Antisocial, without empathy, manipulators, narcissists, stalkers…? Yes, but also, deeply pragmatic. The psychopath is a psychological profile that applies to an individual with certain traits that often alter the harmony of a society.
However, precisely this lack of empathy can give them a very useful pragmatism for societies. And we are talking about deciding about difficult situations, life or death.
That is, they would not think twice about, for example, breaking down a plane to prevent it from hitting a structure in a hypothetical terrorist attack; or throw a stranger under a bus to prevent it from hitting five people lying on the road.
While these situations may seem like a movie, they are moral dilemmas to which people of the security bodies with an average level of empathy might have to face, and that a person with a psychopath profile would solve without a doubt.
This is the conclusion drawn from a study published by the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.
The research, carried out by a team from the University of Plymouth, consisted of comparing the judgments regarding moral dilemmas of different people, with the aim of measuring their levels of psychopathy . About one in every 100 participants had psychopathic features.
“Moral dilemmas to me…”
In each dilemma the participants had to decide whether to sacrifice a person by causing physical harm in exchange for saving the life of a group.
For example, one of the situations consisted in deciding whether to push a victim from a bridge to a train track, with such force that it would deflect its trajectory avoiding the death of five men who were in the middle of the road and who would be run over although, for this, the pushed victim had to die.
Another scenario: participants had to decide whether to stab an injured soldier to death to prevent him being tortured by enemy troops and reveal vital secrets that could endanger the platoon.
The participants had to respond by tightening a robotic handle that could measure the force with which they pressed the button, that is, their level of determination. A weaker squeeze suggested that they would not perform morally dubious action.
Research showed that people with psychopathic traits were more likely to generate harmful actions with greater physical power.
Therefore, according to the authors, in certain circumstances psychopathic traits can be considered beneficial to a society.
According to Dr. Kathryn Francis, co-author of the study while at the Plymouth School of Psychology: “For the first time, we have demonstrated how personality traits can influence the physical power of our moral actions.”
“In the experiment we found that the physical power of simulated utilitarian responses was predicted by individual levels of psychopathy.”
Psychopathy is usually characterized by antisocial behavior and impaired empathy. Therefore, it is believed that people classified as such are, together, bad for society.
In fact, psychopathic traits have often been blamed for being responsible for decisions that have led to financial crises or immoral political behaviors.
In addition, this study opens the possibility of evaluating psychopathy using novel virtual reality technology , which is vital to better understand how and why people with these behavioral traits act in a certain way.