An Australian study has found that about one in five corporate executives are psychopaths – roughly the same rate as among prisoners.
The study of 261 senior professionals in the United States found that 21 per cent had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits. The rate of psychopathy in the general population is about one in a hundred.
Nathan Brooks, a forensic psychologist who conducted the study, said the findings suggested that businesses should improve their recruitment screening.
He said recruiters tend to focus on skills rather than personality features and this has led to firms hiring “successful psychopaths” who may engage in unethical and illegal practices or have a toxic impact on colleagues.
“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” he said.
“For psychopaths, it [corporate success] is a game and they don’t mind if they violate morals. It is about getting where they want in the company and having dominance over others.”
The global financial crisis in 2008 has prompted researchers to study workplace traits that may have allowed a corporate culture in which unethical behaviour was able to flourish.
Mr Brooks’s research, conducted with a colleague from Australia’s Bond Universityand a researcher from the University of San Diego, was based on a study of corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry across the US.
The findings, presented on Tuesday at the Australian Psychological Society Congress in Melbourne, are due to be published in the European Journal of Psychology.
The researchers have been examining ways to help employers screen for potential psychopaths.
“We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there’s an adequate assessment to hopefully identify this problem – to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly,” Mr Brooks said.