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by Cathy Vandewater | February 28, 2012


Vault's written before about how hard the finance lifestyle can be on most people. Long hours, high stakes, intense competition, and instability all contribute to an incredibly stressful lifestyle. That lifestyle can take a toll on your average 30-something--but maybe it's only a rare breed that's truly hacking it in banking.

Psychopaths in general are pretty rare; despite their prevalence in films and TV shows (Dexter, anyone?) they only make up 1% of the general population.

Finance, though, has been estimated to be about 10% psychopath-inhabited, according to psychologist Robert Hare--who famously created the "Hare Psychopathy Checklist" used in many prisons.

The checklist examines two major factors:  evidence of a "socially deviant lifestyle" in a person's case history, and "aggressive narcissism" in his or her personality.

Though we'd imagine few go-getting 22-year olds have much of a criminal record, there are signifiers in early life that are easy to picture in many a B-school student: impulsivity, proneness to boredom, lack of realistic long-term goals, poor behavioral control, and irresponsibility.

As for personality, a grandiose sense of self, lack of empathy, manipulative behavior, self-centered displays of emotion, and a superficial charm (think mixer-style social skills) all point to psychopathic tendencies.

So take comfort: if you find yourself exhausted at the mere thought of social gymnastics involved in displaying perfect confidence for scores of clients all day, you're probably on the normal side. Christopher Bayer, a Wall Street therapist, writes that "Taken to the extreme, some traders become compulsive gamblers… They hide small losses and keep doubling their position to try to eliminate them. When those trades turn sour, they dig themselves into a deeper hole and deny any wrongdoing or failure. They rationalize by telling themselves that poor investment decisions are an occupational hazard. They lie to family members or others to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling and commit forgery, fraud, theft, and embezzlement to support their habit."

Though the average person would crumble under all the duplicity, the psychopath, who feels no remorse for wrongdoing or empathy for his victims, can easily maintain the façade. In fact, he'll thrive. "A financial psychopath can present as a perfect well-rounded job candidate, CEO, manager, co-worker, and team member because their destructive characteristics are practically invisible," Bayer writes. "They flourish in fast-paced industries and are experts in taking advantage of company systems and processes as well as exploiting communication weaknesses and promoting interpersonal conflicts."

There's nothing quite like few emotional needs or interpersonal relationships to free a person up for those 80-100 hour weeks at work, eh? And since psychopaths tend to recharge with a lot of thrill-seeking, they're, rather sadly, the ideal corporate candidate.

Is it any wonder, then, that corporate greed has run so rampant? Some are calling for testing for psychopathy as part of the hiring practices for bankers, and it might not be such a bad idea. An industry of Chuck Bass-types running the world is a scary thought.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
WARNING: I-Banking May Cause Obesity, Depression, and Rage
Psychopaths on Wall Street? (eFinancial News)
Stockbrokers: More Competitive, Willing to Take Risks Than Psychopaths (Huffpo)
The Shocking Statistic about Psychopaths on Wall Street (Business Insider)


Filed Under: Workplace Issues