspeople and successful business owners also portray many of the psychopathic traits that are necessary to climb to the top of their respective fields. If you think of Cristiano Ronaldo or Richard Branson, they wouldn’t have got where they are today without having a ruthless streak, fearlessness, mental toughness, an ability of not taking criticism personally and an intense focus on their goals – often at the expense of personal sacrifice. Some tendencies are also actually helpful in more ‘normal’ professions. I know I’d much rather have a Surgeon who is fearless and lacks empathy to fix a broken leg, than an overly cautious Surgeon who felt sorry for me.

The talk culminated in the audience completing a test devised by Kevin Dutton that scores your psychopathic tendencies through a series of ‘agree or disagree’ scenarios, to find if out if your partner is really trying to kill you. Ok it’s doesn’t determine this, but it was fun, and you can try it by clicking here. Luckily my partner is a nurse and scored very low, although the same couldn’t be said for the woman sitting beside me…

The overall message was that psychopathic tendencies can be positive and negative; the key is to channel the positives and attaching them to obtainable moral goals whilst learning to control the negative impulsive urges. As Agatha Christine describes in ‘Curtain’ – “Everyone is a potential murderer – in everyone there arises from time to time the wish to kill – though not the will to kill.”

Andy Prosser

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