Are Psychopaths Actually Good For Society?

(Telegraph) Psychopaths are good for society because ‘they would throw one person under a bus to save five’

Psychopaths are beneficial for society because in morally dubious situations they make pragmatic choices for the greater good, a new study suggests.Although psychopaths are often viewed as dangerous, cold or lacking empathy, in fact, in certain situations, such traits can be helpful.

It means they would not think twice about shooting down an aircraft to prevent it from crashing into tower-block, or throwing a stranger under a bus to prevent it crashing into five people down the road.

A study led by the University of Plymouth, compared people’s judgements in moral dilemmas, to how they scored in measures of psychopathy. Around one in 100 people are thought to exhibit psychopathic traits.

In each dilemma, participants had to decide whether to sacrifice a person by performing a harmful action against them, in order to save a larger group of people.

In one moral quandary they were asked to push a victim off a footbridge into the path of an oncoming train to stop it hitting several workmen further down the track. In another scenario, they had to decide whether to stab to death an injured soldier to avoid him being tortured by enemy troops and giving away secrets which could jeopardise the platoon.

Participants were invited to give their response by squeezing on a robotic handle which measured the strength of their action. A weaker squeeze suggested they would not carry out the morally dubious action.

The research showed that people with strong psychopathic traits were more likely to generate harmful actions with greater physical power, meaning there is was a greater chance they would go through with it.

The authors say that in certain circumstances, psychopathic traits could be considered beneficial.

Dr Kathryn Francis, now of Reading University, who carried out the study while at Plymouth’s School of Psychology, said: “For the first time, we demonstrate how personality traits can influence the physical power of our moral actions.

“In the experiment we found that the physical power of simulated utilitarian responses was predicted by individual levels of psychopathy.”

Psychopathy is generally characterised by antisocial behaviour and impaired empathy. As such, it is thought that individuals are, on a whole bad for society. Psychopathic traits have often been blamed for decisions that have led to financial crises or amoral political behaviour.

Dr Sylvia Terbeck, Lecturer in Social Psychology at Plymouth added: “This study opens up the possibility to assess psychopathy using novel virtual reality technology – which is vital to better understand how and why people with these behavioural traits act in certain ways.”

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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