Are psychopaths intelligent, or are they just lucky?

Psychopaths are individuals high on intelligence: Truth or Myth?

Psychopaths’ manipulative nature is often associated with awareness and sharpness. While this can be true in some cases, specialists question whether it is valid when it comes to suchlike people in general.

As Psychology Today notes, people who tend to exploit others are able to use their weaknesses to achieve their goals. In other words, they take your insecurities and use them to manipulate you into doing whatever they want. This evil ability of theirs is often related to intelligence, as they somehow manage to outsmart everyone else. However, genius may not be the cause of the success of their mischievous tactics.

A new study conducted by Ulm University’s Sally Olderbak and colleagues explores the link between emotion expression abilities and psychopathy. The researchers note that psychopaths are described as “successful liars and manipulators.” This implies that these individuals are skillful enough to trick others into believing they are genuine and come with nothing but good intentions. Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

What’s more, psychopaths are also able to imitate the emotions of others, without actually experiencing them.

That’s the exact aspect the German experts reviewed. In their work, they examined the emotion-projecting ability of psychopaths by comparing them to non-psychopaths. What they wanted to see is how skilled the psychopathic-natured people are at deceiving others by using their emotions.

The study’s authors explain:

“If they are better at deception, we would expect that they have especially strong socioemotional skills and higher general mental ability.”

The team of researchers discovered that psychopaths may actually lack the intellectual ability they need to lie so easily. They argue that these individuals don’t shine with compassion and empathy, which are valuable emotion-sensing qualities helping people identify others’ feelings.

Therefore, psychopaths could be much less knowledgeable than they appear. 

As Olderbak and her colleagues state, those with psychopathic personalities may “not understand the nuances in emotional expression or know how to be believable with their emotional expression.”

Though, the Ulm University researchers’ findings do not apply to every single psychopath put there. Some of them are indeed quite intelligent and are masters at making themselves seem trustworthy. However, the scientists were determined to resolve these dramatic differences.

To test their theory, the team decided to closely observe psychopaths and their process of emotional expression and perception.

They worked with 361 men, either in prison, psychiatric hospitals, or living in the community. The average age of the participants in the study was 35, and around 85% of them didn’t have a university degree.

The test-takers had to perform a series of computer-based tasks, involving both the production and interpretation of the six basic emotions of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. They also had to express several predetermined emotions in front of a mirror, to see for themselves whether they are good at mimicking feelings.

Then, the men contributing to the study had to match whole or parts of pictures of faces. They had another task, where they had to identify the emotion displayed by either a partial or whole computer-generated face.

While examining the participants’ reactions, the researchers conducted a short scale assessing both verbal and nonverbal mental ability. They also established a statistical model that allowed them to examine the links between general emotion expression and imitation to general mental ability, face perception, and emotion expression.

Eventually, the experts discovered that general mental ability was moderately related to general emotion expression. The test-takers who stood out with intelligence were slightly better at imitating facial expressions that matched a given emotion.

But what is the role of psychopathy in this process? 

The men who displayed high psychopathy levels did show lower emotion expression scores. However, Olderbak’s team concluded that this relationship disappeared when general mental abilities became a factor. They declared:

“While highly psychopathic individuals are worse at expressing an emotion not felt, this is not due to a unique deficit in this ability, but rather an overarching deficit in general mental ability.”

According to the authors, the smartness psychopaths beam is more related to luck than to ability. Their success rate regarding the times they actually manage to lie to others is not as splendid as some would consider. They might make it seem impressive, but that’s only because a non-psychopath wouldn’t spend as much time and energy perfecting the evil art of deception.

Have you ever dealt with psychopaths? Do you consider them highly intelligent, or simply lucky? Leave a comment to let us know!

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