In pop culture, psychopaths (sometimes synonymous with the term sociopath) are frequently portrayed as soulless murderers, with these characters often inclined to listen to classical music a la Silence of the Lamb’s Hannibal Lecter or Clockwork Orange’s protagonist, Alex. Predictably, the cultural understanding of what psychopaths are is very skewed, with an inclination toward sensationalizing the spectrum disorder that affects 1% of people and that is commonly associated with aggression, manipulation, lack of empathy, self-absorption, and charisma. However, it turns out that the media has also gotten the musical tendencies of psychopaths wrong as well, as outlined in a recent study by researchers at New York University.
Previously, a survey conducted in the UK by Channel 4 of 3 million participants actually found that those who favor classical music and jazz are least likely to have psychopathic tendencies, with the fans of rap and heavy metal instead scoring more highly on psychopath tests. Following up on Channel 4’s initial survey, now, researchers at New York University have dived deeper into the musical preferences of those with high psychopathy scores on the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which ranks people’s psychopathic traits. As it turns out, in the study of 200 people who listened to 260 songs, those with the highest psychopathy scores tended to be the biggest fans of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.
At the risk of sounding like a psychopath, to be fair, this song rules.
As noted by The Guardian, the researchers at New York University made sure to emphasize that these results are preliminary and unpublished, though the team has now begun a more extensive study of thousands of people on the psychopathy spectrum to try to further research a correlation between musical tastes and psychopathy. They hope that if they can further confirm specific song preferences for psychopaths, scientists could develop playlists used to identify them. What won’t be on the playlist? During the precursory study, the team found that those who favored The Knack‘s “My Sharona” and Sia‘s “Titanium” ranked among the least psychopathic. In The Guardian article, Pascal Wallish, the lead researcher on the New York University study, also confirmed that there are other songs that he found correlated with high psychopathic scores, though he opted not to name them to ensure that information wouldn’t disrupt any future experiments.
Pascal Wallish had this to say about his study leading this latest study, “The media portrays psychopaths as axe murderers and serial killers, but the reality is they are not obvious; they are not like The Joker in Batman. They might be working right next to you, and they blend in. They are like psychological dark matter. . . . You don’t want to have these people in positions where they can cause a lot of harm. We need a tool to identify them without their cooperation or consent.” Wallish then elaborates, “The ethics of this are very hairy, but so is having a psychopath as a boss, and so is having a psychopath in any position of power.”
Also, just to be clear, don’t diagnose yourself or those around you as a psychopath just because of musical taste (or really any sort of test that might be found online)—that’s not only annoying but also unreliable, as psychopathy should be identified by trained medical professionals. Furthermore, given the frequently dramatized portrayal of psychopaths in movies and television, it’s also important to note that “psychopathy” or “sociopathy” itself isn’t found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the widely accepted guide that medical professionals use to diagnose mental disorders. Instead, the closest diagnosis within the DSM-5 to psychopathy is “antisocial personality disorder”, a condition that denotes a tendency toward impulsivity, disregard for other people, a lack of empathy, and a penchant for manipulation—and even then, those with antisocial personality disorder aren’t necessarily predisposed to be violent or sadistic.
[H/T The Guardian]