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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January 2004, 15:19 GMT
The psychopaths in suits
By Joanna Hill-Tout
BBC News Online

Hannibal Lecter played by Anthony Hopkins
Archetypal psychopath: Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter

The word psychopath strikes fear into the hearts of most ordinary individuals conjuring up images of axe-wielding mass murderers or sexual predators stalking the wards of prison isolation wings.

But that is far from the whole truth and one of the world's experts on psychopaths arrived in Cardiff on Tuesday with some disturbing news.

In a talk entitled Snakes in suits: when psychopaths go to work, Professor Robert Hare from Canada argued that psychopaths may not be what we think they are.

And as BBC News Online found out, they can exist successfully in every walk of life.

"I'm not worried about security - if they were going to get me they would have got me by now."

These were the words of the world's leading authority on psychopathy before he gave a talk in front of a packed out lecture theatre at Cardiff University.

Robert Hare, who is a Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has spent most of his working life studying psychopaths - a dangerous occupation, it seems.

"The first one I met at a maximum security prison in Canada stared at me so hard I felt like I was being pushed up against the wall," he said.

"Then he got a knife out and was moving it around in front of me.

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into."

And he has been "into it" for the past 25 years.
You can spot them quite easily in the workplace - so you may want to think about people you know
Professor Robert Hare

But you would never guess this diminutive, unassuming man has been in contact with real life Hannibal Lecters.

"They get interested in me - and blame me that they're in prison," he said.

"I've had death threats as a result but I keep going - what can you do?"

So was Professor Hare in Cardiff to warn us about the proliferation of psychopaths in Welsh prisons? No, but they could be in your office right now.

Psychopaths are defined as a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behaviour without empathy or remorse.

Is your boss a psychopath? Here are just some of the tell tale signs
They are manipulative
They lack specific goals
They have superficial relations with people
They are impulsive
They are irresponsible
They crave power and prestige
They lack empathy
They lack remorse
They lie easily
They have predatory instincts
They are cool under pressure
They seek excitement and thrills
They take credit for the work of others
They fly into rages
And Professor Hare, along with colleague Dr Paul Babiak, has developed a new 107-point questionnaire - the B-Scan - which can enable people like you and me to identify which desks those smooth-talking, manipulative colleagues might be hiding behind.

"We normally associate psychopaths with death but they're not always in prison," he said.

"We think of them as crazy people but Ian Brady described himself in his book as a businessman.

"You can spot them quite easily in the workplace - so you may want to think about people you know."

Former Daily Mirror tycoon Robert Maxwell, who stole 400m from pension funds to help his ailing companies, was named as a classic example of a man in a powerful position who might very well have displayed psychopathic traits.

So what should we be looking out for?

Professor Robert Hare
Professor Robert Hare has received death threats
According to Professor Hare psychopaths are impulsive - they lack empathy and remorse.

They crave power and prestige, and are extremely controlling.

He described them as "knowing the words but not the music."

"They can learn to use ordinary words and to reproduce the pantomime of feeling but the feeling itself does not come to pass."

So is he describing your boss?

They interview well, they get into organisations by using people as pawns, sweet talking patrons and creating conflict.

"I don't see any difference between the people I meet in prison and those in business," he added.

So should we be running for the hills?

You have been warned.

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