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.

 

 

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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.

 

Isn’t it all a bit…

Isn’t just looking at body language a bit pointless?

I had a discussion over this with a friend a while ago.  We were discussing body language, micro-expressions, she asked “Don’t you think it is all a bit pointless, if you are spending so much time looking at the body language, how are you meant to do anything else?”

How right she is.  Not about it being pointless, but more about the effort of will that is required to focus on so many things happening at the same time.

When we are making an assessment of someone for credibility there are five channels of communication that we need to focus on.  Focussing on five very different areas for the minutia of information and then comparing that with the signals you are getting from the other four channels, it could give you a headache.  Making sure that the questions that you are asking are pertinent and then listening to the response while also thinking the next question up.  Is the response appropriately worded, at the right speed and pitch, is the language distancing?  At the same time what is the posture like, what are the emblems being shown and do the expressions match the details of what is being said?

But if we restrict ourself to just body language, as many practitioners do, we are missing a lot of information.  It would be like looking at a tapestry down a toilet roll tube.  You would only see a tiny part of the image and wouldn’t get the whole picture.

Assessing someone is like driving a car.  You have to control acceleration, gears, clutch, braking, monitoring the instruments, steer and keep an eye on everything that is going on outside the car.  When we first learn to drive, all of these things take a huge amount of concentration, but as we become a lot more accomplished, some things become second nature.  It can be the same with the assessment process.

Some people have an advantage where they have a natural talent, just like some formula one drivers have a natural ability in driving in comparison to your average road driver.

There are ways that you can make this easier on yourself.  Work in pairs or teams with one person asking the questions and listening to the answers, and the other person focussing on the non-verbal elements.

But remember,  before all you must try to establish a base line – the normal operating level of the person.  Without the baseline it makes it difficult to spot the deviations from normal that give us something to focus on.  Baseline does not just happen, and should have some time devoted to it.  Establishing normal operating levels but also what a genuine emotional response looks like.  Take your time and become familiar with normal.

This is something that is nearly always missing in job interviews.  A couple of minutes chatting about inconsequential things can make a huge amount of difference in finding out what is really going on with someone.

 

Fear leads to…

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering…”  The words of Master Yoda.  Does fear always lead to anger?  It is certainly a legitimate question.  Surely the source of the fear would have a big relevance?  Some people will predominantly respond to a fear situation with anger as it is seen as challenging what they see as a form of personal weakness.  They get angry at the thing that makes them scared, almost whistling at the dark.

Fear is  a natural response to a threat, whether that treat is real or imagined.  It is a response that comes from the most basic part of our brain, the limbic or reptile brain.  A lot of fears can be learned responses, and some are just triggers of self-preservation.

When dealing with fear a lot of people do get angry, though that anger is not always directed outwards.  Sometimes, that anger is internalised and aimed at the self  for being afraid of something, though this could easily become self-disgust or self contempt.  Just as easily fear can become relief, excitement, grief, anguish, or delight.  Once again we come to the cause of the fear.

Looking at a couple of scenarios:  we have a person working for a large company that is not doing well in an economic downturn, instantly you get a mood of apprehension for the future.  Being called to a one to one meeting with the management that apprehension can become fear.  It is a response to a perceived threat to personal well-being.  The situation can go one of two ways.  The person is told that they have lost their job, they have been made redundant.  The person may well react with anger, why have I been selected for redundancy, that could easily lead onto disgust over the way they have been treated and contempt for the ones making the decisions.

Perhaps the person has been told that they are going to be kept on when their colleagues have not.  That can lead to a form of guild called survivors mourning.

Look also at the deceiver.  Fear of discovery is one of the factors that makes a deception discoverable, followed by the emotion that is shown after the fear.  What about that smile and flash of happiness we know as duping delight?  The little flash of a smile when they think that their lie has been believed.   Fear can elevate further if that lie has been discovered, leading to that flash of righteous anger, “how dare you challenge me?”

Fear can even lead to excitement.  A roller coaster works on this very principle.  People boarding that roller coaster right up until the first drop may be fearful. People will demonstrate a lot of the signs you expect to see in fear.  The flight or fight response.  Pallor caused by the blood running to the limbs and organs, increased heart rate and respiration, dilated pupils and even the sweats.  Very quickly this changes to excitement, enjoying the ride and burning off all that adrenaline in excitement.

Fear can lead to practically every other emotion.  Understanding the cause of that fear can give an understanding of what to expect next.

Infectious Emotions

As I have mentioned in a previous post, we are an empathic race.  We react to the emotions of people around us and mirror those emotions ourselves.  This is something that must be considered when you are in a working environment.  They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but more accurately contempt breeds contempt.

When building a team of people you have to consider a number of factors.  Firstly, you have to look at the skill sets that you are putting together to make sure there are no holes in the talent pool that you have.  But a lot of people when building a team don’t  seem to spend a lot of time looking at the emotional make up of the people they are putting together.  Ever since the early 90s a lot of stock has been put into psychometric testing.  Personally, I not only think these tests are flawed but can be manipulated and wildly inaccurate.  The same can be said in a way for assessment tests.

Scientists will often say that lab experiments have a built-in flaw.  But putting things into controlled settings you are removing an element of chance or chaos.  The unexpected.  I would say the same of the assessments that some staff are put through as part of the interview process.  You have been made aware that an assessment is part of the process.  You have had an opportunity to prepare, there is nothing really unexpected about it.

Psychometrics will tell you a little about someone’s character as long as they don’t know how to fool the tests, and assessments will give you an idea of someone’s reasoning abilities, but what about when things suddenly change?

Sudden onset of a stressful situation can change the dynamic and really turn the tables on the team.  Someone who tests well could become a complete liability.  Logical thinkers can not always take that leap of faith and think on the ball and come up with an inspirational solution.   Logical thinkers test well because there is a process to follow from start to finish.  Activists, or kinetic thinkers,  get bored by the hum-drum.  When situations are controlled and planned, they can get bored and can become easily distracted, looking for the next challenge.  These are the people who don’t tend to test well, but when you put them on the spot in a tense situation they shine.

What does this have to do with infection emotions?  If you get someone inclined to panic, you could end up in a situation.  Panic is a strong emotional response and falls under the Fear family of emotions.  In many cases it can overwhelm the calm.  Fear is demonstrated on our faces to warn people that something is happening they need to be aware of.  The signal needs to be passed on so that the whole community can be aware of the risk.

A good team should have elements of both logical and kinetic thinkers and the responsibilities of each team member should match their skills.

We are very set in our ways when it comes to recruitment.  There are ways that things are done, because that is the way they have always been done.  Almost like sheep everyone does the same thing without looking at different ways of doing things.

I am a firm believer that attitude is far more important than any already pre-existing skills in a new recruit.  Passion and attitude is far more difficult to create.  Aptitude and skills can be trained and learned.

So if someone doesn’t hit your target score on your assessment for working out percentages and synonyms.  If they have passion, drive, enthusiasm and an over all belief in your company and what it stands for; give them a chance, a job and buy them a calculator and a dictionary.  If someone truly believes in the company they are working for, they will work to overcome the issues of skill themselves.

The way that our financial climate is at the moment I believe that some companies need to look at the way they recruit.  There is a huge pool of untapped talent out there that is getting overlooked because they failed to score well on a test.

 

The Fear

Fear is one of the base seven emotions and as such is shared and demonstrated in the same way by practically every person on the planet.  I say practically as there are some rare medical conditions that result in a person being completely fearless.  I will discuss this at a later point.

Fear is an essential part of our emotional make up.  It is there to engage us into action when something threatens our well-being as a form of self preservation and to warn others there is something that could be considered a threat.  Surely this is a good thing?  But fear is associated with the Flight, Fight or Freeze response and can have consequences of its own.  Not to mention the issues that can be raised by prolonged exposure to fearful situations, the most common of which is stress.

Stress itself is not an emotion in its own right, rather it is an emotional state that can have a number of emotions associated to it.  Lots of people cite that stress is bad.  This is not strictly true.  Some stress can be quite positive, driving us forward, and given motivation to our actions.  Extended stress without respite however, this can be problematic.

Imagine someone applying for a job.  It is the sort of job that they always wanted, they would really enjoy doing it.  It is for a company they would fight tooth and nail to get in to.  Stress has already begun.   As the date for interview gets closer the stress increases.  Is this fear?  Not really.  If we look at the idea of an emotion they are usually of rapid onset and of short duration.  Perhaps what is being felt in the build up to interview is better described as apprehension.  An emotional state that falls under the fear family.

Fear is about self-preservation.  It’s origins are in the Limbic system of the brain, responsible for the hard coded emotional responses.  This part of the brain can start a physical reaction before the cognitive side of our brain, the Neo-Cortex even gets involved.  There is no reason to fear, it is an automatic reaction to a perceived threat: surging adrenaline, increasing heart and respiration rate sending blood rushing to the limbs ready to fight or flee from danger.

Notice also that I say “perceived threat”.  There doesn’t actually have to be a threat only something that appears to be a threat.  Mistaking a shadow in a darkened house for a prowler is a perceived threat, once the cognitive part of our brain gets involved and re-assesses the situation it may then be confirmed as no longer a threat.

Stress can be a very damaging situation if it is not handled correctly.  There are situations where we have no control over the stress we may receive.  This is possibly the worse kind of stress.  Lack of control or the ability to change the situation can increase the stress this causes the stress to escalate.

Eventually stress reaches the breaking point.  The body and mind can’t take any more.  Once this point has been reached it is very difficult to turn around.  Thinking about the situation can bring on panic attacks.  Essentially, the body goes into a full fear response.  The body is reacting to a perceived threat of more stress than it can handle, that is contrary to its well-being.

Once an emotional script has been written it is very difficult, sometimes impossible to change that script and an alternative has to be created by the use of supportive therapy.

Understanding the reasons for fear can give us an insight into the reactions that some people have.  Fear can be one of the most difficult emotions to handle and control because of its very nature as a preserver of life.

 

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.