Friday, October 29, 2010

how psychopaths choose their victims

Psychology Today | As my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marisa Mauro has pointed out, psychologists have long been known that the more psychopathic a person is, the more easily they can identify potential victims. Indeed, they can do so just by watching the way a person moves. In one study, test subjects watched videos of twelve individuals walking, shot from behind, and rated how easily they could be mugged. As it happened, some of the people in the videotapes really had been mugged -- and the most psychopathic of the subjects were able to tell which was which. Writes Mauro:

The [subjects] completed the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale: Version III, which measures interpersonal and affective traits associated with psychopathy as well as intra-personal instability and antisocial traits... Overall results confirmed a strong positive correlation between psychopathy scores and accuracy of victim identification. This means that individuals that score higher for psychopathy are better at selecting victims.

And what was it about these people that made them seem vulnerable? A later study found that the men were picking up on whole suite of nonverbal cues, including the length of their stride, how they shifted their weight, and how high they lifted their feet. Taken together, these cues gave the psychopathic men a rough gauge of how confident their potential victims were. Body language that implies a lack of confidence --- read: socially submissive --- includes lack of eye contact, fidgeting of the hands and feet, and the avoidance of large gestures when shifting posture.

The researchers' findings confirmed my own suspicions regarding the dubious fellow I mentioned above. The women who wound up on the receiving end of his attentions were individuals who, in their own description, were not very worldly, experienced, or outgoing. They were psychologically vulnerable and hence ill-equipped to either resist this fellow's predations or to deal with them emotionally after they had occurred. In the aftermath, they are so traumatized that even speaking about their experiences is extremely painful. And so the psychopath continues on his way. Fist tap Dale.