An opinion article in Time has this subheading:

CEO is the profession with the most psychopaths.

This may have been added by a headline editor though, because the article body doesn't flesh out the fact that well, besides this (ordered?) list

Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success: + Psychopathy: 1. CEO 2. Lawyer 3. Media (TV/Radio) 4. Salesperson 5. Surgeon 6. Journalist 7. Police Officer 8. Clergyperson 9. Chef 10. Civil Servant // - Psychopathy: 1. Care Aide 2. Nurse 3. Therapist 4. Craftsperson 5. Beautician/Stylist 6. Charity Worker 7. Teacher 8. Creative Artist 9. Doctor 10. Accountant

It's not impossible that the book cited may have made that claim too though (I didn't check.)

Is there high quality empirical evidence to back up this claim that CEOs have the most (or at least a large number) of psychopaths compared to other occupations?

(I do note that Time marked the article as opinion, perhaps to distance itself from the claims therein. Nevertheless, the claim in question is stated as a bare fact therein.)

  • Reminder: Comments are for improving and clarifying answers. – Oddthinking Apr 20 at 18:47

The table provided is directly copied from page 173 of The Wisdom of Psychopaths.

enter image description here

It explains the source is The Great British Psychopath Study, where self-selected people submit their own Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, and categorise themselves according to a list of a hundred or so occupations.

The occupations listed notably do not include "manager" or "CEO", but do include "Chairman/President of company" and "Managing Director".

Given the self-selection and the lack of validation of the data (e.g. people might deliberately skew the results with fake data), the results should be treated with some skepticism.

  • 55
    One has to wonder how many CEOs have had the time and interest to fill that form... – Fizz Apr 18 at 1:55
  • 7
    While I agree with the self-selection concern, expecting a bias favoring self-selection by psychopaths seems incompatible with the defining characteristics of psychopathy. – Eric Towers Apr 18 at 2:10
  • 3
    @LangLangC: I haven't yet read your links, but that sounds like it would make an excellent competing answer. – Oddthinking Apr 18 at 8:08
  • 3
    Somehow, this doesn't really add up. The LSRP yields two scales: primary psychopathy ("a selfish, uncaring, and manipulative posture towards others") and secondary psychopathy ("impulsivity and a self-defeating lifestyle", according to the original paper). Which of the two scales were used by the "Great British Psychopath Study"? Also, the linked LSRP test website produces scores between 1 and 5 (the original paper used a 4-point scale), but the "Great British Psychopath Study" asks for a "Psychopathy Score" that seems to range up to 33. This doesn't appear to be compatible with LSRP scores. – Schmuddi Apr 18 at 8:32
  • 4
    RE: the categories not including 'CEO', Managing Director is essentially the British term for CEO - with the globalisation of American culture you see the former term more and more but Managing Director or MD is still a common term. – walrus Apr 18 at 10:09

There's an interesting recent paper by Spencer and Bryne (2016), which may shed some light on this, but also raises more questions. It seems that at least in a "typical" corporate structure, there is more psychopathy at the top level... but this seems to have no real impact on the employees' job satisfaction. Finally, there was a huge bias towards men in the top management.

They did find that top-level managers exhibited more self-reported psychopathy than mid-level managers and low-level employees. They also found that this self-report was corroborated by employees and middle-management impressions of their immediate superiors. But none of this seems to have any effect on employee satisfaction (measured on several scales.)

Participants were 204 adult employees (51.5% male, 48.5% female) of a major advertising agency in Sydney, NSW, Australia. After approaching all employees (n = 401), 220 confirmed their interest in being a participant (54.9%). Sixteen employees (7.3%) subsequently dropped out of the study due to heavy workload. A total of 204 employees completed the study (92.7%). The senior-level manager sample only included participants considered by the advertising organisation itself as having senior levelmanager positions. These included the Chief Executive Officer and department heads (e.g. Head of Marketing). Twenty (95% male, 5% female) out of 25 senior level managers in the company participated in this study (80%). No senior level managers dropped out or were excluded from the study. [...]

We hypothesise that senior-level managers will possess greater levels of primary psychopathy, when compared to mid-level managers and low-level employees. [...] Finally, it is hypothesised that managers who possess high levels of primary psychopathy will have subordinates who report lower levels of job satisfaction. [...]

Table 2 outlines the results of analysis from LSRP scores obtained for primary psychopathy in all conditions. As can be seen, senior level managers reported exceptionally higher levels of primary psychopathy when compared to mid-level managers and low-level employees. Group condition differences were statistically significant F (2, 201) = 115.01, p-value ˂ 0.001,which demonstrated that senior level managers, mid-level managers, and low-level employees differ significantly in terms of their primary psychopathy. Post-hoc multiple comparison examinations with Bonferroni correction demonstrated that senior level managers differ significantly when compared with mid-level managers (Std. Error = 0.184, p-value ˂ 0.001) and low-level employees (Std. Error = 0.182, p-value ˂ 0.001). However, mid-level managers did not differ significantly with low-level employees (Std. Error = 0.110, pvalue = 0.236).

enter image description here

Additionally, an analysis of the first hypothesis was tested using an independent sample t-test. Fig. 1 illustrates the PM-MRV scores obtained for primary psychopathy in senior level managers and mid-level managers. As can be seen, the majority of senior level managers were perceived as Normal Managers (70.9%), as well as a substantial proportion of mid-level managers (84.7%). In addition, mid-level managers primary psychopathy scores (M =4.59, SD = 3.162) were rated much lower by their subordinates (low-level employees) when compared to the subordinates (mid-level managers) of senior level managers (M = 6.57, SD = 4.045), demonstrating that very few mid-level managers were perceived as Corporate Psychopaths (1%) when compared to a greater than average number of senior level managers (8.1%). Furthermore, results from the independent sample t-test indicated that senior level managers differed significantly from mid-level managers in terms of their perceived primary psychopathy (t = 182, p-value < 0.001).

enter image description here

What is surprising after this is that employee satisfaction was not affected by the psychopathic managers above them; they have some formal tests of this, which I omit here.

The results of the current study supported our first hypothesis that successful psychopaths are predominately found in more senior positions. [...]

The results of the current study did not support our third and final hypothesis. Contrary to expectation, both mid-level managers and low-level employees demonstrated high levels of intrinsic job satisfaction, and average levels of extrinsic and general job satisfaction, irrespective of their manager's level of primary psychopathy. [...] the current findings are extremely significant, as no studies, to the authors' knowledge, have examined the relationship between psychopathy and employee job satisfaction.

They also highlight the obvious limitations of the study:

The results of this study must be interpreted within the context of several limitations. Only 54.9% of the organisational sample agreed to become involved in this research. This may reflect a bias within the sample, with those participating perhaps being either more accommodating of psychopathic personality among their superiors, or indeed feeling obligated to participate. Furthermore, the sample utilised may not be representative of other corporate structures and, due to efforts tomaintain absolute participant anonymity, no data relating to the participants' race, culture, social activities, academic credentials, or whether participants were previously employed at other advertising agencies was collected. As a result, the participants may not be representative of the general population of diverse Australian corporate organisations, which limits the ability to infer our findings to other professions. Additionally, the results revealed a distinct subclinical gender bias, possibly inflating the results of senior level managers' exceptionally high levels of primary psychopathy. Notably, 95% of senior level managers were males, and no separate gender comparisons were analysed for self or observer-reported primary psychopathic traits. On the surface, this may suggest evidence for a glass ceiling effect in females' attainment of senior level manager positions.

  • 4
    I've had a couple of psychopathic managers who definitely impacted morale for the worse. However, since they never advanced very high in the hierarchy it may be that morale-impacting behaviors are weeded out, to a certain degree. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 18 at 12:15
  • 2
    This type of person can do much more damage outside the company than within. Take as an example drug companies pushing addictive drugs to street level for profit (Just an example, pick nearly any corporate bad-actor story from the news for more examples) – Bill K Apr 18 at 17:46
  • 1
    How can we assert that a study conducted on one company represents a "typical" company? – Taladris Apr 20 at 4:30
  • @Taladris: scare quotes. – Fizz Apr 20 at 5:02
  • 1
    Participants were 204 adult employees... So the error margin is more than 100%. It is not a study but an anecdote. – magallanes Apr 20 at 17:38

It looks as if there is one important distinction not to be overlooked, slightly different from the claim that came from a headline.
The cited study asked for:

What would turn out to be the U.K.’s most psychopathic profession?

That means: which tested persons had the most psychopathological traits. That is slightly different from "profession with the most psychopaths". Traits of psychopathology present on a continuum and the cited study does not diagnose people as "Psychopath: yes/no" but finds that on average CEOs were subjects that expressed more characteristics more intensely.

The quote from the book says:

What would turn out to be the U.K.’s most psychopathic profession?

Therefore the question's title would need to be altered to

Q Is CEO the “profession” with the most psychopathic traits in its subjects?

Then the result is plausible.
Other media outlets do a less misleading job of summarising its concrete findings in a headline. The higher in the hierarchy of a corporate capitalist organisation an individual gets, the more likely psychopathic traits are to be found. And further, from a population baseline of 1% psychopaths, 4% or more depending on sectors, up to an estimated 8–10 % of CEOs are indeed likely diagnosable as proper psychopaths.

Psychopaths are estimated to make up about one percent of the general population, and early on in his research, Professor Boddy found that this small group of people is responsible for between a quarter and a third of all workplace bullying.
While the normal distribution of psychopathic people in a workplace would be approximately one percent at the lowest levels of an organisation, and three to four per cent at the top, in some sectors, Professor Boddy estimates that the percentage can be doubled, with as much as eight per cent at the top.

From one of the experts in the field, Clive Boddy. A nice summary of that work is found in Isabella Merzagora, Ambrogio Pennati and Guido Vittorio Travaini: "Psychology and Psychopathology of White collar crime", p169–178, in: Stefano Caneppele & Francesco Calderoni (eds): "Organized Crime, Corruption and Crime Prevention. Essays in Honor of Ernesto U. Savona", Springer: Cham, Heidelberg, 2014.

This is a really popular result in psychological research. Although it mostly encodes this as 'leadership' positions, despite psychopaths usually opting for more autonomous professions. Very popular is diagnosing politicians with one of the dark triad diagnosis (machiavelliansm, narcissism and psychopathy).

New York Times: WASHINGTON — A new study from Southern Methodist University says Washington has more psychopaths per capita than anyplace else in the country.
No surprise there.

Apart from the work of Dutton from the claim, which doesn't face any major oppositions or doubts in its findings, the amount of papers on this topic is substantial.

There is little reason to doubt the results in principle, considering the mass of research that points in similar direction.

Dutton: "Would You Vote for a Psychopath?", Scientific American 2016

Trying to find patterns in the distribution of psychopathological personality traits and mapping them to professions is the usual approach. And sometimes the results are slightly different to the claim. But Psychopathy in the workplace is a well established and somewhat well researched topic.

By the most colourfully diverse means of 'diagnosis' or assessment available, psychological research suffers from a replication crisis. But, in this case, most studies revolving around this topic seem to zero in on a certain target.

Boulder was quick to the draw, confident and even cocky. He boldly informed me on our first meeting, “Doctor, I want you to know in no uncertain terms, that I ain’t no sociopath, psychopath or fruitcake! Don’t you dare tell me no different!”

In a series of interviews consistent with a multiaxial, DSM assessment, I discovered that Boulder did in fact receive an initial diagnosis from his employee assistance program’s counselor. The diagnosis can be interpreted in terms of what Ashforth identified as a “petty tyrant” or “abusive supervisor” (Ashforth, 1994, p. 755) According to what Boulder shared of his experience with the EAP counselor, he was told that he “belittled subordinates, lacked consideration, showed extreme inflexibility and rigidity, ridiculed and physically abused employees, discouraged initiative from his workers, was perceived as arbitrary, unfair, played favorites, and used a forcing style of management.” Boulder was referred by the EAP to “anger management” counseling and training and this was conducted over a period of ten weeks. Boulder was repeatedly told that he “had to chill out” and “learn to control his emotions.” He was further instructed that “sometimes leaders get disgruntled and angry but with proper training and assistance they can get over it.”

Once we consider the possibility of assessing psychopathology in leaders, workers or organizational systems we are entertaining the dangers of misdiagnosis. Uncritical usage of the DSM may in fact result in the over-diagnosis of a Depressive Personality Disorder for a leader who is temporarily responding to organizational stressors. Or another DSM failure may be reflected in the inability to grasp the seriousness or gravity of a pathology and its consequences for an organizational system. In the case of Rick Boulder, the EAP initially diagnosed him as a “petty tyrant” and an “abusive supervisor.” While both are fitting, this was an under-diagnosis of a far more serious antisocial personality disorder. Boulder’s sociopathic and psychopathic personality traits had been unwittingly trivialized and designated as a more commonplace, normal disturbance and source of conflict in his workplace. Sadly, this missed diagnosis resulted in extremely toxic consequences for Boulder’s organization.
Alan Goldman: "Destructive Leaders and Dysfunctional Organizations: A Therapeutic Approach", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2009. (p143, 151)

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist assesses affective and interpersonal characteristics such as lack of empathy, lack of remorse, manipulativeness, shallow affect or apathy toward others, blaming of others, entitlement, and disregard for social obligations and norms. Usually, the workplace violence episode is not the first crime committed by this individual and may not be the first crime of this sort (rape, arson, homicide) committed. Thus, one needs to look at both behavior and motivation in assessing psychopathic behavior in the workplace. Other factors include the nature of the workplace (is it a dangerous job or location?) and the opportunity for psychopathic behavior.

Types of psychopaths in the workplace can be divided into groups based on a number of factors to explore the characteristics of this diverse cadre. The first factor is the relationship of the psychopath to the victim (client, ex-husband, coworker, stranger). The second factor is the primary goal of the psychopath in carrying out the workplace violence. For instance, in the case of a bank robbery, the psychopath’s goal may be to obtain money. In the case of an abusive and drunk ex-husband, it may be to make his ex-wife suffer. Based on these factors, we can divide workplace psychopaths into five profiles: the criminal, the coworker, the customer/client, the domestic abuser and the stalker.

In summary, it is uncertain among professionals how to define or differentiate the terms and concepts of psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. Such personality disorders are subject to cultural influence in terms of how they are perceived, defined and handled, making them conceptually complicated.
(CULTURE AND PSYCHOPATHY IN THE FORENSIC CONTEXT, p476) Alan Felthous & Henning Saß (Eds): "The International Handbook of Psychopathic Disorders and the Law Volume II Laws and Policies", Jon Wiley: Chichester, 2007.

From the most prominent papers on the subject:

This current paper determines that while many of these prior speculations about workplace psychopaths have since been supported by evidence…
Boddy, C. R. (2015a). Organisational psychopaths: A ten year update. Management Decision, 53, 2407–2432.

This longitudinal case study reports on a charity in the UK which gained a new CEO who was reported by two middle managers who worked in the charity, to embody (respectively) all or most of the ten characteristics within a measure of corporate psychopathy. […] The research adds information relevant to the debate on whether corporate psychopaths should be screened into or out of organisations because it re-enforces the view that they are ultimately destructive to the organisations that employ them.
Boddy, C. R. (2015b). Psychopathic leadership: A case study of a corporate psychopath CEO. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2908-6.

Psychopaths in higher positions of organisations are much higher concentrated than in the base population, around 4%.
Babiak, P., Neumann, C. S., & Hare, R. D. (2010). Corporate psychopathy: Talking the walk. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 28, 174–193.

Psychopaths are a diverse group with primary and secondary characteristics. A subset present a positive selection factor for corporate careers.
Chiaburu, D. S., Munoz, G. J., & Gardner, R. G. (2013). How to spot a careerist early on: Psychopathy and exchange ideology as predictors of careerism. Journal of Business Ethics, 118, 473–486. DOI

Psychopaths are rare in the population, but 1% of all persons in organisations would be diagnosed as such.
Coid, J., Yang, M., Ullrich, S., Roberts, A., & Hare, R. D. (2009). Prevalence and correlates of psychopathic traits in the household population of Great Britain. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 32, 65–73.

Furnham, A., Richards, S. C., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). The dark triad of personality: A 10 year review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 199–216.

… we used a pool of over 2500 participants to assess the relation- ships between the Dark Triad traits and individual differences in mo- tives, …we have attempted to look under the hood of those high in the Dark Triad traits to understand what makes them tick, and in short, it appears to center on a desire for success, power, and social connection, depending on the trait.
Jonason, P. K., & Ferrell, J. D. (2016). Looking under the hood: The psychogenic motivational foundations of the dark triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 94, 324–331. DOI

The Dark Triad composite fully mediated the sex differences in the adoption of hard tactics but not soft tactics. The Dark Triad may facilitate the adoption of numerous tactics of influence independently but collectively may lead men more than women to adopt an aggressive or forceful style of interpersonal influence at the workplace.

Psychopathy and Machiavellianism were correlated with adopting hard tactics […] collectively may lead men more than women to adopt an aggressive or forceful style of interpersonal influence at the workplace.
Jonason, P. K., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The dark triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 449–453. DOI

…our study showed those high on the Dark Triad traits may structure their social environment through idealized career preferences.
Jonason, P. K., Wee, S., Li, N. P., & Jackson, C. (2014). Occupational niches and the dark triad traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 69, 119–123. DOI

These results indicate that, for our sample, the B-Scan 360 is a stronger predictor of employee attitudes than the three leadership styles comprising the Full-Range Leadership Model.
Mathieu, C., & Babiak, P. (2015). Tell me who you are, I’ll tell you how you lead: Beyond the full-range leadership model, the role of corporate psychopathy on employee attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences, 87, 8–12. DOI

Our results indicate psychopathy may be an underlying factor explaining abusive supervision which is detrimental to employee attitudes.
Mathieu, C., & Babiak, P. (2016). Corporate psychopathy and abusive subversion: Their influence on employees’ job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Personality and Individual Differences, 91, 102–106. DOI

[…] psychopathy often is considered the most toxic of the "types" that make up the Dark Triad of personality […] Overall, the results illustrate the effects of perceived psychopathic traits in supervisors on employee well-being and job-related attitudes.
Mathieu, C., Neumann, C. S., Hare, R. D., & Babiak, P. (2014). A dark side of leadership: Corporate psychopathy and its influence on employee well-being and job satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 59, 83–88. DOI

The B-Scan 360 and all of its four factors were positively correlated with passive leadership (Laissez-Faire leadership) and negatively correlated with positive leadership (both Transactional and Transformational leadership). Furthermore, results revealed the same four-factor structure and good interrater reliability for the B-Scan 360 in this business sample as previously reported for a general population. Overall, the results provide additional support for the B-Scan 360 as a measure of psychopathic traits in corporate settings.
Mathieu, C., Neumann, C., Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2015). Corporate psychopathy and the full-range leadership model. Assessment, 22, 267–278. DOI

We found that reductions in the quality of job performance were consistently associated with increases in Machiavellianism and psychopathy and that CWB was associated with increases in all 3 components of the DT, but that these associations were moderated by such contextual factors as authority and culture. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that the DT explains moderate amounts of the variance in counterproductivity, but not job performance. The results showed that the 3 traits are positively related to one another but are sufficiently distinctive to warrant theoretical and empirical partitioning.
O’Boyle, E. H., Jr., Forsyth, D. R., Banks, G. C., & McDaniel, M. A. (2012). A meta-analysis of the dark triad and work behavior: A social exchange perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 557–579. DOI

In Study 1, trait self-enhancement was indexed by measures of narcissism and self-deceptive enhancement. At the first meeting, self-enhancers made positive impressions. They were seen as agreeable, well adjusted, and competent. After 7 weeks, however, they were rated negatively and gave self-evaluations discrepant with peer evaluations they received. In Study 2, an independent sample of observers (close acquaintances) enabled a pretest index of discrepancy self-enhancement: It predicted the same deteriorating pattern of interpersonal perceptions as the other three trait measures. Nonetheless, all self-enhancement measures correlated positively with self-esteem.
Paulhus, D. L. (1998). Interpersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait self-enhancement: A mixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1197–1208. DOI

because of their overlap, these four traits should be studied in concert. Recently developed inventories now facilitate identification of the unique contributions of each trait. The present review highlights key advances and controversies emerging from work on these malevolent, yet fascinating, characters.
Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Toward a taxonomy of dark personalities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 421–426. DOI

The measures were moderately inter-correlated, but certainly were not equivalent. Their only common Big Five correlate was disagreeableness. Subclinical psychopaths were distinguished by low neuroticism; Machiavellians, and psychopaths were low in conscientiousness; narcissism showed small positive associations with cognitive ability. Narcissists and, to a lesser extent, psychopaths exhibited self-enhancement on two objectively scored indexes. We conclude that the Dark Triad of personalities, as currently measured, are overlapping but distinct constructs.
Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563. DOI

A four-factor structure of psychopathy positively correlated with passive leadership behavior, namely passive-management-by-exception and laissez-faire, but negatively correlated with individual consideration. This study addresses a research need, and is one of the first to empirically examine the relationship between psychopathic traits and the Full Range Leadership Model. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Westerlaken, K. M., & Woods, P. R. (2013). The relationship between psychopathy and the full range leadership model. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 41–46. DOI

Wikipedia and the dark triad:

Oliver James identifies each of the three dark triadic personality traits as typically being prevalent in the workplace (see also Machiavellianism in the workplace, narcissism in the workplace and psychopathy in the workplace).[68] Furnham (2010) has identified that the dark triad is related to the acquisition of leadership positions and interpersonal influence. In a meta-analysis of dark triad and workplace outcomes, Jonason and colleagues (2012) found that each of the dark triad traits were related to manipulation in the workplace, but each via unique mechanisms. Specifically, Machiavellianism was related with the use of excessive charm in manipulation, narcissism was related with the use of physical appearance, and psychopathy was related with physical threats.[70] Jonason and colleagues also found that the dark triad traits fully mediated the relationship between gender and workplace manipulation. The dark triad traits have also been found to be fairly well-represented in upper-level management and CEOs.

Oliver James: "Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks", Ebury: New York, 2013. (Newspaper on this)

We show the Dark Triad traits correlate with a number of unique tactics of influence (Study 1; N = 259). We show this protean approach was insensitive to differences in targets of manipulation (Study 2; N = 296). When forced to choose one tactic to solve different adaptive problems, the Dark Triad traits were correlated with unique tactical choices (Study 3; N = 268). We show these associations are generally robust to controlling for the Big Five and participants’ sex (Study 1 and 2). We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings for both life history and cheater-detection theories.
Jonason, Peter K.; Webster, Gregory D. (March 2012). "A protean approach to social influence: Dark Triad personalities and social influence tactics". Personality and Individual Differences. 52 (4): 521–526. DOI

Tristam Vivian Adams: "The Psychopath Factory. How Capitalism Organises Empathy", Repeater Books: London, 2016. (Book Review: Hannibal Lector goes to work: The Psychopath Factory – How Capitalism Organises Empathy)

Jean Lipman-Blumen: "The Allure of Toxic Leaders. Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians—and How We Can Survive Them", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2005. (Review PDF from The Economist)

Robert D Hare: "Without conscience: the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us", Guilford Press: New York, 1993.

Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare: "Snakes In Suits. When Psychopaths Go to Work", HarperCollins: New York, 2007.

For a less bleak and more "this so neuro-typical of thinking about it" approach you might want to read Aubrey Immelman: "The Assessment of Political Personality: A Psychodiagnostically Relevant Conceptualization and Methodology", Political Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1993), pp. 725-741 (jstor)

Going back to the book that sourced the claim, some context:

The survey is unique: the first of its kind to assess the prevalence of psychopathic traits within an entire national workforce. Participants were directed onto my website, where they completed the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale and were then given their score. But that wasn’t all. They also entered their employment details. What would turn out to be the U.K.’s most psychopathic profession? I wanted to know. And, for that matter, its least? The results, revealed below, certainly make interesting reading—especially if you’re partial to a sermon or two on a Sunday.


1. CEO              1. Care Aide
2. Lawyer           2. Nurse
3. Media (TV/Radio) 3. Therapist
4. Salesperson      4. Craftsperson
5. Surgeon          5. Beautician/Stylist
6. Journalist       6. Charity Worker
7. Police Officer   7. Teacher
8. Clergyperson     8. Creative Artist
9. Chef             9. Doctor
10. Civil Servant   10. Accountant

But a couple of weeks later the following appeared in my in-box, from one of the survey’s respondents. He’s a barrister by trade—indeed, one of the U.K.’s finest—who’d posted a score that certainly got my attention. Yet, to him, it was nothing unusual. No big deal whatsoever: “I realized from quite early on in my childhood that I saw things differently from other people,” he wrote. “But, more often than not, it’s helped me in my life. Psychopathy (if that’s what you want to call it) is like a medicine for modern times. If you take it in moderation it can prove extremely beneficial. It can alleviate a lot of existential ailments that we would otherwise fall victim to because our fragile psychological immune systems just aren’t up to the job of protecting us. But if you take too much of it, if you overdose on it, then there can, as is the case with all medicines, be some rather unpleasant side effects.”

Corporate capitalism systematically selects for psychopathological personality traits in leaders. In the case of banks even explicitly so. Some argued that this might be necessary, given the job description. That maybe true, very true. But it gets even more toxic for society if this is then taken to gauge a measure of success and re-interpret this via a halo-effect ('is rich and powerful, must be a good person and knowledgeable for what's best in society') to give just these personalities more trust and leadership and decision making power.

A recent survey with large number of participants equally finds interesting correlations:

Psychopathic traits, especially those linked to fearless dominance, were positively and moderately associated with holding leadership and management positions, as well as high-risk occupations. In addition, psychopathic traits were positively associated with political conservatism, lack of belief in God, and living in Europe as opposed to the United States, although the magnitudes of these statistical effects were generally small in magnitude.
Scott Lilienfeld: "Correlates of psychopathic personality traits in everyday life: results from a large community survey", Frontiers in Psychology, 22 July 2014, DOI

  • 1
    Are you defending the claim "CEO is the profession with the most psychopaths." or the very different claim that CEOs are, on average, more psychopathic than those in any other profession? These are very different claims and the question asks about the former and I think your answer is defending the latter. – David Schwartz Apr 18 at 17:51
  • 1
    I don't think it's a fine line; I think they're completely different claims. If there was only one CEO in the world and he was the most psychopathic person in the world, one claim would be completely true and the other would be completely false. – David Schwartz Apr 18 at 21:49
  • This has me wondering which SE group attracts the most people with OCD. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 21 at 20:53
  • @DanielRHicks I'd like to see & use that kind of data myself. But 'they' (SE) don't do that kind of survey and indirect (big data) measures are kept under wraps? But the self-selection from a base population around SO is certainly not overly representative. – LangLangC Apr 22 at 9:23

In a nutshell, "I am a simple employee and I want to critic my boss. Why? Reasons!.". So everybody talks against bosses, it's practically routine.

Now, about the topic, one explanation.

A Psychopath is a person that doesn't know what is right or wrong, while a sociopath is somebody that knows what is right and wrong, but he/she doesn't care. So, a psychopath is somebody that his/her mind is not working correctly and most are pure criminals. They are weed out of the system at an early stage. For example, a teen that killed a clerk for $15 bucks or simply because he wants to. It's easy to spot a psychopath, he (or she) kills small animals without remorse.

Hollywood shows an idealized image of a psychopath, a mix between a charismatic/genius/good looking/successful guy, but it is far from reality. A true psychopath doesn't hide his crime; he doesn't even know what a crime is. Only a really few ones (we could count less than 100, globally) can manage some kind of control or build some sort of life.

Now, about sociopath. Let's say you are the CEO of big business and you must fire thousands of employees. You know it is bad and this action will hurt so many families, but you couldn't do anything about it, it's you or them (and if it's you then somebody will do the job anyway). Now, let's say it is routine. Then, sooner or later, you won't care anymore, ergo a sociopath.

So, most CEOs are a sociopath (for example Tim Cook is a sociopath like Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs was more obvious btw), not a psychopath.

It's funny how some people talk about a topic without knowing its meaning, the universities are flooded with snake-oil sellers.

In general, the word psychopath is used pejoratively against somebody but it is not science or based on facts but, who cares about facts anyway?.




https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-a-psychopath-and-a-sociopath-and-how-do-both-differ-from-narcissists .



Also, I found an interest point:

Moreover, approximately 93% of psychopaths are in the criminal justice system. (https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/psychopath/psychopath-vs-sociopath-what-s-the-difference)

So, It's unlikely they will be able to be a CEO.

Ergo, I'm right, so please, remove those downvotes, they are unfair and annoying. :-P

Then, answering the original question:

Is CEO the “profession” with the most psychopaths?

Not really and I can name a single CEO that is a psychopath. Can anybody to name one?.

The central argument of this answer is theoretical in nature. We do not allow answers based uniquely on common sense or pure logic. Answers which are wholly based on a theoretical model are generally downvoted and may be deleted. See FAQ: What are theoretical answers?

  • 1
    Hi! And welcome! Would you like to add references? – Barry Harrison Apr 20 at 2:55
  • 1
    Your answer makes a distinction between psychopaths and sociopaths but no such distinction exists in psychology. Based on this your answer then makes a series of completely wrong claims. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 20 at 10:31
  • @LangLangC There’s no consensus in psychology on how to draw the distinction (and it certainly does not correspond to the one made in this answer), which is why DSM-V lumps them together. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 20 at 16:22
  • WHO differentiates a psychopath with a sociopath. So, what are we discussing?. – magallanes Apr 20 at 17:19
  • So the problem is simple, some psychologists are unable to differentiate a psychopath of a sociopath even when it is important to identify and to treat. So, what are they doing?. It's like to visit a lousy doctor that prescribe aspirin to everything. – magallanes Apr 20 at 17:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .