Posted by: Ele Quigan | August 3, 2013

The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson

The Psychopath TestTitle says it all doesn’t it – ‘The Psychopath test’. I’ve been sitting on this post for ages – there’s just a bit of a backlog of recent books for some reason – suddenly reading and a lack of spare time makes for a few posts out of date, so I finished this about, 4 weeks ago…

I’m a sucker for a nice cover. Paper stock, vintage colouring, the last book that felt similar was Narcopolis (which I adored) – so I was intruiged by the cover. Subject matter – we’ve all heard the ‘CEO’s are bascially functioning Psychopaths’ trotted out time and time again, so I thought some kind of investigation into the matter was interesting.

I like Ronson’s writing style, I guess I feel it’s slightly similar to mine (involving yourself in the subject matter, making for a subjective rather than objective view) – so made for slightly inspirational reading (I really really really want to be a writer. There. I finally said it.)

The Psychopath test feel similar to other mental health ‘tests’ I’ve taken – a questionnaire where you mark whether you agree, somewhat agree or disagree, and your score conveniently puts you in a box of whether you have x or x. Yes I am grossly over-simplifying, but this is the easiest way to explain it.

At times, I feel a strong need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation, I get bored easily. This might result in me taking chances and doing things that are risky.

So Mr Jon Ronson travels the world, looking to speak to various psychopath’s, people associated with psychopaths (including the author of the original questionnaire) around the world, leaving you with more than a little feeling like what is sane vs not-sane?

Off the back of this, the new DSM has just come out. (Dearest friends who are likely reading this who are FAR more qualified to comment, please do, I’m interested in all sides of this debate) I have a few issues with it. Well, in so far that I feel that it’s incredibly closely aligned to the pharmaceutical industry, which of course if you’ve read Bad Pharma is enough to terrify you.
Well terrify is the wrong word, I just feel that we are becoming an incredibly over-medicated society, I’m a firm believer and looking beyond just simply medication to solve mental health issues. At least for a relatively common condition such as depression, rather than more expensive ‘talk therapy’, insurance companies are now pushing for medication and advice to exercise to help. Sure SSRI’s are proven to work, until you read Bad Pharma, and look at the actual stats on one type of these. I feel that everyone would benefit from some ‘Talk therapy’. That mindfulness is a skill that should be taught in schools. That the key to good mental health is a toolbox of different skills/exercise/communication. That being to articulate how you feel and tell your partner why you’ve reacted to what they just said, and the ability to hear why you’ve upset them with your own behaviour without becoming overly defensive about it, and have a conversation about what to do next (or at least an open dialogue) would help millions. Not all underlying issues can simply be solved by 6 months on SSRI’s.

So if answering a questionnaire one way will class you as a definite yes, definite no, or a borderline psychopath, how are some people siphoned off one way and others end up fully functioning in society?

The occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences

Of course that’s the people who can rise to the top in business, be ruthless in their choices, aim for financial gratification at the sacrifice of others. A grand sweeping statement but I genuinely believe there must be a reason behind the choice to put 250,000 staff on a zero-hour contract with no access to holiday, benefits, sick pay – hiding behind shareholder profitability surely is just a cop out?

I think it’s incredibly interesting that throughout society that we can have people who have a similar experience, that can then shape personality and behaviours in a similar way. I guess it’s the same with the idea of a psychopath, some parts are stronger than others, some elements more influential and while ‘letting psychopaths run around free’ is a ludicrous statement, a lot of the questionnaire points me to banking trading floors before anything else.

Can be very smooth, engaging, charming, slick. Can give a very self-conscious and confident impression, and it is hard to make me speechless; can talk someone into the ground if needed.

It’s hard reading any book like this without looking at your own personal and professional life and making direct & indirect comparisons. Cherry pick if you will. And start seeing that same behaviour in others…

It’s a really interesting read. I was left with more questions than answers, wondering why rather than what, but then who has the money for a wide sweeping questionnaire of CEO’s and senior members of very large corporations to see how they measure up against the psychopaths in prison. And besides, sounds like psychopaths can turn empathy on and off to suit their needs now, that being the case, where does that leave me against the questionnaire now?!

Who knows.

If you want to have a look at the questionnaire for yourself, and see how you stack up – check this out… And if you’re aligning high on the ‘yes yes yes that’s definitely me’ scale, let me know, I’d love to know who my psychopath friends and family are 🙂


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