For decades, Hollywood has provided plenty of examples of psychopaths at the top of the corporate ladder, but a growing body of research is revealing the truth is similar to fiction.
Queensland forensic psychologist Nathan Brookes has studied the traits of corporate leaders, and has found between 3 and 21 per cent of them display psychopathic traits.
“We’ve looked at around 1000 people, and the supply-chain management study — which involved 261 corporate professionals — was the most interesting,” he said.
“We found one in five [people were] found to have clinically elevated levels of psychopathy.”
Mr Brookes says that figure “shared similarities to what we would find in a prison population”.
He worked with fellow researchers Dr Katarina Fritzon, from Bond University, and Dr Simon Croom, from the University of San Diego, for a part of his PhD, to develop a tool to help employers screen for psychopathic traits.
“If [candidates] were to come up high [on the psychometric test] it would then be a thorough clinical interview, potentially looking at problem-solving and reasoning based scenarios,” Mr Brookes said.
“And then the next step, if they still passed that, would be looking at a prolonged probation period where they were rated on the third party measure by co-workers and also a manager.”
While psychopaths account for only a minority of the workforce, Mr Brookes said they could wreck havoc on organisations.
“Their personality usually leads them to exploit every avenue open to them, whether it’s in a criminal setting, or within organisations,” he said.
The study, presented to the Australian Psychological Society’s annual congress in Melbourne on Tuesday, will add to the growing field of knowledge about non-criminal psychopaths.
“There have always been theories about psychopaths in the community,” Mr Brookes said.
“But the Global Financial Crisis has probably led to a push in the research, and it’s probably raised more questions at the moment than it has generated answers.”