Yes! All our politicians and presidents are psychopaths! You have to be a psychopath to bomb Hiroshima!
New research shows that people would sacrifice one person to save a larger group of people – and in addition, the force with which they carry out these actions could be predicted by psychopathic traits.
The study, led by the University of Plymouth, compared what people ‘said’ they would do with what they actually ‘did’ by comparing a questionnaire with actions in immersive moral dilemmas created using virtual-haptic technologies (i.e. using a robotic device which measures force, resistance, and speed, whilst simulating the action of harming a human).
In several dilemmas, 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.
While all individuals were more likely to sacrifice others in these immersive environments than in questionnaire-based assessments, people with strong psychopathic traits were more likely to generate these harmful actions with greater physical power.
Psychopathy is generally characterised by antisocial behaviour and impaired empathy. As such, it is thought that individuals with strong psychopathic traits find it less emotionally challenging to sanction utilitarian actions.
In the present research, this resilience to performing actively harmful acts appears to enable these individuals to act for the ‘greater good’ (i.e. to save the many). This result therefore indicates that, in certain circumstances, psychopathic traits could be considered beneficial, since they can lead to a more vigorous response.
This study is a result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between Dr Kathryn Francis, Dr Sylvia Terbeck, Raluca Briazu, Dr Michaela Gummerum, and Dr Giorgio Ganis in the University’s School of Psychology, Agi Haines, a designer based in the University’s Transtechnology research group, and Dr Ian Howard of the Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems.