How Intelligent Are Psychopaths? Study Examines the "Hannibal Lecter Myth"
A new study makes a surprising finding on the intelligence of psychopaths, often portrayed as evil geniuses in popular culture.
We tend to think of psychopaths as dangerous, antisocial, lacking in key human emotions like empathy or remorse. Psychopaths can be obsessed evil tyrants like Hitler or cunning and monstrous like the fictional Hannibal Lecter. Now a new study casts a surprising look at psychopaths, finding that whatever qualities they might have, high intelligence is not one of them. In fact, psychopaths were found to be less intelligent than average people.
Scientifically, to be classified as having the personality disorder of psychopathy, a person would need to achieve a corresponding score on a test of psychopathic traits like aggression, inflated sense of self-importance and dishonesty. Around 1% of the population would fall into this category.
“Not all psychopaths will break the law or hurt someone, but the odds of them doing so are higher,” explained Brian Boutwell of St. Louis University in Missouri, who led the study.
One reason that spurred his research was the prevalence of the popular culture version of a psychopath, referred by psychologists as the “Hannibal Lecter myth”. But that kind of Hollywoodized psychopath did not sit well with observed facts.
“Psychopaths are impulsive, have run-ins with the law and often get themselves hurt,” said Boutwell. “That led me to think they’re not overly intelligent.”
Boutwell and his team conducted a meta-analysis of 187 previous studies on the relationship between psychopathy and intelligence, involving over 9,000 participants, some in prison and others in successful careers. The researchers found that psychopaths scored lower on intelligence tests. A surprising result, according to Boutwell.
“The results of the current meta-analysis produced a small, but significant effect size suggesting that individuals who score higher on measures of psychopathic traits tend to score lower on measures of IQ,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
The researchers hope that their finding will contribute to our understanding psychopathy, currently an untreatable condition.
“Psychopathy isn’t amenable to psychotherapies,” pointed out Boutwell. “As we better understand psychopathy, we should be better able to develop treatment and rehabilitation for psychopaths."
Further research might also change how psychopaths are treated by the criminal justice system.
“If they have low intelligence, you could say that they are likely to offend again, or you could say that if they have cognitive difficulties, a lengthier prison sentence is not going to help them,” said Boutwell. “You could make the argument in either direction.”
Cover photo: Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter. © 1991 - MGM
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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