Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

A free market for psychopaths?

A disturbing comment piece in The Guardian by Professor Paul Verhaeghe, chair of the department for psychoanalysis and counselling psychology at the University of Ghent, suggests that 30 years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have resulted in a serious deterioration in people's values and personalities

Professor Verhaeghe says that decades of research and his own therapeutic practice have convinced him that the prevailing economic and social values have encouraged psychopathic personality traits

He refers readers to the acknowledged authority on psychopaths, Professor Robert Hare's "Without Conscience" site, dedicated to the study of psychopathy. A forensic psychologist and creator of the PCL-R assessment tool, Professor Hare offers some clues to help you identify a psychopath when you see one.

Professor Hare, it should be noted, does not recommend that amateurs attempt to diagnose people as psychopaths using his scale. It requires considerable professional skill to interpret results. 

Hare has been widely and quite incorrectly associated with a claim that 10 per cent of financial services employees are psychopaths, but points out that while it may very well be true that 10 per cent or even more of those people could fit into that category, there has been no research evidence to support the contention.

And clearly Professor Verhaeghe has no solid evidence that the values of neoliberalism have made the sort of social disconnection that characterises psychopathy endemic.

But he sees a connection between the prevalence of ultra-right views and the apparent rise of bullying, weakening of social ties and what sociologist Richard Sennett describes as "infantilisation" of the worker. [Sennett's book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation might, by the way, be one antidote to this sort of anomie.]