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Psychopathic Personality Traits as Human Capital for Occupational Success

Mon, August 13, 8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, 413


In this theoretical paper, we draw on the existing literature to suggest that psychopathic personality traits, such as manipulativeness or fearlessness, can be conceptualized as a form of human capital. We outline theoretical and empirical evidence to support the argument that such traits, when effectively leveraged, can offer professional advantages. That is, through the deliberate embrace and application of psychopathic traits, individuals are investing in their human capital to facilitate occupational success, specifically white-collar status attainment. Evidence for this argument highlights the overrepresentation of true psychopaths in white-collar occupations and in upper-level positions characterized by authority and control. We also examine the distinction between ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ psychopaths, and explore the mechanisms underlying the self-selection of successful psychopaths, often called corporate psychopaths, into prestigious white-collar professions and leadership roles. We conclude with a discussion about the utility of re-conceptualizing concepts like psychopathy using alternative lenses to broaden their scope—in this case from criminological applications toward understanding social inequalities. Overall, this paper constitutes a new perspective for explaining the stratified distribution of status and success in the capitalist labour market.


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