What Are the Odds You've Met a Psychopath?

Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" isn't really the typical psychopath, despite the movie's title psychopaths are often a lot less conspicuous. Lion's Gate/Hulton Archive/Moviepix/Getty Images

From knife-wielding shower stabbers to chainsaw-brandishing mask wearers, psychopaths are usually pigeonholed as extreme characters. After all, it's pretty easy to spot a scary doll in overalls with a seriously scarred face, right? Chucky sightings aside, it's difficult to imagine that you've met a psychopath.

Despite their depictions in mass media, psychopaths aren't necessarily violent or psychotic, raving for bloodletting in the streets. This can make them hard to spot, unless you know their character traits. Some of their defining characteristics include profound selfishness, a lack of emotion and little or no conscience, as well as the penchant to be more cunning and manipulative than the average person.


Now, you may be making a mental checklist of friends and acquaintances whose motives should be examined more carefully. But don't get too worried. As explained in the above episode of Stuff They Don't Want You to Know, psychopaths often spend years training themselves to appear as normal as the next person, so you've probably met a psychopath and didn't even realize it.

Psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the global population, which makes the odds of meeting a psychopath seem exceedingly rare. Of the 7.4 billion people worldwide, about 74 million are psychopaths. But here's where it gets really crazy — the odds of meeting a psychopath are much higher than you might think. Whether it was a co-worker, roommate, sibling or romantic partner, the person probably carefully hid his or her psychopathic behavior.

Sometimes there is a greater concentration of psychopaths in certain population clusters. If you've ever been to jail or prison, you've probably met a psychopath. Robert Hare, author of the book “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us,” estimates that about 20 percent of inmates fit the psychopath description and that psychopaths are responsible for more than 50 percent of violent crime.

Psychopaths are also more numerous in the upper echelons of the corporate world, including investment banking and politics. And the military is aware of the advantages of the psychopathic brain on the battlefield, where natural killers can turn the tide of battle because they feel little or no remorse. 

Of course, not every soldier is a psychopath, and not every high-level executive, politician or banker is secretly unsettled. But your odds of having met a psychopath are greater if you work in these fields.