How to spot a psychopath

You can learn the warning signs that someone might be a psychopath.
You can learn the warning signs that someone might be a psychopath. (Image: warning image by Markus Wegner-Parszyk from

Psychopathy is a syndrome that consists of a group of related symptoms. While it requires a professionally administered psychological evaluation to make a confirmed diagnosis of psychopathy, identification of individuals with many of the features of psychopathy is possible if you know what to look for. Individually, these traits do not mean someone is a psychopath, but if someone you know has many of these traits, you could benefit from protecting yourself from their actions. One of the world’s foremost experts on psychopathy, Dr. Robert Hare of the Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, estimates that one in every 100 people in North America is a psychopath.

Things You'll Need

  • Knowledge
  • Perception
  • Insight

Recognizing Some Characteristic Traits of a Psychopath

Look for glibness and superficiality in interpersonal relations. Psychopaths can be charming and appear to be likable. They often have good verbal skills; they can be entertaining, funny and witty. They tend to use these skills to make themselves look good and to manipulate others to their own advantage.

Look for egocentric and grandiose behavior. Psychopaths are extremely self-centered and may greatly overestimate their importance and sometimes their abilities. This narcissism and exaggerated sense of self-worth appears to contribute to their tendency to live by their own rules and to ignore commonly accepted concepts of right and wrong.

Look for signs of an inability to feel remorse or guilt. Lacking a conscience, a psychopath cannot “feel bad” after hurting someone. He cannot relate to your pain but may rationalize his actions or make excuses for it if he has to. A psychopath might just as easily deny an action or dismiss it as unimportant no matter how much trouble it has caused others.

Look for lack of empathy. A psychopath cannot relate to the feelings of other people. Others’ suffering, hardship, despair, or pain does not elicit sympathy. In place of empathy is a cold indifference to the feelings and suffering of others. The intense interest a psychopath has for herself is never extended to others.

Look for signs of deceitfulness and manipulative behavior. There is no reason for a psychopath not to lie and they do whenever they think it will help them. In fact, Hare reports that they often seem to lie with pride. If a lie is uncovered, the psychopath will simply change his story or lie more in an attempt get away with the original deceit.

Look for shallow emotions. Just as they lack consciences, psychopaths lack deep and true feelings. They may fake superficial feelings to manipulate others but they can’t relate to them on an emotional level. Unable to experience the depth of emotion most people feel, psychopaths can appear cold, like a predator surveying its surroundings looking for prey.

Tips & Warnings

  • Dr. Hare advises: Know yourself. “Psychopaths” he warns, “are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots. Your best defense is to understand what these spots are, and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeroes in on them.”
  • Don’t waste your time trying to change the behavior of a psychopath. It is extremely difficult for professionals to do this and you will not succeed.
  • Don’t believe the depictions of psychopaths commonly presented on television and in films. These media tend to portray psychopaths as highly intelligent murderers, a description that by no means applies to all psychopaths. This might explain why a survey published in the June 2009 issue of “Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology” found that people were more likely to correctly identify someone with depression or schizophrenia than they were someone who was a psychopath
  • Many people have some traits in common with psychopaths without being psychopaths. It is the overall profile of psychopathic traits that is used to identify a psychopath.

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