How to spot a psychopath

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

Psychopathy is considered by some as “the brain anomaly that rules the world,” according to journalist Jon Ronson. “You’ve got a world of complete polemics from mental health deniers like scientologists through to big pharma who are trying to push new disorders,” Ronson told The Takeaway. “What I was trying to do is try and find out what’s the truth between these both odd ideologies.”

The result is the book “The Psychopath Test,” exploring how madness is measured and how many seemingly normal people are psychopaths. “Most of my book is about learning how to do the psychopath test: it’s a 20-point checklist developed by a Canadian Psychologist named Robert Hare,” Ronson explains:

A strange facet of human nature is that when our brains go wrong, they go wrong in uncannily similar ways. And you can tell a psychopath through the nuances of their language and so on.

The book had a strange effect on Ronson’s life. He told The Takeaway: “As soon as you become a qualified psychopath spotter, like I did, you go insane with power and start spotting psychopaths absolutely everywhere.”

People trained in spotting psychopaths often start “defining somebody by their potential madness and dehumanizing somebody,” according to Ronson. But people act on that information in different ways.

“A colleague of Robert Hare, who’s the guy who developed the test, is sometimes brought in by Human Resources departments to root out potential psychopaths,” Ronson explained. “He always assumes that if he spots one they’ll fire them, but what secretly worries him is if he spots one they’ll actually promote them.”


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.