Psychopaths In Medicine?

In some general reading on psychopaths, I came across this study by Kevin Dutton Ph.D, a research psychologist at Oxford who's an expert on the science of social influence... and noticed that surgeons and doctors are on the lists.

According to a survey conducted by psychologist Kevin Dutton Ph.D, here are the top 10 professions with the most psychopaths:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (TV/Radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police Officer
  8. Clergyperson
  9. Chef
  10. Civil Servant

And here are the professions with the least psychopaths:

  1. Care Aide
  2. Nurse
  3. Therapist
  4. Craftsperson
  5. Beautician/Stylist
  6. Charity Worker
  7. Teacher
  8. Creative Artist
  9. Doctor
  10. Accountant

I'm not entirely sure what this says of doctors vs. surgeons. (Perhaps the pediatricains are skewing the results.)

Although you might tend to think of psychopaths as homocidal maniacs (there are some 15-25% of people in prison who are psychopaths), in fact many people with psychopathic tendencies are not criminals... and some are surgeons. I guess this is what our friends over at Uncommon Student MD would call self-selection.

Some common psychopathic traits:

  • Self-confident
  • Cold-hearted
  • Manipulative
  • Fearless
  • Charming
  • Cool under pressure
  • Egocentric
  • Carefree

Looking throught the list of 'high psychopaths' professions, you could draw the inference that some of the psychopatic traits could actually be beneficial or helpful.

Of course this doesn't mean that every CEO or surgeon is psychopathic, it just means that there's some commonality between personality traits and they types of people who choose those professions.

But being ar realy psychopath may not be that useful (or fun). Research has found that psychopaths generally do worse at the things that are often associated with being succesful: their relationships are worse, they earn less money and do not generally attain high status (research described in Stevens, Deuling, Armenakis, 2012 - Successful Psychopaths: Are They Unethical Decision-Makers and Why?).

Further reading: Wisdom of Psychopaths