I’m just spitballing here (OK, yes, this entire blog is me spitballing, but especially in this post, because I’ve found conflicting or inconclusive research evidence), but in noticing that most of the top-10 professions for psychopaths paid well, whereas the bottom-10 professions, with a couple of exceptions, generally paid poorly, I couldn’t help wondering: Is psychopathy a privilege?
From a mental burden perspective, you have privilege over someone else if you don’t have to worry about something that they do. People with psychopathy stereotypically don’t care about anyone other than themselves. They tend to have low anxiety, low empathy, and low stress response—all of which lead to low mental burden. They are also less likely to take on uncompensated emotional labour, and are also able to block out distractions when they are focused on a task, reducing their extraneous cognitive load. Theoretically, that means they have more working memory available to generate ideas and advance in their careers. The fact that many of those ideas harm others, often leading to legal consequences in adolescence, is a check on that privilege.
Of course, that model assumes that the psychopathic brain processes information in the same way as non-psychopaths, and research suggests that people with psychopathy also have specific cognitive deficits when it comes to multitasking or processing unexpected information. And perhaps, especially if the psychopathy is coupled with narcissism, I may be underestimating the amount of mental effort someone with these neurological differences might be devoting to themselves and to notions of grandiosity, cutting their working memory advantage.
As we move toward better acceptance of neurodiversity for differences such as autism, we’ll have to do the same with psychopathy, which will always be among us. Rather than pathologizing the condition (which often doesn’t work, anyway, because many people with psychopathy are indifferent to punishment), we may see better results with interventions that promote prosocial behaviours.