How psychopaths speak


The word ‘psychopath’ is thrown around plenty on TV, but few may know the true definition of the mental disorder. Essentially, it’s an inability to empathize with others or establish any kind of meaningful relationship. However, this often means that a person exhibiting psychopathic behavior fits a certain pattern of other traits: extreme egocentricity, a failure to learn from experience, and a tendacy to treat other people as a means to further their own ends, rather than individuals in themselves.

Here’s an interesting article on a study recently performed by Jeffrey Hancock, a professor of communications at Cornell University. By analyzing the way convicted murderers speak – the words they use, the most common patterns of speech, etc. – they can build a model of ‘psychopathic’ language, and apply it to the real world. From the article:

They [psychopaths] tend to see people as means to their own ends, rather than as individuals. These emotional abnormalities manifest in their speech patterns in a few interesting ways. The psychopaths who were interviewed tended to use a lot of causal phrases like “so” and “because.” The researchers interpreted this to mean that they were explaining their crimes away as a “logical outcome of a plan (something that ‘had’ to be done to achieve a goal).’” In contrast, other convicted criminals who are not psychopaths tend to use more language around religion and their own guilt when describing their crime. The researchers observed other aberrations in psychopaths’ speech. Psychopaths in the study spoke of basic needs like food and money twice as much as the other subjects in the study, and they also use more disfluencies (phrases like “uh” or “umm”) to break up their speech.

The implications of this study mean that police could be able to build a sound psychological profile of people from the language used in their Facebook statuses or Twitter updates, or any posts on public sites like Craigslist, forums, and the like.

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