Strange answers to the psychopath test | Jon Ronson


Translator: Timothy Covell
Reviewer: Morton Bast The story starts:
I was at a friend’s house, and she had on her shelf
a copy of the DSM manual, which is the manual of mental disorders. It lists every known mental disorder. And it used to be, back in the ’50s,
a very slim pamphlet. And then it got bigger
and bigger and bigger, and now it’s 886 pages long. And it lists currently
374 mental disorders. So I was leafing through it, wondering if I had any mental disorders, and it turns out I’ve got 12. (Laughter) I’ve got generalized anxiety disorder, which is a given. I’ve got nightmare disorder, which is categorized if you have recurrent dreams of being
pursued or declared a failure, and all my dreams involve people
chasing me down the street going, “You’re a failure!” (Laughter) I’ve got parent-child relational problems, which I blame my parents for. (Laughter) I’m kidding. I’m not kidding. I’m kidding. And I’ve got malingering. And I think it’s actually quite rare to have both malingering
and generalized anxiety disorder, because malingering tends
to make me feel very anxious. Anyway, I was looking through this book, wondering if I was much crazier
than I thought I was, or maybe it’s not a good idea to diagnose
yourself with a mental disorder if you’re not a trained professional, or maybe the psychiatry profession
has a kind of strange desire to label what’s essentially normal
human behavior as a mental disorder. I didn’t know which of these was true,
but I thought it was kind of interesting, and I thought maybe I should
meet a critic of psychiatry to get their view, which is how I ended up having
lunch with the Scientologists. (Laughter) It was a man called Brian,
who runs a crack team of Scientologists who are determined to destroy
psychiatry wherever it lies. They’re called the CCHR. And I said to him, “Can you prove to me that psychiatry is a pseudo-science
that can’t be trusted?” And he said, “Yes,
we can prove it to you.” And I said, “How?” And he said, “We’re going
to introduce you to Tony.” And I said, “Who’s Tony?” And he said, “Tony’s in Broadmoor.” Now, Broadmoor is Broadmoor Hospital. It used to be known as the Broadmoor
Asylum for the Criminally Insane. It’s where they send the serial killers, and the people who can’t help themselves. And I said to Brian,
“Well, what did Tony do?” And he said, “Hardly anything. He beat someone up or something, and he decided to fake madness
to get out of a prison sentence. But he faked it too well,
and now he’s stuck in Broadmoor and nobody will believe he’s sane. Do you want us to try and get you
into Broadmoor to meet Tony?” So I said, “Yes, please.” So I got the train to Broadmoor. I began to yawn uncontrollably
around Kempton Park, which apparently is what dogs
also do when anxious, they yawn uncontrollably. And we got to Broadmoor. And I got taken through gate
after gate after gate after gate into the wellness center, which is where
you get to meet the patients. It looks like a giant Hampton Inn. It’s all peach and pine
and calming colors. And the only bold colors
are the reds of the panic buttons. And the patients started drifting in. And they were quite overweight
and wearing sweatpants, and quite docile-looking. And Brian the Scientologist
whispered to me, “They’re medicated,” which, to the Scientologists,
is like the worst evil in the world, but I’m thinking
it’s probably a good idea. (Laughter) And then Brian said, “Here’s Tony.” And a man was walking in. And he wasn’t overweight,
he was in very good physical shape. And he wasn’t wearing sweatpants, he was wearing a pinstripe suit. And he had his arm outstretched like someone out of The Apprentice. He looked like a man
who wanted to wear an outfit that would convince me
that he was very sane. And he sat down. And I said, “So is it true
that you faked your way in here?” And he said, “Yep. Yep. Absolutely.
I beat someone up when I was 17. And I was in prison awaiting trial, and my cellmate said to me, ‘You know what you have to do? Fake madness. Tell them you’re mad, you’ll get
sent to some cushy hospital. Nurses will bring you pizzas,
you’ll have your own PlayStation.'” I said, “Well, how did you do it?” He said, “Well, I asked to see
the prison psychiatrist. And I’d just seen a film called ‘Crash,’ in which people get sexual pleasure
from crashing cars into walls. So I said to the psychiatrist, ‘I get sexual pleasure
from crashing cars into walls.'” And I said, “What else?” He said, “Oh, yeah.
I told the psychiatrist that I wanted to watch women as they died, because it would make
me feel more normal.” I said, “Where’d you get that from?” He said, “Oh, from a biography
of Ted Bundy that they had at the prison library.” Anyway, he faked madness
too well, he said. And they didn’t send him
to some cushy hospital. They sent him to Broadmoor. And the minute he got there, said he took one look at the place,
asked to see the psychiatrist, said, “There’s been
a terrible misunderstanding. I’m not mentally ill.” I said, “How long have you been here for?” He said, “Well, if I’d just
done my time in prison for the original crime,
I’d have got five years. I’ve been in Broadmoor for 12 years.” Tony said that it’s a lot harder
to convince people you’re sane than it is to convince them you’re crazy. He said, “I thought
the best way to seem normal would be to talk to people
normally about normal things like football or what’s on TV. I subscribe to New Scientist, and recently they had an article about how the U.S. Army was training
bumblebees to sniff out explosives. So I said to a nurse, ‘Did you know that the U.S. Army
is training bumblebees to sniff out explosives?’ When I read my medical notes,
I saw they’d written: ‘Believes bees can sniff out explosives.'” (Laughter) He said, “You know, they’re always
looking out for nonverbal clues to my mental state. But how do you sit in a sane way? How do you cross your legs in a sane way? It’s just impossible.” When Tony said that to me, I thought to myself,
“Am I sitting like a journalist? Am I crossing my legs like a journalist?” He said, “You know, I’ve got
the Stockwell Strangler on one side of me, and I’ve got the ‘Tiptoe
Through the Tulips’ rapist on the other side of me. So I tend to stay in my room a lot
because I find them quite frightening. And they take that as a sign of madness. They say it proves
that I’m aloof and grandiose.” So, only in Broadmoor would not wanting
to hang out with serial killers be a sign of madness. Anyway, he seemed completely normal
to me, but what did I know? And when I got home I emailed
his clinician, Anthony Maden. I said, “What’s the story?” And he said, “Yep.
We accept that Tony faked madness to get out of a prison sentence,
because his hallucinations — that had seemed
quite cliche to begin with — just vanished the minute
he got to Broadmoor. However, we have assessed him, and we’ve determined that what he is is a psychopath.” And in fact, faking madness is exactly the kind of cunning
and manipulative act of a psychopath. It’s on the checklist:
cunning, manipulative. So, faking your brain going wrong is evidence that your brain
has gone wrong. And I spoke to other experts, and they said the pinstripe
suit — classic psychopath — speaks to items one
and two on the checklist: glibness, superficial charm
and grandiose sense of self-worth. And I said, “Well, but why didn’t
he hang out with the other patients?” Classic psychopath — it speaks
to grandiosity and also lack of empathy. So all the things that had seemed
most normal about Tony was evidence, according to his clinician, that he was mad in this new way. He was a psychopath. And his clinician said to me, “If you
want to know more about psychopaths, you can go on a psychopath-spotting course run by Robert Hare, who invented
the psychopath checklist.” So I did. I went on a psychopath-spotting course, and I am now a certified — and I have to say, extremely adept —
psychopath spotter. So, here’s the statistics: One in a hundred regular people
is a psychopath. So there’s 1,500 people in his room. Fifteen of you are psychopaths. Although that figure rises to four percent
of CEOs and business leaders, so I think there’s a very good chance there’s about 30 or 40
psychopaths in this room. It could be carnage
by the end of the night. (Laughter) Hare said the reason why
is because capitalism at its most ruthless rewards psychopathic behavior — the lack of empathy, the glibness, cunning, manipulative. In fact, capitalism, perhaps
at its most remorseless, is a physical manifestation
of psychopathy. It’s like a form of psychopathy
that’s come down to affect us all. Hare said, “You know what?
Forget about some guy at Broadmoor who may or may not have faked madness. Who cares? That’s not a big story. The big story,” he said,
“is corporate psychopathy. You want to go and interview yourself
some corporate psychopaths.” So I gave it a try.
I wrote to the Enron people. I said, “Could I come
and interview you in prison, to find out it you’re psychopaths?” (Laughter) And they didn’t reply. (Laughter) So I changed tack. I emailed “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, the asset stripper from the 1990s. He would come into failing businesses and close down 30 percent
of the workforce, just turn American towns into ghost towns. And I emailed him and I said, “I believe you may have
a very special brain anomaly that makes you … special, and interested in the predatory
spirit, and fearless. Can I come and interview you
about your special brain anomaly?” And he said, “Come on over!” (Laughter) So I went to Al Dunlap’s
grand Florida mansion. It was filled with sculptures
of predatory animals. There were lions and tigers —
he was taking me through the garden — there were falcons and eagles, he was saying, “Over there
you’ve got sharks and –” he was saying this
in a less effeminate way — “You’ve got more sharks
and you’ve got tigers.” It was like Narnia. (Laughter) And then we went into his kitchen. Now, Al Dunlap would be brought in
to save failing companies, he’d close down 30 percent
of the workforce. And he’d quite often
fire people with a joke. Like, for instance,
one famous story about him, somebody came up to him and said,
“I’ve just bought myself a new car.” And he said, “Well,
you may have a new car, but I’ll tell you what you
don’t have — a job.” So in his kitchen — he was in there with his wife, Judy,
and his bodyguard, Sean — and I said, “You know
how I said in my email that you might have a special brain
anomaly that makes you special?” He said, “Yeah, it’s an amazing
theory, it’s like Star Trek. You’re going where
no man has gone before.” And I said, “Well –” (Clears throat) (Laughter) Some psychologists might say that this makes you –”
(Mumbles) (Laughter) And he said, “What?” And I said, “A psychopath.” And I said, “I’ve got a list
of psychopathic traits in my pocket. Can I go through them with you?” And he looked intrigued despite himself, and he said, “Okay, go on.” And I said, “Okay.
Grandiose sense of self-worth.” Which I have to say, would
have been hard for him to deny, because he was standing
under a giant oil painting of himself. (Laughter) He said, “Well, you’ve
got to believe in you!” And I said, “Manipulative.” He said, “That’s leadership.” (Laughter) And I said, “Shallow affect, an inability to experience
a range of emotions.” He said, “Who wants to be weighed
down by some nonsense emotions?” So he was going down
the psychopath checklist, basically turning it
into “Who Moved My Cheese?” (Laughter) But I did notice something happening
to me the day I was with Al Dunlap. Whenever he said anything to me
that was kind of normal — like he said “no” to juvenile delinquency, he said he got accepted into West Point, and they don’t let
delinquents in West Point. He said “no” to many short-term
marital relationships. He’s only ever been married twice. Admittedly, his first wife
cited in her divorce papers that he once threatened her with a knife and said he always wondered
what human flesh tasted like, but people say stupid things to each other in bad marriages
in the heat of an argument, and his second marriage
has lasted 41 years. So whenever he said anything to me
that just seemed kind of non-psychopathic, I thought to myself, well I’m not
going to put that in my book. And then I realized that
becoming a psychopath spotter had kind of turned me
a little bit psychopathic. Because I was desperate to shove him
in a box marked “Psychopath.” I was desperate to define him
by his maddest edges. And I realized, my God — this is what I’ve been doing for 20 years. It’s what all journalists do. We travel across the world
with our notepads in our hands, and we wait for the gems. And the gems are always
the outermost aspects of our interviewee’s personality. And we stitch them together
like medieval monks, and we leave the normal
stuff on the floor. And you know, this is a country
that over-diagnoses certain mental disorders hugely. Childhood bipolar — children as young as four
are being labeled bipolar because they have temper tantrums, which scores them high
on the bipolar checklist. When I got back to London, Tony phoned me. He said, “Why haven’t you
been returning my calls?” I said, “Well, they say
that you’re a psychopath.” And he said, “I’m not a psychopath.” He said, “You know what? One of the items on the checklist
is lack of remorse, but another item on the checklist
is cunning, manipulative. So when you say you feel
remorse for your crime, they say, ‘Typical of the psychopath to cunningly say he feels
remorse when he doesn’t.’ It’s like witchcraft, they turn
everything upside-down.” He said, “I’ve got a tribunal coming up. Will you come to it?” So I said okay. So I went to his tribunal. And after 14 years
in Broadmoor, they let him go. They decided that he shouldn’t
be held indefinitely because he scores high
on a checklist that might mean that he would have a greater
than average chance of recidivism. So they let him go. And outside in the corridor he said to me, “You know what, Jon? Everyone’s a bit psychopathic.” He said, “You are, I am.
Well, obviously I am.” I said, “What are you going to do now?” He said, “I’m going to go to Belgium. There’s a woman there that I fancy. But she’s married, so I’m going to have
to get her split up from her husband.” (Laughter) Anyway, that was two years ago, and that’s where my book ended. And for the last 20 months,
everything was fine. Nothing bad happened. He was living with a girl outside London. He was, according
to Brian the Scientologist, making up for lost time,
which I know sounds ominous, but isn’t necessarily ominous. Unfortunately, after 20 months, he did go back to jail for a month. He got into a “fracas”
in a bar, he called it. Ended up going to jail for a month,
which I know is bad, but at least a month implies
that whatever the fracas was, it wasn’t too bad. And then he phoned me. And you know what, I think
it’s right that Tony is out. Because you shouldn’t define
people by their maddest edges. And what Tony is,
is he’s a semi-psychopath. He’s a gray area in a world
that doesn’t like gray areas. But the gray areas
are where you find the complexity. It’s where you find the humanity, and it’s where you find the truth. And Tony said to me, “Jon, could I buy you a drink in a bar? I just want to thank you
for everything you’ve done for me.” And I didn’t go. What would you have done? Thank you. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “Strange answers to the psychopath test | Jon Ronson

  1. So they sentenced an innocent man to 12 years plus in an asylum, while all these liberal freaks out there, that they know about walk free. Interesting story right there.

  2. for god’s sake, the noises and the music were driving me crazy – and i’m not kidding. you don’t need stupid sound effects in a 16 minute talk. you don’t get them in any of the other “lectures”. it’s really stupid. he was good by himself. jeez!

  3. nightmare disorder!! define that. i have itchy disorder sometimes. i have yawn disorder cause just thinking about it makes me yawn. ya, right.
    i studied psych for my B.S. and my M.A. in early education – plus my own studying and reading. i’ve been hearing about all the stuff they’ve been adding to the DSM. I think it’s ridiculous. a 4 y.o. is bipolar because she has temper tantrums. i saw a kid who really did have a problem with controlling his emotions and it’s totally different from a child with temper tantrums. if a parent constantly gives in to gimme this, that and the other thing, of course, she’s going to have temper tantrums. i worked with a 4 y.o. who had them. the first day she had a few and i just let her roll around on the floor and said no or not if you do that. she finally realized after a few days seeing her, that tantrums just meant nothing to me. i mentioned to the mother that she really should not give in so easily cause she was very concerned. she was so grateful that the kid had stopped ‘tantrumming’. bipolar my foot!!!!!!! that’s almost as bad as the doctor who developed the lobotomy. people calmed down if they were in a psychiatric hospital situation. towards the end of his career he lobotomized a 4 y.o. girl. A 4 YEAR OLD!!!! he was forced to stop eventually. anything can be taken too far. be aware of your rights.

  4. fear is a misrepresentation of truth, what we fear is an illusion. As a foreigner, statistically I have a higher risk of being robbed in a 3rd world country, but I have never really encountered that if that makes any sense. People are so inclined to label things these days – that they lose sight of what is actual.

  5. I know this is mainly about being careful to quickly judge someone from a few aspects of their personality but What I found most interesting is what he said about being a journalist only looking for the gems. We miss a lot of information they may not deem interesting enough.

  6. The most relevant part of this that everyone misses is "[he] is a grey area… in a world that doesn't like grey areas." We are all grey areas, compartmentalized for the sake of dehumanization.

  7. Well I probably would have gone ( I'm an empathetic person) and would have been the one he would have beaten up in the bar. So glad you didn't go.

  8. You know.. Psychopaths live everyday normal lives too. The media tends to throw the word around in a negative manner. They always mention the bad traits of a psychopath, nobody mentions the good traits so people are naturally prone to dislike or fear them.

    Psychopaths are drivin, motivated, and determined! Sure some have short relationships but not all! Like the journalism comment, pick and choose the commonalities and coincidences of them. It's like smoking a cigarette and publishing that all smokers get lung cancer. It's inaccurate.

    Psychopaths do show empathy, they just don't show it through emotion or facial expressions like non psychopaths. If they logically justify the action, there is no empathy because it has been justified. But psychopaths make many mistakes where they have admitted it was wrong and they are sorry! (They just don't appear to be sorry), because logic exceeds emotion in the mind of a psychopath. It's business! Emotions cloud logical conclusions. Psychopaths are great fathers, great mothers, husbands, and wives! They are controlling yes, but passionate.

    The issue is the spectrum of psychopathy. Sure.. Some are horrible people because their psychopathy is at a much higher stage. But to share psychopathic killers with community socialized psychopaths on the same spectrum isn't fair at all.

    Psychopathy isn't something you can control. Your brain is physically different… You shouldn't judge someone born with Autism because they were born this way. You also shouldn't judge a psychopath. I bet most of you have met and enjoyed the company of a psychopath without even knowing. ☺

  9. The truth does not lie in some gray area between sanity and insanity but in the re-connection of the human mind to its Creator. As someone once famously said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

  10. This is exactly how I look at the Salem witch trials. How can you prove that someone is something that you cannot see. And therefore, you don’t want to disprove that they are not that thing. It’s a very strange thing about human nature.

  11. Using a guy for journalisms, but doesn't show up when he's offered a drink by the guy because it doesn't help his career. Classic Psychopath!

    Minipulative ✔
    Lack of Empathy ✔

  12. Here’s one thing I don’t get, tony said he was told to fake an illness and that it would be a good thing. So his intent was to help himself so why would that make him a psychopath?

  13. I find this very interesting as I’m a man living with what is decided as being “Aoristic” !?
    My mane problems is with people that I have lower IQ, but who seem to be convinced that they are away right!? It’s very hard at times to cope with people and it makes you seem mad when looking at the rest of the madness of humanity day by day! So as I have said I really find this very interesting as I don’t really fit any box’s but all and none at the same time!

  14. I know this tedtalk is quite old, but I feel like it's failing to point out that these things are a little bit of both and more.
    For example, a little more light hearted of a subject, career tests. I don't think that a career test will necessarily determine the perfect career or you, but what it will do is find the perfect career for you under these conditions, test you so to speak, test you being the you that has to decide to fill in one circle of two, the you having to decide between almost polar opposite answers, this to me is what things like the psychopath test are, meaning that common human sense, decision making, and reason in required. Psychology is still a science, and it may very well be something that isn't true, because who knows how we should actually even define what truth itself is.
    But I think the first thing that we can learn from this is to think about some of the re-precautions of going on a mental health and questioning journey, and making sure that at least a slither of you is able to handle it. I guess haha.

  15. I really wanted to watch this but there's just too much going on…great pictures and sound effects but completely unnecessary for those of us with both an imagination and sensory sensitivities 😔

  16. "What capitalist systems reward the most is lack of empathy and cunning manipulation."
    False
    The best predictors of long term economic success are intelligence and conscientiousness. (Wealth at birth is the fourth one).

  17. Fantastic! I've devoted my life to psychology. I'm now 59. I've done everything he said and so have others. I laughed when he stated the DSM used to be thin and now it's over 800 pages! It's TRUE! They changed EVERYTHING with this last one too! This is not only VERY funny, it's spot on!!

  18. People aren't understanding what he means at the end when he doesn't go meet Tony at the bar and asks "What would you do". He's pointing out that he himself could be labeled a psychopath for using people to your own benefit and only wanting to be around someone for selfish reasons (he no longer needed to talk to Tony bc his book was already completed) and for lack of empathy (he didnt care about Tony's feelings or desire to hang out; only his own). Him asking what would u do is showing us that no matter which choice we made, to visit or not, it would be under the checklist… proving we are all psychopaths.

  19. The problem with this lecture is that we aren't in fact told what the definition of a psychopath actually is, just a bunch of things that are theoretically supposed to help us identify one. Psychiatry IS a pseudo-science, even crying is regarded as a mental illness. The drugs given to people for their made up disorders make them worse and in some cases suicidal. The clinical psychiatric profession has too much power to ruin people's lives and place judgement calls and assume it knows what is going on inside peoples heads after very short interviews.

  20. TED  has seriously gone down hill …Jon has been described as a gonzo journalist, becoming a faux-naïf character in his stories.

  21. Why do english people accept so many who cannot pronounce ‘R’?. I find it intensely annoying and can’t listen to this oddball.

  22. As someone who has dealt with a psychopath first hand, not accepting a drink was a wise move – I guarantee there was an ulterior motive

  23. JON RONSON is a genius, love his writing. First book I read was "SO, YOU'VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED?" Followed by "THE PSYCHOPATH TEST" which referenced a book I had read when I was 17. "Without Conscience: The world of psychopaths among us" Highlighting white-collar psychopaths, not the blood-lust type, just the ones who have zero empathy and compassion for the human race. Actually, quite fascinating

  24. All that time in there made him go crazy. So wealthy people, people in power and people who run the world are phycopaths. It makes sence.

  25. Geez, I just wasted almost 20 minutes of my life listening to an unqualified bloke that doesn't understand that all he was describing is a SOCIOPATH. I learned about Cluster B personality disorders in undergrad but I'm not doing TED talks. SMH Sociopathy is a spectrum on one end you have Borderline Personality Disorder and on the opposite end there is the Psychopath. Granted after working in a mental health facility and several years of study I do believe that Psychiatry and Psychology are basically a collection of labels for observed behaviors no more or less based on checklists in the DSM. Based on the DSM most people have some type of mental/emotional issue on some level which I do believe is insanity in itself. However I really do loathe the massive amount of pop Psychology inn the media and everyday life where everyone believes they are an expert without the proper credentials or experience going around trying to diagnose everyone. FYI not a single ailment in the entire DSM has EVER been cured. It is a fact, look it up.

  26. First, psychopathic behavior resembles many strengths that our modern world refuses to honor because we actually believe we’re more moral than people of the past…which we’re not. Second, if you think free market capitalism is the problem AT ALL, then you have a problem with people having choice and participating in a meritocracy (which actually helps to make people stronger). Third, the proportion of psychopaths in government would far exceed that of CEO’s and business owners. It wouldn’t even be remotely close to 4% for politicians. I’ve watched like 3 TED videos in the past month and all have had this anti-business anti-capitalist rhetoric. It’s always part of their conclusions. Never anything they have evidence for, and it’s always easily explained away.

  27. Personality disorders should not be confused with mental disorders. Socio/psychopathy is a disorder of personality that is basically not treatable. Meanwhile, mental illnesses – from schizophrenia and major depression to generalized anxiety and dysmorphic disorders – are generally treatable and primarily NOT focused on manipulation, predation, and abuse or control of others. Personality disorders are usually considered the scariest, because "sufferers" often blend, or worst yet, hide among the general population…with the capacity to wreak havoc in people's lives.

  28. psychopath sounds like a genius, although lack of empathy is a given bad sign.
    seems like the only non psychopath is a normie dumb sheep ;D
    Edit: after watching the full video i've noticed he brings out points that the common average person does fit most of the psychotic personas, Atleast where i live;[ just had to get my facts right, Sorry for being alittle impulsive;] hehe

  29. So you honestly believe that Tony is safe enough to get out in public, yet he invites you to have a drink and you feel it wasn’t safe? Does that imply you feel your safety has more value than public’s safety? Interesting…

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