Here are the red flags to watch out for…
It’s official: five of your Facebook friends are probably psychopaths.
Thanks to research from the Mind Research Network, it’s estimated that about 1% of the population qualify as psychopaths - which, we hasten to point out, doesn’t mean that they’re ruthless cold-blooded killers.
“People often referred to as ‘psychopaths’ are those with Anti-social Personality Disorder,” social psychologist Dr Dina McMillan explains to Cosmo Australia.
“Traits include an inflated view of themselves, excessive selfishness, a complete lack of empathy and an unrelenting anger towards anyone who thwarts their efforts, insults them or humiliates them.”
So how can you tell which of your social media buddies harbours secret sociopathic traits? Well, unless they are speaking about their condition openly and are accurately describing the condition, you can’t.
But, this being said, some experts believe that there are a few red flags to watch out for…
Are they really into their selfies?
A report from Ohio State University shows that people who post more photos of themselves than of other people on social media like Facebook and Instagram scored higher on measures of narcissism and psychopathy.
“In addition, men who were more likely to edit their selfies before posting scored higher in narcissism and self-objectification, which measures how much they prioritise their appearance,” says the Ohio State website.
Jesse Fox, lead author of the study, explains: “It’s not surprising that men who post a lot of selfies and spend more time editing them are more narcissistic, but this is the first time it has actually been confirmed in a study.
“The more interesting finding is that they also score higher on this other anti-social personality trait, psychopathy, and are more prone to self-objectification.”
Where are their BFFs?
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, says to take a peek at their relationships.
“Psychopaths don't have any really close friends or family members that they have good relationships with,” she says, “but they have lots of acquaintances and ‘connections.’”
Are they a social media braggart?
We all have that one Facebook friend who’s constantly bragging about their achievements, their perfect relationship, their perfect engagement, their perfect house, their perfect baby… the list goes on and on. Well, their impossibly smug state of being isn’t just annoying – it seems as if there’s a definitive link between narcissism andsociopathy.
A 2011 study found that teenagers who used Facebook more often showed narcissistic tendencies, as well as signs of antisocial behavior and aggression. Another (more recent) study found that among narcissists in their teens and early twenties, Twitter is the preferred mode of expression, while for older narcissistic adults, Facebook is the chosen option.
And, if that weren’t convincing enough, researchers at York University in Canada have also made a point of studying Facebook users aged 18 to 25 and their social media updates. They then tested those polled against the Narcissism Personality Inventory, which measures and ranks their levels of narcissism.
Researchers quickly found that people who partook in more self-promotion (think posting more photos, glorifying quotes, and frequent status updates) on Facebook were more likely to have narcissistic and/or sociopathic personalities. On the flip-side, though, an overwhelming number were also found to be simply insecure – so bear that in mind when you go scrolling through your friend’s stream of selfies, and maybe reassure her that she’s an awesome human being and a wonderful BFF, ok?
Where do they work?
In the book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, Kevin Dutton explains that there are jobs that can attract literal psychopaths.
3. Media (Television/Radio)
7. Police officer
8. Clergy person
10. Civil servant
Are they more physically attractive?
Research has found, time and time again, that people with so-called “dark” personality traits are more physically attractive than others – and far better at using their clothes, make-up, accessories, and hair to make themselves look more appealing. As physical attractiveness is associated with a whole host of positive traits (such as kindness, smartness, and confidence), this helps psychopaths to ensure an advantageous first impression.
What are their favourite foods and drinks?
Take a closer look at those arty food snaps, everyone – because it seems as if we truly are what we eat.
A study conducted by researchers from Innsbruck University in Austria has found that people who enjoy bitter food and drinks (such as black coffee, gin and tonic, radishes, dark chocolate, kale, and citrus fruits) are more likely to display tendencies of “Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism”.
What do they prize most about themselves?
Dr. Peter Jonason of Western Sydney University, who has spent a decade studying dark personality types, points out that something strange happens when you ask psychopaths about themselves. Unlike most individuals, psychopaths will never bring up their moral traits, they will only discuss themselves in relation to non-moral values such as power, money or attractiveness.
“A psychopath will never tell you they prize their own loyalty or their big heart,” he says.
What do they tell you about their lives?
Durvasula points out that psychopaths are inconsistent in their lives – which may mean that they jump between jobs and residences and have lots of holes in their stories.
Do they instinctively know how you’re feeling?
Psychopaths are partially defined as people without empathy, so they shouldn’t be able to understand what people are thinking. But as it turns out, the exact opposite is true.
That’s right: according to some studies, psychopaths are actually better at reading people than the rest of us.
In one study, the participants watched videos of people expressing emotions. Then the participants tried to judge what those people were feeling based on micro-expressions (otherwise known as small changes in their faces). Instead of failing miserably, the psychopaths picked up on a bit more than the rest of the participants did, particularly when it came to emotions like fear and anxiety.
Then again, they could just know you really, really well. We recommend watching out for how they react to your feelings, rather than if they’re picking up on them at all: if they show empathy and are keen to help you feel better, then you know you’re friend is a winner (psychopath or not).
Are they friends with their ex?
Researchers at Oakland University found that people who reveal ‘darker personality traits’ and ‘manipulative tendencies’ usually opted to remain friends with their exes.
Narcissism expert Dr. Tony Ferretti explains: “Psychopaths may stay connected to [to exes in order to] have access to valuable resources. They also have inside information about their exes vulnerabilities and weaknesses that they can exploit and manipulate which gives them a sense of power and control.”
However, while plenty of people stay friends with their exes for “strategic advancement”, it’s worth remembering that many choose to do so for sentimental reasons, too.
Do they post negatively-charged statuses?
This one is a little more obvious, we suppose.
A 2013 Swedish study analysed individuals’ status updates on Facebook, in a bid to discover “whether there was a relationship between the texts and people’s personality traits.”
Professor Sverker Sikström told The Local that he and his researchers focused on personality traits like neuroticism and extraversion, but also on darker traits like psychopathy, narcissism, and “Machiavellianism.”
They found that people with psychopathic personalities were more likely to post “negatively charged or odd formulations more often,” such as updates about pornography, prostitutes, butchers and decapitation, the authors discovered. They may respond to tragic world events in the news with ambivalence. They have a fondness for ‘funny’ videos which feature people getting hurt.
“Facebook is about connecting people, but in so doing it has created a challenge of increasing competition in the market for social interaction,” Sikström told The Local. “The competition for attention could actually end up getting people to reveal more of their dark side.”
However, before you start to worry too much (or launch a full scale witch hunt), we’d like to remind you that there are many, many positives to being a psychopath – and to being friends with them, too.
Oxford research psychologist Kevin Dutton has found that their bold temperaments makes psychopaths more likely to be intelligent, charismatic, assertive, and cool under pressure – which naturally makes them strong leaders.
They’re also great conversationalists (so you guys will never be lost for words) and more creative, too. And psychopaths also tend not to take things personally, nor do they beat themselves up when things go wrong, choosing instead to focus on the positives.
Best of all, they are far more likely to avoid procrastination than others – which means that, if you’re in need of a friend who gets s**t done, this is the person you need at your side.
Images: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, iStock
This article was originally published in July 2017.