Here are the U.S. states with the highest prevalence of psychopaths

A recent study used data from the Big Five personality to estimate psychopathy prevalence in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C.

Map of psychopaths in the United States​
  • The study estimated psychopathy prevalence by looking at the prevalence of certain traits in the Big Five model of personality.
  • The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of psychopathy, compared to other areas.
  • The authors cautioned that their measurements were indirect, and that psychopathy in general is difficult to define precisely.

A new study estimated the prevalence of psychopathy in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.

How can you identify psychopaths? It's difficult, but research provides a few clues, such as that psychopathic tendencies are more common in:

  • Men
  • Younger people
  • Professions such as CEOs, lawyers and politicians

Psychologists have used different diagnostic tools to measure psychopathy over the decades. Today, the leading tool is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), which measures traits such as pathological lying, impulsivity, parasitic lifestyle and lack of remorse or guilt. But psychopathy can be measured in other, more indirect ways, too.

One example is the triarchic model of psychopathy, which says the disorder stems from a combination of the personality traits disinhibition, boldness and meanness. In the recent study, the researchers used that triarchic definition of psychopathy, but mapped it onto the Big Five model of personality, which includes the traits conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness.

"Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness," the researchers write.

To measure psychopathy across the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the researchers used state-level Big Five data from a previous study. The results consistently showed that people in rural areas tended to be less psychopathic, while urban areas were more psychopathic. Scoring highest in psychopathy, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the District of Columbia.

"The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained either by its very high population density or by the type of person who may be drawn to a literal seat of power," the researchers wrote.

Regionally, psychopathy was clustered in the Northeast, with Maine as the most psychopathic state. Some psychologists have described the Northeast as "Temperamental and Uninhibited." In terms of the Big Five personality traits, the researchers wrote that this translates to "low extraversion, very low agreeableness and conscientiousness, very high neuroticism, and moderately high openness."

The researchers also compared the Big Five data to four variables that relate to psychopathy: homicide rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate and percentage of residents living in an urban area. Only the share of residents living in an urban area had a significant relationship with the personality data.

Ultimately, the researchers cautioned that their methodology was indirect, and that "some amount of noise will inevitably be captured in the results."

"The meaningfulness of the results found here is contingent on both the translation of Big Five personality traits into psychopathy and that psychopathy is something that can be conceptualized as a statistical aggregate across people," they wrote. "And if the estimates are conceptually meaningful, the question remains of whether the size of the differences across regions is practically significant. The weak relationships found in the data can themselves be interpreted as support for skepticism, but whether that interpretation is correct requires further research beyond the scope of the presentation of this methodology and results."

What's more, psychopathy lies on a spectrum. The researchers note that "a very small percentage of individuals in any given state may actually be true psychopaths." According to the Hare checklist, about 1 percent of the general population qualifies as psychopathic.

Here's how the recent study ranked the 48 contiguous states:

1. Maine

2. Connecticut

3. New York

4. Maryland

5. Massachusetts

6. Delaware

7. Wyoming

8. New Jersey

9. California

10. Nevada

11. Virginia

12. Rhode Island

13. Illinois

14. Ohio

15. Wisconsin

16. Arkansas

17. Pennsylvania

18. Arizona

19. Louisiana

20. Idaho

21. Colorado

22. South Dakota

23. Texas

24. Kansas

25. Iowa

26. New Hampshire

27. North Dakota

28. Florida

29. Washington

30. Kentucky

31. Michigan

32. Alabama

33. Oregon

34. Minnesota

35. Utah

36. Indiana

37. Missouri

38. Vermont

39. Montana

40. New Mexico

41. West Virginia

42. Oklahoma

43. Georgia

44. South Carolina

45. Nebraska

46. Mississippi

47. Tennessee

48. North Carolina

The Sun was half of a binary system, a new paper suggests

The theory could resolve some unanswered questions.

Image source: NASA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • Most stars begin in binary systems, why not ours?
  • Puzzles posed by the Oort cloud and the possibility of Planet 9 may be solved by a new theory of our sun's lost companion.
  • The sun and its partner would have become separated long, long ago.

If most stars form in binary pairs, what about our Sun? A new paper presents a model supporting the theory that the Sun may have started out as one member of a temporary binary system. There's a certain elegance to the idea — if it's true, this origin story could resolve some vexing solar-system puzzles, among them the genesis of the Oort Cloud, and the presence of massive captured objects like a Planet Nine.

The paper is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Oort cloud

Oort Cloud graphic

Image source: NASA

Scientist believe that surrounding the generally flat solar system is a spherical shell comprised of more than a trillion icy objects more than a mile wide. This is the Oort cloud, and it's likely the source of our solar system's long-term comets — objects that take 200 years or more to orbit the Sun. Inside that shell and surrounding the planets is the Kuiper Belt, a flat disk of scattered objects considered the source of shorter-term comets.

Long-term comets come at us from all directions and astronomers at first suspected their origins to be random. However, it turns out their likely trajectories lead back to a shared aphelion between 2,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun to about 100,000 AU, with their different points of origin revealing the shell shape of the Oort cloud along that common aphelion. (An astronomical unit is the distance from the Sun to the Earth.)

No object in the Oort cloud has been directly observed, though Voyager 1 and 2, New Horizons, and Pioneer 10 and 11 are all en route. (The cloud is so far away that all five of the craft will be dead by the time they get there.) To derive a clearer view of the Oort cloud absent actually imagery, scientists utilize computer models based on planetary orbits, solar-system formation simulations, and comet trajectories.

It's generally assumed that the Oort cloud is comprised of debris from the formation of the solar system and neighboring systems, stuff from other systems that we somehow captured. However, says paper co-author Amir Siraj of Harvard, "previous models have had difficulty producing the expected ratio between scattered disk objects and outer Oort cloud objects." As an answer to that, he says, "the binary capture model offers significant improvement and refinement, which is seemingly obvious in retrospect: most sun-like stars are born with binary companions."

"Binary systems are far more efficient at capturing objects than are single stars," co-author Ari Loeb, also of Harvard, explains. "If the Oort cloud formed as [indirectly] observed, it would imply that the sun did in fact have a companion of similar mass that was lost before the sun left its birth cluster."

Working out the source of the objects in the Oort cloud is more than just an interesting astronomical riddle, says Siraj. "Objects in the outer Oort Cloud may have played important roles in Earth's history, such as possibly delivering water to Earth and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Understanding their origins is important."

Planet 9

rendering of a planet in space

Image source: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)/NASA

The gravitational pull resulting from a binary companion to the Sun may also help explain another intriguing phenomenon: the warping of orbital paths either by something big beyond Pluto — a Planet 9, perhaps — or smaller trans-Neptunian objects closer in, at the outer edges of the Kuiper Belt.

"The puzzle is not only regarding the Oort clouds, but also extreme trans-Neptunian objects, like the potential Planet Nine," Loeb says. "It is unclear where they came from, and our new model predicts that there should be more objects with a similar orbital orientation to [a] Planet Nine."

The authors are looking forward to the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory (VRO) , a Large Synoptic Survey Telescope expected to capture its first light from the cosmos in 2021. It's expected that the VRO will definitively confirm or dismiss the existence of Planet 9. Siraj says, "If the VRO verifies the existence of Planet Nine, and a captured origin, and also finds a population of similarly captured dwarf planets, then the binary model will be favored over the lone stellar history that has been long-assumed."

Missing in action

Lord and Siraj consider it unsurprising that we see no clear sign of the Sun's former companion at this point. Says Loeb, "Passing stars in the birth cluster would have removed the companion from the sun through their gravitational influence. He adds that, "Before the loss of the binary, however, the solar system already would have captured its outer envelope of objects, namely the Oort cloud and the Planet Nine population."

So, where'd it go? Siraj answers, "The sun's long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way."

Americans under 40 want major reforms, expanded Supreme Court

Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.

Demonstrators In Louisville calling for justice for Breonna Taylor.

Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
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Another amazing tardigrade survival skill is discovered.

Credit: Suma et al., Biology Letters (2020)
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  • It may be an adaptation to the summer heat in India.
  • Special under-skin pigments neutralize harmful rays.
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Culture & Religion

Eighth century pagan temple to Old Norse gods unearthed in Norway

Rare structures and artifacts of the Viking religion practiced centuries prior to Christianity's introduction have been uncovered by archaeologists in Norway, including a "god house."

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