Talking Like a Psychopath

Psycho (film series)

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Have you ever wondered if you were a psychopath? Of course not. If you are a psychopath, you already know that you are different than from 99% of the [general] population. Whether there is a positive correlation between the 1% of psychopaths and 1% of the richest among us, has yet to be scientifically verified.

But what about the rest of us who worry that we are working with, married to, or living  next door to a psychopath?

There is some promising new research on identifying psychopathy (sometimes loosely referred to as sociopathy and more formally Antisocial_personality_disorder) in an article by Wynne Parry at MSNBC’s LiveScience entitled: “How to spot psychopaths: Speech patterns give them away:

The researchers interviewed 52 convicted murderers, 14 of them ranked as psychopaths according to the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, a 20-item assessment, and asked them to describe their crimes in detail. Using computer programs to analyze what the men said, the researchers found that those with psychopathic scores showed a lack of emotion, spoke in terms of cause-and-effect when describing their crimes, and focused their attention on basic needs, such as food, drink and money.

While we all have conscious control over some words we use, particularly nouns and verbs, this is not the case for the majority of the words we use, including little, functional words like “to” and “the” or the tense we use for our verbs, according to Jeffrey Hancock, the lead researcher and an associate professor in communications at Cornell University, who discussed the work on Monday (Oct. 17) in Midtown Manhattan at Cornell’s ILR Conference Center.

“The beautiful thing about them is they are unconsciously produced,” Hancock said.

These unconscious actions can reveal the psychological dynamics in a speaker’s mind even though he or she is unaware of it, Hancock said.

According to the research study, the researchers “found more dysfluencies — the “uhs” and “ums” that interrupt speech — among psychopaths. Nearly universal in speech, dysfluencies indicate that the speaker needs some time to think about what they are saying.” I sometimes like to keep a running count of how many dysfluencies a public speaker interjects during a speech, just for fun.

For trial lawyers, the ability to speak without dysfluency is the mark of an effective advocate. It is intriguing, however, that psychopaths’ language tends to overuse subordinating conjunctions, such as “because” and “so that,” which are associated with cause-and-effect statements. This may pose a problem for many lawyers who prefer using legalese such as: “henceforth”, “heretofore”, “ergo”, “thusly”, et cetera.

For trial lawyers, the development of text recognition software to analyze psychopathic features in clients, witnesses (and perhaps opposing counsel or judges?) may well become a useful forensic trial aid, especially for cross-examination strategy. After all, credibility is the determining factor in criminal and civil trials.

(h/t @Cernovich via Twitter)

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4 Responses to “Talking Like a Psychopath”

  1. Ted Folkman Says:

    I think you would get a kick out of Jon Ronson’s book, the Psychopath Test. My take-away from the book is that trying to figure out who is and who is not a psychopath can lead you down a rabbit hole!

  2. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Thanks. I didn’t know psychopaths hid in rabbit holes or that rabbits had psychopathic tendencies, Then again, Bugs Bunny, Harvey and the Donnie Darko rabbit character all now seem to fit the category.

  3. Mark Bennett Says:

    Hey, wait! I know that I’m different than 99% of the population.

    Uh-oh.

  4. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Yes, indeed you are. I always knew you were a rich guy.

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