People on the lookout for psychopaths will often wonder which professions they actually gravitate towards. We have touched on this issue tangientially in some of our psychopaths in the workplace articles, but these articles cover more the behaviors and cultures prevalent in psychopathic companies and managers. What specific industries and lines of work do psychopaths actually tend to be found in higher numbers?
In general, psychopaths tend to be found in higher numbers in any line of work that rewards, or at least tolerates and does not punish. their psychopathic traits. This includes any line of work which is amoral or immoral, exploitative, ruthless, competitive and delivers power over others. These traits or qualities all come naturally to psychopaths, so they will naturally gravitate towards industries which reward or even demand these traits in workers.
Here is a quick summary list of some of the professions they are more likely to be found in.
- Banking and financial world
- Purely commerical and/or exploitative lines of work with no vocational or charitable aspects
- Underground/black economy work
- High visibility lines of work – attention and adulation
- High profit margin lines of work
We will go into more detail on some of these in the sections below. The specific motivations for psychopaths entering certain industries can differ from case to case, but in general terms it is usually because the profession in questions either demands or satisfies some or all of their proclivities.
Dr Ramani Durvasula on psychopathic lines of work and psychopaths in the workplace
Lines of Work Where They Can Have Power Over Others
The first thing to notice about psychopaths is they have a natural tendency and craving to get power and control over others. As Stefan Verstappen puts it in this excellent introductory video on psychopaths, they love telling others what to do with their lives. Psychopaths are disciples of power, ego and dominance and will try and structure their life so they get as much of these things as possible.
This leads them to naturally gravitate towards several of the positions we have on the list, most noticeably CEO and Politics. In these positions they can have absolute power and contol over others within their sphere of influence. Politicians can of course pass laws which affect entire countries if they progress high enough in this field. Psychopaths crave this kind of power but can be very dangerous once they get it for obvious reasons.
Indeed the CEO link has been proven in this 2010 study by researcher Dr Robert Hare, where he studied over 200 high level executives at large corporations, finding a significantly higher concentration of people with psychopathic traits in these environments than the general population.
In other words, workers with traits which should in theory doom them to fail long term were found in higher concentration in top level companies, often considered high potential employees for further advancement.
This conclusion requires a slight caveat, in that the total proportion of “cut and dried” psychopaths, as in scoring past a certain mark on Hare’s own industry standard Psychopathy Checklist, was about the same as the general population.
Rather there was a significantly higher percentage of people with high scores on the PCL, indicating the presence of psychopathic traits, without necessarily passing the threshold required to actually qualify as a psychopath for research purposes (This cut off varies between countries – it requires scoring 30/40 on the PCL in the USA and 25/40 on the PCL in the UK).
In other words, high level businesses tend to contain more people with more pronounced psychopathic traits, but who may not be diagnosed as full blown psychopathic according to the Psychopathy Checklist. This fits in with the stereotype of the corporate world being a ruthless, “dog-eat-dog” environment, which rewards psychopathic tendencies.
Perhaps people in this environment develop more psychopathic traits the longer they stay there, pushing themselves as close to the line as they can without going over into full blown pathology. Either way, people suffer in this environment.
On the power front, more hierarchical structures like the military and police can also attract psychopathic types in higher number, since there is a clear sense of power “talking” in these environments.
They also repesent a chance for less sophisticated psychopaths to vent their destructiveness in terms of committing physical violence towards others, as evidenced by the increasing number of scandals involving police and military personnel acting improperly in the line of duty.
Psychopaths are disciples of power and control and will gravitate to lines of work which will give them this over others.
Lines of Work Which Require a Suspension of Morality
Another way to look at the issue of psychopaths in the world of work is that they tend to gravitate towards industries which are already inherently amoral or immoral and therefore match their own mindset to begin with. Remember one defining characteristic of a psychopath is a lack of conscience, empathy or morality, so they will revel in any line of work which actively matches that description anyway.
This covers the area of CEO/high level business we mentioned above, but also includes a broader definition of any lines of work, including retail industries, which require a sense of apathy or suspended morality in order to conduct them with enthusiasm and energy. Psychopaths will have no problem with this, since they have no morality or conscience to begin with. The industry will seem perfectly normal to them.
This includes souless, amoral industries which prey on poverty and destitution, such as betting. gambling, pawnbroking and so on. The “bookies” industry in the UK for example does not have a particularly good reputation for the way it treats workers, and this should come as no surprise since a large part of this industry is preying on poverty and despair and drawing people into self destructive addictions. Workers are expected to be enthusiastic about this situation, when the reality is that the industry is exploitative and amoral at the core.
If a line of work is already on shaky ground morally to begin with, there is not much hope for high quality, decent people with empathy and integrity being attracted to it in high numbers. Rather, psychopathic characters will tend to concentrate in these areas since the mindset of the company will often match their own.
Look for purely commercial lines of retail for example which are soley about making money with no vocational or charitable aspects to them. This will often be reinforced by a brutal approach by management, an obsessive fixation on target hitting, poor treatment of anyone who raises concerns or objections and no concern for work-life balance or other more intangible factors.
Salesperson is also another occupation which stands out, since it fits perfectly into the psychopath’s tendency to have a superficial, glib charm and an ability to “chit the chat” and influence and manipulate people to their own ends. In this sense psychopaths make excellent salespeople and can produce the steady stream of smooth talking “fluff” required to hit the targets.
The financial world is another area where psychopaths can flourish, since it also is immoral and exploitative in large part; see our review of The Wolf of Wall Street for a slightly over the top but still broadly accurate depiction of the poisonous world of Wall Street.
Media is also another area where psychopathic traits can get someone far. There is definitely an immoral strain to certain parts of the media, where the focus becomes on getting viewers and hits rather than on publishing the truth. Certain media outlets have no problem launching smear campaigns, spreading lies and misinformation about others, and this tendency has grown in the last few years as the divisiveness in politics has also grown.
There is also a need for journalists to keep some kind of detachment between them and their stories and the people involved, which can be difficult for normal people if the subject matter of what they are reporting on is particularly emotive or upsetting. Psychopaths have no problem keeping this detachment since they have no care for the suffering of others anyway, so the mindset required for this field comes naturally to them.
The political area is one area which is full of psychopathic characters, as is the media and banking industries, as evidenced by the level of corruption and dishonesty in these areas.
Careers Where They Can Hide Behind a Cause
This is in some ways a contradiction to what we have already said above, but we must take into account that motivations for entering certain lines of work do differ, even amongst psychopaths. Some are also smarter than others at concealing themselves and hiding behind a cause or agenda.
It can therefore be useful to a psychopath to enter career paths which are ostensibly about helping others or doing good for society, when in fact it is merely serving their underlying motive for power, control or money. They can hide behind the professed cause of the career when in fact their reasons for entering it were purely self serving.
Michael Tsarion brilliantly sums up the two areas where this trend is most noticeable in the Unslaved Podcast, an excellent resource on the subject of psychopathy. He puts it like this, in reference to the more clever psychopaths realizing at some point that committing actual physical violence towards others usually elicits disapproval and punishment by society:
“In order to sidestep (punishment for actual violence in society) the clever psychopath dons a mask, and the two biggest masks that they don are religion and politics. That’s why the clergy is foul and that’s why the political milieu is foul”
In other words, the smarter psychopath learns to conceal their destructiveness and hide behind a cause or profession which appears, at least on the surface, to be helping others or doing good in society. This allows them to remain camouflaged and protected for longer, since they can always project the image of doing good. The sheer weight of the scandals now exposed in the clergy and governments worldwide gives us an idea of what is really going in these environments.
So this is another context in which psychopaths can show up in greater numbers than usual. Some psychopaths don’t bother even pretending to be vocational or “doing good” and gravitate straight towards to the soulless, ruthless corporate or retail environments we mentioned above; others are more clever at hiding in professions where they can project a favourable image of themselves to the world. It can play out either way.
More caring and vocational professions like nursing tend to be less psychopathic for obvious reasons
Which Industries Are The Least Psychopathic?
A relevant and perhaps more useful question to ask for non psychopaths is which industries and lines of work are the least psychopathic? Where can you expect to find a much lower incidence of psychopathic traits and instead find more human and decent traits?
Not surprisingly, the caring professions such as nursing, psychoptherapist, doctor and so on are often considered to be the least psychopathic. The clue is in the name! These professions reward more positive and empathic human emotions and so will not so much attract psychopaths who could not care less about the suffering of others (admittedly a very small number may hide behind this profession as well as we mentioned with politics and religion above).
Here are some professions generally considered less psychopathic:
- Beautician or stylist
- Charity worker
- Creative artist
Admittedly a very small number of psychopaths may play the same trick and hide behind some of these professions as well, particularly caring and charity, though they are perhaps more likely to be quickly found out in these lines of work, since it should become obvious fairly quickly that they have none of the traits required to do well in these occupations.
Notice as well the more creative aspects to some of these professions – craftsperson, artist, stylist. This is another revealing trait and a key way you can spot a psychopath, in that they have no creative or vocational traits whatsoever, being solely concerned with power and dominance over others. Thus they tend not to gravitate towards professions requiring creativity. They constantly need external stimulation and struggle to create anything original of their own.
Below is a more general contrast or juxtaposition to make between the traits of both workers in a company and the overall culture and approach of upper management. These are traits which adequately separate psychopathic from high quality people and so are a good benchmark for evaluating companies and workers.
- Creative vs non creative/destructive
- Vocational vs non vocational
- Caring vs manipulative
- Honest vs dishonest
- Moral/ethical vs immoral/amoral
- Focused on helping others vs focused solely on money, power and control
There is a clear dividing line or criteria with which to sift through potential jobs or lines of work which contain more or less psychopathic characters. Look for which side best describes an industry you work in or plan to get into to decide whether it may or may not be for you.
Of course there is nothing wrong with making money per se; the problems tend to arise when the fixation is solely on money with no consideration whatsoever for other factors like honesty, integrity, worker satisfaction, work-life balance.
This is a choice employers make and whether the mindset is narrow and fixated versus open minded and integrative will often determine the culture in commercial companies. Plenty of commercial companies exist which are good places to work. They are usually the more forward thinking ones who are not fixated only on profit to the detriment of other factors.
See our other articles on psychopathy in the workplace. See also Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s Snakes in Suits on Amazon for a definitive breakdown of psychopathic workers and psychopathic workplaces.