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Most people think they know what a psychopath is: someone who has no feelings. Someone who probably tortured animals for fun when they were little. But here are five things you probably didn’t know about psychopaths.

There’s a bit of a psychopath in all of us

Psychopathy is a spectrum, and we are all somewhere on that spectrum. If you’ve ever shown a lack of guilt or remorse, or not felt empathy with someone, or you’ve charmed someone to get what you want (remember that last job interview?), then you’ve displayed a psychopathic trait. Maybe you’re fearless in certain situations or you’ve taken big risks – also psychopathic traits.

Psychopaths are not all “psycho”

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs are typical portrayals of psychopaths in popular culture. While it’s true that most serial killers are psychopaths, the vast majority of psychopaths are not serial killers. Psychopaths comprise about 1% of the general population and can be productive members of society.

Psychopaths prefer Sex in the City to Little House on the Prairie

Psychopaths are more likely to be found in towns and cities. They prefer what psychologists call a “fast life history strategy”. That is, they focus on increasing their short-term mating opportunities and number of sexual partners rather than investing a lot of effort in long-term mating, parenthood and life stability. This strategy is linked to increased risk taking and selfishness. Also, cities offer psychopaths better opportunities for finding people to manipulate. They also offer greater anonymity and hence a reduced risk of being detected.

Female psychopaths are somewhat different

Although male and female psychopaths are similar in many ways, some studies have found differences. For example, female psychopaths appear to more prone to anxiety, emotional problems and promiscuity than male psychopaths.

Psychopaths do have feelings … well, some feelings

While psychopaths show a specific lack in emotions, such as anxiety, fear and sadness, they can feel other emotions, such as happiness, joy, surprise and disgust, in a similar way as most of us would. So while they may struggle to recognise fearful or sad faces and are less responsive to threats and punishments, they can identify happy faces and they do respond positively when getting rewarded.

However, while winning bet might make you happy, a psychopath would need a bigger reward to perk them up. In other words, they can feel happy and motivated if the rewards are high enough. Of course, they can also get angry, especially in response to provocation, or get frustrated when their goals are thwarted. So Villanelle is right, to some extent. You can hurt a psychopath’s feelings, but probably different feelings and for different reasons.

Nadja Heym, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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