Comparing stockbrokers and psychopaths

Dr. Robert Hare, the guru of psychopathy, has said that if he didn’t study psychopaths in prison, he’d look for them at the stock exchange. Read about new research from Switzerland actually compares stockbrokers and psychopaths.

Stockbrokers more competitive, willing to take risks than psychopaths: Study, on HuffingtonPost.com.

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18 Comments on "Comparing stockbrokers and psychopaths"

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Interesting article. I did notice one thing that made me pause, though, when it was listing the characteristics of a psychopath it listed “gregariousness” and I had not heard that listed as a “trait” most psychopaths were high in previously.

Gregarious is defined as “Seeking and enjoying the company of others; sociable. See Synonyms at social.”

I do see though that it could definitely apply to most psychopaths as they do seek others to exploit and a “lone” sociopath, living in the hills by themselves would I would think not be happy without others to exploit, but would, like the “Unibomber” have to find victims outside their hermitage, but that wouldn’t make one like that “gregarious” though. I think he might be the exception though.

The psychopaths I have known the best, my sperm donor and my son both almost REQUIRE an audience to appreciate their activities, like a fisherman enjoying telling his buddies about his HUGE CATCH, I can imagine a day trader bragging to his buddies at the bar about the great trade he made (whether that story was true or not!).

Bernie Madoff and many other investment “banker” frauds qualify in BOTH fields, as stock brokers and as psychopaths.

Unfortunately the PCL-R wouldn’t have picked up Bernie or many other “white collar” psychopaths or high risk takers, because there is not an objective way to measure their risk taking behavior except by criminal patterns, and most of the Bernie Madoff-types skate below the eye level of the district attorneys, even if their activities are, as President Obama said yesterday, “immoral but not illegal.”

I saw something on this a bit back and was going to post a link but forgot. I am glad Donna saw it and made a post. I am on a train right now but when I get back to the city, I will comment more as the artical talks both to an industry in which I was subject to sociopaths first hand and underscores my issues with Hare and his focus on criminal behavior when immoral behavior should be included.

Ox, perhaps the artical has a semantic problem with the term “gregarious?” Substitute superficial charm…

BBE, I figured you would weigh in on this article before too long. LOL

I agree with you about the PCL-R not picking up on the psychopath who has not been “caught out” by the criminal system, such as the pedophiles like John Wayne Gacey, Charles “Jackie” Walls III, Dickie Ray Chance, and violent offenders like OJ Simpson, Cayse Anthony, and the Ted Bundy-types who are committing crimes but have not yet been caught, and in the meantime SOME keep a job, go to church, have “friends” and wear the MASK OF SANITY.

The fact is though, that I think psychopathy is like most things, it is on a “bell curve” of some are worse than others, and most are in the middle, with only the really “bad ones” (that 1-4% of society that are supposed by Hare and others to be “psychopaths” which are in REALITY IMHO the cream-de-la-cream of the personality disordered.) Only once in a while do the Madoffs get caught and outed, I think most of them go on for a life time without being identified as what they are.


Glib was the word I was looking for: “readily fluent, often thoughtlessly, superficially, or insincerely so.” Substitute that word for gregarious and the article makes much more sense.

Also, the subject should not be limited to “stock brokers,” who in reality are a very, very small percentage of the financial services industry. In fact, most stock brokers today are merely order executers, buying and selling what back-office individuals tell them to buy.

The “face” of most financial services firms are called “financial advisors” and to be a good financial advisor, being glib and egotistical is almost a necessity. Being a good liar also helps, and often the advice they give, especially in down markets, is contrary to what they are personally doing with their own investments.

Because they were allowed to fail because they failed first, Lehman has a rap that is actually far worse than others. This is the only time you will find me defending a financial services firm. They became essentially a red herring and scapegoat for the wrong doings of firms that were either too big to fail, too well connected, or both, like Goldman Sachs.

I came very close to working for Lehman right before they went under. Interestingly, from an employee standpoint, they were proud that they were not like Goldman Sachs and expected employees to have a life outside the office. I was even told that “Goldman Sachs types” don’t do well at Lehman… Perhaps this is another reason why Lehman was let to fail…


For the garden-variety sociopath, aka the sociopath next door, maybe Cleckley’s 16-item checklist is more applicable:

1. Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.

2. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking

3. Absence of anxiety or other “neurotic” symptoms considerable poise, calmness, and verbal facility.

4. Unreliability, disregard for obligations no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.

5. Untruthfulness and insincerity

7. Antisocial behavior which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.

7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior

8. Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience

9. Pathological egocentricity. Total self-centeredness incapacity for real love and attachment.

10. General poverty at deep and lasting emotions.

11. Lack of any true insight, inability to see oneself as others do.

12. Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness, and trust.

13. Fantastic and objectionable behavior, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking–vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks.

14. No history of genuine suicide attempts.

15. An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life.

16. Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way, unless it be one promoting self-defeat.

“…More often than not, the typical psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly positive impression when he is first encountered. Alert and friendly in his attitude, he is easy to talk with and seems to have a good many genuine interests. There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted, happy person. Nor does he, on the other hand, seem to be artificially exerting himself like one who is covering up or who wants to sell you a bill of goods. He would seldom be confused with the professional backslapper or someone who is trying to ingratiate himself for a concealed purpose. Signs of affectation or excessive affability are not characteristic. He looks like the real thing.

“Very often indications of good sense and sound reasoning will emerge, and one is likely to feel soon after meeting him that this normal and pleasant person is also one with -high abilities. Psychometric tests also very frequently show him of superior intelligence. More than the average person, he is likely to seem free from social or emotional impediments, from the minor distortions, peculiarities, and awkwardnesses so common even among the successful. Such superficial characteristics are not universal in this group but they are very common…”

“…It must be granted of course that the psychopath has some affect. Affect is, perhaps, a component in the sum of life reactions even in the unicellular protoplasmic entity. Certainly in all mammals it is obvious. The relatively petty states of pleasure, vexation, and animosity experienced by the psychopath have been mentioned. The opinion here maintained is that he fails to know all those more serious and deeply moving affective states which make up the tragedy and triumph of ordinary life, of life at the level of important human experience…”

Certainly the first two eerily describe my experience and if I understand the third correctly, that as well.

Agree absense of delusions but I think they are IRrational. They sabotage themselves and are self destructive which is a defintion of irrational in my book. BUT as long as we remember to filter via their motivations or agenda, then they are predictable.

Mine was deceitful, from lies by ommission to using a grain of truth to mislead, to full out bald faced lies that were so gentle and kind and sincere and sweet that I dare anyone who stood face to face with him to feel any redflag alarm – yet those were the most dangerous.


Those are actually pretty good descriptions of a psychopath but some of them, like #7, are “vague” and not specific at all. All of the things are SUBJECTIVE and not “objective” or measurable qualities. That’s part of the problem, you can MEASURE the number of marriages or relationships (if you have enough history) a person has, you can measure the number of crimes they have committed, but you can’t measure “glib.” While some psychopaths have “above average IQ” I think in general it has been shown that the IQ of psychopaths is about the same as the AVERAGE GENERAL POPULATION (on the bell curve) but some ARE above average or superior, and some of the highly functioning ones are above average, but there are also those that are LOW NORMAL or even MR as well. There are also dual diagnosis or more, like ADHD and/Or B-Polar as well as PPD and possibly add in substance abuse as well. So you could in theory have a person with 4 or MORE diagnoses.

You have the people who are PPD and live in the criminal margin and those that are on Wall street or in the White House or Governor’s mansions of this country and every other country in the world. While they may have similar qualities, there are also some variations as well. Some are very dangerous to others and some are just irritating as heck to those that they are related to or must work with or live near them.

Just as we (former victims) vary widely in age, sex, sexual orientation, education and IQ as well as social status they also vary widely in such characteristics. It is the PATTERNS we must look for in order to identify them when they get close to us so that we can withdraw to a safe distance from them BEFORE we are hurt, or to minimize the further damage from them.

Those unfortunate people that are forced to continue to interact with them for the the sake of children etc. are the ones I feel great empathy for. At least you and I don’t have to have anything to do with the personal relationship predators we have encountered in the past. We just need to avoid further interaction with new ones in our lives. That’s where we have to be cautious.

There is a type of spath that I call a garden variety.
It’s different from the Cleckley list.

This spath doesn’t break the law very much or does so without getting caught. They are above average intelligence, but they hide that fact. Modesty and humility are their masks. They “get it” most of the time.

What makes them a spath is just the inability to feel empathy. Consequently, they are driven by envy and live shallow lives. This is what makes it easy for them to hide among the sheep. Most people today have shallow values anyway. Even if they don’t go around killing, they enjoy the suffering of others. They are psychopaths but they seem like your friendly neighborhood grandma.

What I liked about the Checkly list is its general lack of emphasis on criminal and delinquent behavior, at least to the extent of the law.

Skylar, I agree with your description and it very well describes my x-spath. Certainly lack of empathy is the defining characteristic, but other than 16 and 7 (whatever that means Ox, lol), this list very, very much describes the person I knew.

Yep. Knows the boundry of how to NOT get exposed with mask off/NOT go to jail. Easy for him to hide behind the shallow mask that everyone else has. For him, funerals are a social affair. Yep, he’s an spath but seems like your friendly local yokal, modest and humble. Was reported to have a heart of gold, but a light caress crumbles it into pebbles and rocks, sand and shite.

MOST people are okay with shallow, see no reason to develop their character – life is about gratification. Mighty few souls under the good end of the bell, reaping the contempt of the shallow. Yet in a disaster, WE are the ones expected to save everyone else.

Dear BBE,

I have to agree with you on that one! As a mild “delinquent” myself (truancy, general mischief, etc.), it’s nice to know that I still have some hope! Of course, I like to think now that I was just a “spirited teen,” (who happened to hang around all the “bad kids” three or four grades above me) but who knows?

I’m also left handed, for that matter. So does this mean that from now on everyone is going to “gray rock” me?

More seriously, I’m not sure why they took the, “makes an ass of oneself while intoxicated” off of the Cleckley list. I think there’s something to be said for that one!

constantine – I have been gray rocked here a few times. I have to laugh at the things some folks have said that is a sure sign of a sociopath..dont worry your just a pet rock so far…


Haha, well, I’m glad to know that I haven’t been completely written off yet! But yes, I think that if a person is fundamentally honest, honorable and empathetic, that will save him from a multitude of “sins.” If you take everything else away, and just keep those, you will probably be OK in the long run.

By the way, I hope you’re feeling a little better over the loss of your Harley. (Incidentally, that’s my girlfriend’s cat’s name!)

I think we all have flaws, but it’s when we realize we do and try to improve, that makes us better people.
I miss my Harley, I just wasnt ready for him to go, thanks for that…

Any list of traits is going to be imperfect and may contain behaviors that many non-disorded individuals exhibit.

Being ambidextrous is also associated with a variety of problems. Being such, I am not defensive, rather, curious. I am also prone to mood shifts and adventure seeking behaviors, but I am not sociopathic, bipolar nor borderline…

12. Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness, and trust.

I find this particularly interesting and my x-spath showed no gratitude for anything “special” I did for him and was inappropriately hostile on several occasions, enough so that even I thought to myself that he had serious intimacy problems. However, I also countered this valid observation by thinking that perhaps I was being too intimate too soon.

Only now, being in the most positive mental state I have been in since meeting the x-spath, do I realize that nothing I did was inappropriate. In fact, of those whom I dated after the x-spath, every one would have reacted positively to what I did and would have had no issues or reaction except gratitude.


Is that the official checklist? It doesn’t strike me the same as the one I read a while back.

You know, there are things on checklists that take a while to see. It took me a long time to see how my spath thought he was so flipping superior to everybody else. It’s in this below-the-radar kind of way. Enough to make me vomit.



Apparently Hare based his “20” point list on these. Personally, I would remove the last regarding lack of an apparent life plan, as again this focuses too much on underachievement perhaps allowing the highly functional sociopath to slip through the cracks.

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