The Wisdom of Psychopaths | Kevin Dutton

Summary of: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success
By: Kevin Dutton


Enter the fascinating and controversial world of psychopaths with ‘The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success’ by Kevin Dutton. This book explores the unique traits of psychopaths, who make up one to two percent of the population. While their reputation is often tarnished by associations with violent criminals, Dutton delves into their charming and persuasive nature, revealing the advantages of their mental agility and fearlessness. Emphasizing that psychopathy exists on a spectrum, this summary illustrates how these traits can be harnessed for successful careers, from politics to law, and the unexpected lessons we can learn from them.

The Complex Inner World of Psychopaths

Psychopaths lack emotions and exhibit abnormalities in the areas that determine emotions, including fear. Their ability to remain cool-headed can lead to success and, at times, imprisonment.

Psychopaths are often associated with violent criminals, but the fact is that one to two percent of the population could be labeled as such. Not all of them are imprisoned or deserve to be. We tend to think of psychopaths as evil individuals, but on the surface, they are extremely engaging most of the time. They often have charming personalities, are good speakers, and entertain others, which distracts from their lack of emotions like fear, shame, and guilt.

Many psychopaths occupy high positions and even become tenured professors, executives, surgeons, and mayors because of their manner. Researchers have found that psychopaths’ brains exhibit abnormalities in the areas that determine emotions, which explains their lack of fear. This lack of fear can turn out to be an advantage because it enables them to stay cool-headed in situations where others would worry.

Their ability to remain unemotional and composed can lead to success, but it can also result in time in prison. Psychopaths rarely hesitate to take risks and do what they want without fear of failure. While fear is no longer a question of life or death in our current time, not experiencing the paralyzing emotion of fear can lead to success.

Rational Psychopaths

Psychopaths are more likely to make utilitarian decisions and consider rational gains and losses than non-psychopaths. In situations where a moral dilemma is posed, psychopaths do not hesitate to sacrifice one person for the sake of many. Meanwhile, non-psychopaths take more time to decide and strong emotions often activate, making a purely rational decision impossible. This trait explains why psychopaths, unlike non-psychopaths, remain objective and emotionally unattached.

The Psychopath’s Mind

The mind of a psychopath is wired differently to most people. They have a low tolerance for boredom, live in the moment, and act on their decisions even if they involve risks or uncertainties. Unlike others, they do not feel regret and are not hindered by failures. Psychopaths tend to be active and always want to keep themselves busy. As a result, they tend to succeed in positions that others only dream of and can often be found in leadership roles in law firms, medical facilities, and universities.

Positive Psychopathy

Successful and functional psychopaths exhibit moderate characteristics such as charm, persuasiveness, and an overly positive view of themselves. While some use these qualities to become murderers, others pursue their goals lawfully. Psychopathy is a wide spectrum of varying expressions, and moderate expression of these qualities can be useful for personal advancement. Evidently, some of the “positive” psychopathic qualities are more common among executives and politicians than among convicted criminals. However, those with an excessive number of these qualities are prone to committing crimes because they no longer have control over themselves. According to a study, former US presidents Kennedy and Clinton displayed strong tendencies towards psychopathy.

The Power of Flow

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow”, the ability to be completely present in the moment. Psychopaths are naturally born with this ability to manage tasks calmly and intently without being disrupted by thoughts or emotions. They are not afraid and do not feel emotions which enables them to remain focused. People in a state of flow exhibit similar patterns of brain activity as those found in the brains of convicted criminals. Psychopaths have an innate ability to become absorbed in the moment and are successful in risky fields such as firefighting, law enforcement, and the military. The power of flow is not limited to those with psychopathic tendencies and can also play a crucial role in managing stress and time.

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