Dutton on the Wisdom of Psychopaths

men behind a window: psychopaths

Image by Niklas Asker on Scientfic American

My current villain seems to be a psychopath, and any doubts I had about writing this character were quelled by an article by Dr. Kevin Dutton in Scientific American: “Wisdom from Psychopaths?” According to Dutton,  like a strong medicine, a little psychopathy can be a good thing, where a lot is deadly (para. 4).

Dutton describes his entry to the maximum-security facility where he has an appointment to visit his psychopath interviewees: “This is the conscienceless inner sanctum of the Chianti-swilling unworried unwell—the preserve of some of the most sinister neurochemistry in the business. The Yorkshire Ripper is in here. So is the Stockwell Strangler. It’s one of the most dangerous buildings on earth.” (para. 10)

A key to understanding my villain is a differently-valued practicality: “The dagger of hard-nosed self-interest may be concealed, rather deftly, under a benevolent cloak of opaque, obfuscatory charm.” (“Winning Smiles,” para. 1).  I am seeing how the villain uses charm, nattering along while making some remarks that the others will have to admit they agreed to, even when it’s inconvenient.  The villain is charming, lying only to solve the problem, not so much as a deception as a practical and straight-forward application of ruthlessness.The question then is what happens when the others around the psychopath begin not to respond to her charm? When she does not get her way?

Therein lies the question of the book and the answer will play itself out to a life and death struggle,a  that is always the way of books and fantasy in particular. But I’m glad to know how her mind operates.

On Duttons’ “Are you a Psychopath?” quiz, I’m below average in psychopathy at 13/33. But then, I’m good at taking tests and answering what I want the tester to believe.


Dutton, K. (2013 January 4), Wisdom from psychopaths? A scientist enters a high-security psychiatric hospital to extract tips and advice from a crowd without a conscience. Mind and brain. Scientific American online. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wisdom-from-psychopaths&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_MB_20130109

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7 Responses to Dutton on the Wisdom of Psychopaths

  1. Hi Charlotte,
    I’m not sure if I fancy taking the psychopath test or not!! lol

  2. I tried to take the test, but my computer says its untested. Recently I read something that said that CEOs, surgeons and chefs tested high on the psychopathy scale and craftsperson tested pretty low. I am a working craftsperson and can tell you right now that my issue with beads does border on the level of obsession. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/these-are-the-top-10-jobs-most-likely-to-attract-psychopaths-should-we-be-worried/

    Whatever the case, I think some of the best villains in both movies and books are psychopaths and as a whole we are (as readers, TV-watchers, movie buffs) fascinated by them.

  3. Psychopathy is so intriguing and scary! I think that’s why people are so drawn to shows like Dexter or scandals like the Casey Anthony trial. One source that might be interesting to you is: http://www.dr-robert.com He answers lots of questions about psychopaths and gives some good insight.

  4. JL says:

    Interesting thought to take the test. Not sure I will, but it gives one pause :).

  5. I figured I might as well…just for the punch line if nothing else.

  6. goodrivergallery: The author apparently has interviewed a number of the real life psychopaths we’ve heard of as well as the actor who plays Dexter. The line between the “lone hero” and the psychopathic villain is very thin and grey.

  7. Mercedes R. Donis, Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out. Now to think of some scenes that can be read on two levels…charming and cunning.