The Real American Psycho

In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis introduced the American public to the trope of a Manhattan businessman and serial killer in the character of Patrick Bateman. For ages, the word psychopath has evoked imagery of rouge killers with axes and twisted senses of humor running through their own distorted reality. Although businessmen-turned-killers are not the norm in reality, psychopathy in business is surprisingly quite commonplace.

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), or psychopathy and sociopathy, refers to people who habitually disregard and violate the rights of others with a complete lack of remorse. Although the majority of those with ASPD live with their symptoms unnoticed and undiagnosed, common symptoms of ASPD include a lack of empathy, superficial emotions, charm, secrecy, manipulation, compulsive lying, an authoritarian nature, paranoia and a narcissistic self-image. In addition, psychologists describe those with ASPD as having a severely malformed conscience or lack of conscience altogether. Despite popular culture’s perception, these callous traits do not make all those with ASPD killers.

In such a dog-eat-dog business world, the cultural understanding is that successful businesspeople must separate emotional ties from business ties to be cold, calculated and ruthlessly determined. Although these behaviors are detrimental to their personal lives in maintaining long-term relationships, the disorder’s antisocial traits are effectively applied in the business world. While only one percent of the American population have been diagnosed with ASPD, 21 percent of American executives have been diagnosed as psychopaths, roughly the same percentage of psychopaths in prison. People with ASPD thrive in these situations by masquerading as master conmen and violating moral values to get ahead. To many with ASPD, business is treated as a game with the objective to gain power over as many people as possible.

How do so many people with ASPD secure these positions of power? Overlooking personality traits, companies tend to seek out relevant skills and past accomplishments. During interviews, those with ASPD exhibit their mastery of maintaining positive impressions and their personal image to set themselves apart from other applicants. As exceptional albeit superficial speakers, they are eloquent oral communicators with above-average IQs. Adding their unique ability to read people quickly, those with ASPD are able to size up their competition and convincingly project a more powerful and qualified version of themselves to the public.

Nevertheless, not all with ASPD are successful in high-ranking positions. According to recent sub-categorization of people with ASPD, successful psychopaths effectively con the public with their superficial image without their egocentric nature obstructing their success. Commonly found within the American justice system, unsuccessful psychopaths lack the aforementioned oral communication skills and charming behavior, ultimately resorting instead to violent intimidation and social aggression.

Thankfully Patrick Bateman is purely fictional, and psychopaths are not the murderers they are perceived as in literature. Instead, those with ASPD succeed in business thanks to their mastery of maintaining a personal image and ability to manipulate others for personal gain. The public’s perception of ASPD is inaccurate and, frankly, exactly the facade psychopaths crave.