The Sociopath Enigma

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We love Sociopaths.  With an almost ghoulish glee we watch the latest dramas broadcast for that thrill of the unknown or unknowable, the darker side of human nature.  Being the observer without being involved.  You only have to look at the shows that are so popular:  Dexter, Bones, NCIS, CSI, Wire in the Blood and many more.  All of them having appearances by, or headlining the psychopath.  The movies are there to tantalize too; Hannibal or American Pscyho.

If you believed everything you saw on television you would think that all Sociopaths are violent criminal masterminds with blood on their hands.  The actual fact is that most people with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (The clinical diagnosis that includes the Sociopath and the Narcissist) would demonstrate no overt violence.  A good majority of them never draw attention to themselves in any negative light.

In the most simple terms, a sociopath has a lack of  conscience.  There is no, or little, emotional connection to those around them, or the world at large.  The connections they make are about personal gain, or “winning the game”.

If every person suffering from ASPD was imprisoned for a violent crime, our prisons would be bursting at the seams.  Consider that one in twenty-five people classifies as having enough of the indicators to be classed a sociopath.  Based on a total UK population of  58 and a half million people, 4% of those are Sociopaths; That is a total of 2,340,000.  Of course it is not all doom and gloom.  That means that 96% of people are not Sociopaths.

The tricky thing when picking out the Sociopath is that their rules are not our rules and their triggers are not our triggers.  We tend to see our world very much in shades of our own.  We measure other people’s behavior on how we think we would act in the same situation.  Quite often the person devoid of any conscience will think very differently about goals, perspectives and cares little for the opinions of others.

The catch is that you can never be sure that you are in the presence of a sociopath, because they look just like everyone else.  They don’t have a t-shirt proclaiming their lack of conscience and they don’t have to let you know by any law.  The sociopath has two very powerful weapons in their arsenal.   The first is the superficial charm.  They can be very engaging people, stand out from the crowd.  They can be the sort of person you meet and feel like you have known them for years.  Paul Ekman himself once said that he would know a sociopath straight away, because he would want to invite them to dinner within five minutes of being introduced.  For most, the sociopath would appear to be “such a lovely person”.  The sociopath is a manipulator with such Machiavellian ability that even when you suspect that something isn’t right, they will have you doubting yourself.

I have been in direct contact with a sociopath, who to this day is probably unaware of this fact.  Let us call him A.  A never really seemed to want much out of life.  But the idea of working for a living was something that just didn’t seem to fit with the life style that he wanted.  He would like to spend his days pottering about the house about a hobby or just watching television.  He had lots of acquaintances, indeed he seemed to develop new ones on a weekly basis, and they were always ready to offer a hand out to get him through when he was struggling.   He claimed depression and this was the reason that he was unable to work, and oh how he wished he could be better so that he could get on with his life.  A had a partner, let’s call him S.  S doted on A.  He would do just about anything for him and was always there when he was needed. Despite this A still managed to develop these friendships that turned out to be so much more.  When S became aware of these assignations, he was told by A that there was nothing to them, and it was just idle gossip from people who wanted to hurt A.  A would often say how pathetic he felt and how depressed.

This is the key to the second weapon that the sociopath uses, and the most powerful.  They use our pity against us.  They make us feel sorry for them.  They manipulate the words and how they feel so that our heart goes out to them.  A performed this feat regularly and potently.

We have since parted ways and had I known then what I know now I would never have got into a situation like that.  The one person I do feel sorry for in all of this is S.  S probably had no clue that he was simply a meal ticket.  When S and A split, S was probably made to feel that it was all his fault, that there was something he had done to make the break up happen.  In reality S was no longer any use to A and had been cast aside.

The sociopath uses our very nature against us. They know far better how we work than we do and they use our compassion and conscience as a weapon against us to further their own chances of “winning the game.”

The American Psychiatric Association states that someone should be classed as a Sociopath of they have at least 3 of the following seven characteristics:

Failure to conform to social norms.

Deceitfulness and Manipulation

Impulsive and failure to plan ahead

Irritability and Aggressiveness

Reckless disregard for the safety of oneself or others

Consistent irresponsibility

Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

Without doubt A had 6 of those seven characteristics.

 

Even today I still look back on the situation as it was and think that I should have known better.  But the fact of the matter is, that even if I had, A would have manipulated the situation to make me doubt myself, even with all my natural instincts.  Key to that fact is that the sociopath having no conscience would not show remorse or guilt for any of their actions.  One of the most valuable factors in detecting deception.  Risk of discovery for the Sociopath is also reduced.  By experience they know they can talk themselves out of a situation, so even if they are caught out, they will have you doubting your own ideas.

 

 

What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on youtube.com these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.

 

It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.

 

With a curl of the lip, he is not Elvis

“Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defence against one’s own despised and unwanted feelings.” – Alice Miller.

We are all capable of it.  We see a quality in someone who we don’t like or find immoral or substandard and we start the climb to the moral high ground.

Human beings are naturally a social creature and as such we have a certain established social hierarchy.  This has been much convoluted over the years, mainly through the development of our higher brain processes, established deferential protocols in business and so forth.  you have to love that neo-cortex.  However, we are still at the mercy of our limbic brain when it comes to some of our daily interactions.  Contempt is one of the most unusual of the seven base emotions for two reasons.  Firstly, it is the only unilateral expression in that it only happens on one side of the face.  Secondly, it requires a moral comparative to take place.  The other six base emotions do not have to have a second individual involved.  You can be happy, angry or sad, even disgusted without another person being involved.  Contempt requires direct interaction with another individual.  It comes by the assessment of that individual and their actions in direct comparison to how we would behave in the same situation, or as a direct result of a previous interaction.  Contempt is filled with self-identity.  It requires an element of higher brain function but is still shown at the Micro-facial expression level showing that it can still appear on the face before the cognitive mind has a chance to get in the way.

As mentioned contempt is the only unilateral universal expression.  There doesn’t seem to be any definitive study on which side of the face it tends to appear on, but I have noticed (not scientifically measured) that right-handed people tend to show contempt on the left side of the face and vice-versa.  Perhaps others would like to confirm or deny this observation.

Contempt is shown by a tightening of the cheek muscle, pulling the lips up and outwards, almost a half-smile, though there is no involvement with the muscles around the eye.  Sometimes, though not always, the head will tip backwards slightly giving the appearance of  “looking down the nose”.

Let me point out at this time, that Elvis was not showing contempt in his lip curl, though that lip is almost the further extension of the contempt expression into the sneer.  A demonstration that is almost a contempt/disgust blend.  Sometimes the contempt comes with dismissive emblems, the flick of the hand, the closed shoulder and a prolonged blink when using dismissive language.

Contempt is not a pleasant emotion to be on the receiving end of.  It is degrading, it makes you feel worthless.  In a working relationship if a staff member demonstrates contempt for a superior, that working relationship is likely to be unrecoverable.  This can be said also for a customer to a supplier.

As the quote from Alice at the head of this post says; you often see contempt being raised when someone sees something they don’t like about themselves in another person.

Contempt can easily lead to disgust and anger, and that itself leads to a whole heap of problems of its own.

Emotional Overload

Many people are frustrated by their emotions; “It’s like I am out of control!”, “The anger just wells up inside me!”, “I feel so down”

People usually say this and call these negative emotions.  You never hear people say “I wish I wasn’t so happy all the time.”  Why do we have such a resistance to these “negative emotions”?

Firstly, I don’t agree to the idea of of a negative emotion as such, as all emotions are necessary and serve a purpose.  Just because we don’t particularly like the feelings associated with them, they exist for a reason.  Perhaps we should focus on the reason why they exist rather than trying to avoid them.  Understand the triggers will helps us better deal with the feelings and the effects of the emotion.  They can be subtle and fleeting, barely the brush of a butterfly’s wing; or they can be absorbing, compelling and defying reason and common sense.

My interest began at about the age of 10 years.  I recall quite clearly being sat in my dad’s van while he was making a delivery and looking at my face in the side mirror on the door.  I clearly remember changing my face very subtly from anger to happiness and noticing how these very subtle changes could make such a difference.  I have a natural instinct for spotting these rapid signs of emotion that sometimes happen in just a fraction of a second, often called Micro-Facial Expressions or MFEs, or the subtle demonstration of an emotion.

These emotional signs can give an insight into deception, but they are not in themselves an indicator of a lie.  There is no single indicator of a lie, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.  What has to be considered is that when someone deliberately intends to deceive there is a conflict between the emotional load and the cognitive load, the challenge between thinking and feeling.  Understanding why these things happen gives us that insight.

These days I know a lot more about this subject and why I have the skills I do thanks to Dr. Paul Ekman.  Though I have always been able to spot these signs I was never very sure what I was looking at.  Dr Ekman put it into words and demonstrated the reliable signs of these emotions happening.  I can no put a specific name to what I am seeing.  Be that Fear, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Sadness, Happiness and Surprise.

You may not always know the reasons for the emotions appearing, and some serious consideration should be given before jumping to a conclusion, questions need to be asked to understand the why of something.

The seven emotions mentioned above are the globally recognised emotions regardless of where you are from in the world.  Fear always looks the same, even when spoken language gets in the way.  The language of the visible emotion cuts through these barriers of language.

Even the idea of “Negative” emotions have their place. Sadness tells people we need support.  Anger warns others to stay out of our way.  Fear tells others there may be something that puts us all at risk.

Sadness and melancholy gives us time to recoup and ask for help.  By indulging our sadness we appreciate happiness more.

Accept your emotions but understand their origins.