What most people know about psychopaths, or sociopaths, stems primarily from films and popular fiction. Although some of these portrayals are more accurate than others, the basic archetype is based on a “cluster” of behavioral and neurological differences. When these differences start coming together into a risky personality: these 13 steps will let you identify a psychopath.

Although Hervey Cleckley’s 1941 still remains a reasonably accurate depiction of the psychopathic personality, we have since learned that the many of the same genes can be shared between the monk and the psychopath, but that the psychopath has increased problems with transcending their ego and taking responsibility for their behavior.

These 13 traits should help you more easily identify psychopathic or sociopathic individuals in your life. In terms of the HARE-40 (a 40 point “psychopathic check-list“) which classifies symptoms into affective (emotions, mood), interpersonal, and lifestyle/criminal traits. The first two categories of affective and interpersonal domains seem to be more related to genetics than the third (lifestyle), which is more related to social factors. Regardless of what “created” a psychopath: identifying them can be a life-saving skill

This 12-point list will give a little more definition to what you see in your mind, but never forget that every personality “disorder” is an extreme expression of normal human behaviors and feelings. No matter what genes you carry or how you’ve come to see the world: there is literally no excuse for extremely irresponsible behavior in the grand scope.

The Traits To Look For: 

  1. Absence of nervousness or neurotic symptoms
  2. Interpersonal unreliability
  3. Untruthfulness and insincerity
  4. Insufficiently motivated antisocial behavior
  5. A lack of affective (“feeling”) empathy
  6. Failure to learn from negative experiences
  7. Callous and shallow emotional response
  8. Fast, but irresponsible, decision-making
  9. Incapacity for love
  10. Lack of remorse or shame
  11. Pathological narcissism/egocentricity
  12. Superficial charm and manipulation
  13. Failure to accept responsibility for their own actions

Callous/unemotional and antisocial (lack of responsibility, manipulative nature) traits have been linked to genetics, but this is not the only factor. How you have been brought up, the values and cognitive constructs you have been handed down through life or your culture, all impact your behavior and experience of the world.

Research also indicates that even completely neurotypical people can have their empathy reduced by too much digital stimulation. Empathy is not simply something that is “on or off,” but is also a skill. Your natural capacity to improve and use this skill likely impacts how often you use it, but pretty much everyone is capable of improving their capacity for empathy. Whether you feel with everyone, rarely, or never: you are technically capable of it.

We need to ask ourselves whether a culture that teaches reflection, mindfulness, and sustainability as values could create cognitive constructs capable of compensating for a lack of the necessary feelings. Certainly, a society that celebrates short-term profit while ignoring social and environmental costs offers a great chance for every individual to partake in irresponsible profiteering and exploitation.

Primary psychopaths, so those who display the emotionally callousness and lack of empathy (low anxiety) without secondary impulsivity-based (high-anxiety) features, were equally prone to rejecting unfair offers to themselves while being more prepared to offer more slanted offers to others, in several studies. The results actually showed the primary psychopaths acting approximately the same as patients with brain lesions in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

No matter what genes you have or what parts of your brain light up who knows when, you are responsible for your actions. Regardless of whether you feel with everyone you meet or are incapable of feeling even with your closest friends: you should expect yourself to improve the world around you and the society you exist in while doing as little damage as possible.

Hopefully, we as a society can start gaining the cultural maturity needed to create the cognitive constructs to disarm psychopathic predispositions. After all: a lack of empathy and having risk-taking genes doesn’t prevent you from being a relatively responsible neurologist.