The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industryby Published 01 May 2012
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In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.
The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.
Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry Reviews
A breezy, entertaining journey through the public effects of madness, with particular attention to the impact of the psychopath on society.
Ronson is an excellent writer with a fine sense of humor who knows how to tell a good story in plain language. That he is able to do this while making subtle observations about our society shows what a really good writer he is.
I thought this would be a great tool for self-diagnosis, but actually Ronson skitters from one case to another without really making any definitive point. But maybe that’s the point. Psychopathy is probably not an absolute for most people, as there are many among us who exist in some sort of sociopathic gray area (myself included). Me, I scored a 10, so I’m a partial psychopath. (Surprise, surprise!) My downfall? Apparently, I don’t really care too much about other people.
Here, take the test!
“There is no evidence that we've been placed on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal. And in fact our unhappiness and our strangeness, our anxieties and compulsions, those least fashionable aspects of our personalities, are quite often what lead us to do rather interesting things.”
Jon Ronson, in preparation of writing this book took a course from a top psychologist on how to spot a Psychopath. Below is a list of traits from the first factor called "Aggressive Narcissism". The statistics show that 1% of the population is psychopathic....gulp. One person out of one hundred.
Come along with me and play 'spot the psychopath'....shall we?
#1. Glibness/superficial charm
#2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
#3. Pathological lying
#5. Lack of remorse or guilt
#6. Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
#7. Callousness; lack of empathy
#8. Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions
#1. Everything she has ever said is Glib.
#2. Truly believed she could be vice president...NO, PRESIDENT!
#3. "What newspapers do you read (Sarah)?"..."Ah, you know, all of 'em." LIAR! "I can see Russia from my house"....sure.
#4. She got herself nominated for the vice presidency didn't she?
#5. Enjoys shooting wolves from a helicopter without a care in the world.
#7. Does not give a fuck have empathy for the poor and the sick.
#8. Has not accepted the responsibility for destroying the Republican party....or maybe that falls on McCain.
#1. Glibness? sure. Charm? Well you can't win them all.
#2. Made himself president.
#3. Weapons of mass destruction? Anyone?
#4. Again, made himself president.
#5. Shot his friend in the face. He not only wasn't sorry, he made the friend apologize for getting his face in the way.
#6. Do cyborgs have emotions?
#7. Does not give a fuck about anyone, for any reason.
#8. Started an unnecessary war that has killed thousands for personal profit and has never "I'm sorry" once.
Start reading at comment #49. Okay a personal joke.....I kid, Alex. Sort of.
This could go on and on, so I'll stop here.
“Suddenly, madness was everywhere, and I was determined to learn about the impact it had on the way society evolves. I've always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn't? What if it is built on insanity?”
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Jon makes us look twice at the world around us and how we are all defined by our 'maddest edges'...all of our edges are a bit mad. He shows us a look at the 'madness industry' and how one Doctor took the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from 40ish pages into the 800s. Being normal is a disorder these days.
Here is Jon's TED talk on this book
If you are worried about the above traits, well....
“At the end of our conversation she (Martha Stout) turned to address you, the reader. She said if you're beginning to feel worried that you may be a psychopath, if you recognize some of those traits in yourself, if you're feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one.”
he DSM-IV-TR is a 943-page textbook published by the American Psychiatric Association that sells for $99...There are currently 374 mental disorders. I bought the book...and leafed through it...I closed the manual. "I wonder if I've got any of the 374 mental disorders," I thought. I opened the manual again. And instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones. (c)
We journalists love writing about eccentrics. We hate writing about impenetrable, boring people. It makes us look bad: the duller the interviewee, the duller the prose. If you want to get away with wielding true, malevolent power, be boring. (c)
When I asked Robert Spitzer about the possibility that he'd inadvertently created a world in which ordinary behaviours were being labelled mental disorders, he fell silent. I waited for him to answer. But the silence lasted three minutes. Finally he said, 'I don't know. (c)
I supposed there was no reason why psychopaths shouldn't have unrelated hobbies. (c)
People who are normal (i.e., sane, sensible) don’t try to open lines of communication with total strangers by writing them a series of disjointed, weird, cryptic messages. (c) Seriously? No shit.
Practically every prime-time program is populated by people who are just the right sort of mad, and I now knew what the formula was. The right sort of mad are people who are a bit madder than we fear we're becoming, and in a recognizable way. (c)
He did another experiment, the Startle Reflex Test, in which psychopaths and non-psychopaths were invited to look at grotesque images, like crime-scene photographs of blown-apart faces, and then when they least expected it, Bob would let off an incredibly loud noise in their ear. The non-psychopaths would leap with astonishment. The psychopaths would remain comparatively serene. (c)
the American physician Samuel Cartwright identifying in 1851 a mental disorder, drapetomania, evident only in slaves. The sole symptom was “the desire to run away from slavery” and the cure was to “whip the devil out of them” (c)
... if you’re beginning to feel worried that you may be a psychopath, if you recognize some of those traits in yourself, if you’re feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one. (c)
I read this in about a 4 hour span, from 12 am - 4 am. It freaked me out and I slept with the lights on. But on with the review.
So I've read things about psychopaths previously. How their brains are actually wired differently and they are unable to feel empathy, etcetc. Psychopathy is incurable. Psychopathy, in its violent and sexual strands, is outright fucking terrifying.
But Ronson's book talks more about the frequent misdiagnosis of psychopathy. And the misdiagnosis of many other "mental illnesses" that may in fact just be trying to label and profit off of various human eccentricities. I thought it was interesting. Especially the inmate Tony who scammed his way into the Mental Hospital hoping for nicer amenities and found himself unable to convince the doctors of his sanity for another 20 years (13 years after his prison sentence was originally intended to be over).
That's some real life One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stuff. When the majority decides that the only thing needed to stamp a lifelong label of "psychopath" is a score over 30 on a 20 point behavioral checklist, an incredible danger arises. Misuse and misguided priorities in diagnosis can ruin lives, create madness instead of protect against it.
As relatively new fields, I think psychotherapy and the psychiatric world at large are bound to make huge changes in their approach as they learn more and more about the human brain and its relation to behavior. A lot of the disorders seem, to me, very subjective in their conditions. (e.g. one of the characteristics for psychopathy is an 'inflated sense of self worth'....uhm? that's pretty subjective and would probably include the vast majority of my professors) The human brain itself is just such an incredible unknown that I think there needs to be a certain level of trepidation in creating absolutes. For Tony, the "absolute" definition of psychopathic tendencies lost him the best 20 years of his life surrounded by rapists and serial killers in a maximum security Hospital.
Of course, at the same time, there are definitely strands of human beings who objectively act differently and need to be addressed by society. They respond differently. They do not have the same emotional capacity as the other 99% of the human race. There is some definitive consistency in the way their minds work. There need to be tactics for identification, for prevention against their possible havoc.
So basically Ronson's conclusion is that, like with every other thing in this world, there needs to be a balance in the approach. There can't be a mass frenzy to diagnose and label every little idiosyncrasy of human behavior, turning the world into a medicated homogenization scared of every feeling outside of complacent and numb. But at the same time, we can't ignore extreme human behavior, the kind that is debilitating and sometimes even dangerous.
Oh wait, back to my review of the actual book. It was decent. Who isn't intrigued by the minds of psychopaths (and the minds of those who study the minds of psychopaths)? I thought his different chapters and stories were a little too disjointed and he trailed off topic a little toward the end. The book didn't have as great of a flow or dynamic as it could've. But overall, pretty interesting and worth a read.