Psychopathic traits may be relatively common in corporate executives, new research finds.
Research presented at this week's Australian Psychological Society conference in Melbourne revealed that between 3 and 21 percent of those in the upper levels of the corporate world exhibit psychopathic traits. For comparison, just 20 percent of people in prison systems are considered psychopathic.
Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks, one of the study's authors, said business leaders who possess psychopathic traits — such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egotism, and charming and superficial behavior — are considered "successful psychopaths."
These leaders are often the ones who engage in unethical and illegal business practices and have a toxic impact on co-workers, according to Brooks. [See Related Story: Bad Boss Behavior Starts at Home]
"Typically, psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other," Brooks said in a statement.
As part of the research, the study's authors examined 261 corporate professionals in the supply-chain management industry. They found that 21 percent of the people analyzed had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits. For comparison, just 1 percent of the general population has these traits.
Brooks said employers need to do a better job of screening job candidates, to avoid bringing these potentially toxic leaders into their organization.
"Too often, companies look at skills first and then secondly consider personality features," Brooks said. "Really, it needs to be firstly about the candidate's character and then, if they pass the character test, consider whether they have the right skills."
As part of the study, researchers developed a corporate personality tool that's designed to help businesses screen for psychopathic personality disorder during the recruitment process.
"We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there's an adequate assessment, to hopefully identify this problem — to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly," Brooks said.
The study was co-authored by Simon Croom, a professor at the University of San Diego, and Katarina Fritzon, an associate professor at Bond University in Australia.