There is a fairly standard test for evaluating whether or not someone is a psychopath. And not a “this guy almost sideswiped my car in rush hour traffic, what a psycho” kind of test, but a scientific evaluation: the Hare Test. Jon Ronson explores this in “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.”
The Hare Test gives you a number of personality traits (aggressive narcissism) and actions (case history, aka, socially deviant lifestyle) on which you score the person you’re evaluating. Handy! And entertaining, especially when applied to ex-boyfriends and dick-wad co-workers.
But let’s be serious, when we say “evaluating” about ex-boyfriends workplace non-friends, we mean “judging.”
Now we have to pause for a moment. I wanted to jump in on the most interesting part of the book right away, the psychopath test. But I’ll rewind to the beginning of the book, where Ronson is summoned to solve an extremely intricate, far-reaching puzzle. It’s a riddle, crafted by an anonymous prankster, that was sent to people around the world. But not just any people; the riddle was sent to professors, psychologists, authors, etc., all who are respected in their fields. So, Ronson is drawn into this puzzle, and in his hunt for the source, it leads him to a mental hospital where he meets a patient with a unique problem.
In an effort to avoid jail time, this patient pled insanity, thinking he would land in a cushy mental ward where the patients play games and argue over the remote all day. Not so much. Instead, he ended up in one of the most notorious mental institutions in the world sleeping next to the scary kind of insane patients and wishing he’d thought his plan through a bit more. He tried to come clean, but it didn’t work. The sane man was diagnosed as insane and spent 12 years trying to get out of the institution. For perspective, had he served jail time, he would have only spent 4-5 years behind bars.
Being the intrepid journalist, Ronson researched both sides of the case. As it turns out, yes, the psychologists at the institution knew he was faking the insanity plea. His true diagnosis (or untrue, we’re never really told who’s right) is psychopathy. This is where the book gets interesting as Ronson dives into the field of psychology. This takes him all over the place, from inside Scientology to a meeting with a CEO who enjoyed, just a bit too much, firing people. Somewhere along his winding path, he meets Bob Hare, creator of the the Hare Test. Interesting conversations ensue.
Ronson ends up on a few different paths in his book, all of which are interesting, but not vital. Unfortunately, the variety of topics pulls focus from his most interesting subject: psychopaths. To Ronson’s credit, he left me wanting to know more about psychopathy and the tangled web of ethics in psychology. The problem is that he should have let this be the overall theme of the book. Instead, we get lost on a search for the creator of the riddle.
Oh yeah, the riddle! We forget about that for awhile, and that’s not a bad thing. Though he wraps it up nicely in the end (no spoilers ahead, you can keep reading), I would willing trade the mystery of the riddle for more tales of insanity — or non-insanity? Surprisingly, that’s the strength of the book. Ronson makes it clear that we just don’t know who’s right and who’s crazy.
Let’s jump back to the guilty-pleasure subject of evaluating the psyche of exes. To give you an idea of how useful this test is in finally figuring out why your ex was Such A Fucking Asshole, I have lovingly evaluated the worst of my pretty bad ex-boyfriends. Let’s call him “Richard.”
To accurately evaluate a proposed psychopath, for each item listed below (keep in mind, this isn’t the full test), you assign a score of 0-2. A psychopath will usually fall in the 30-40 points range. So, Richard:
- Glibness/superficial charm (Unfortunately, I was not the first naive lady to be lured in by his silver-tongued charm. Also, not the last.)
- Grandiose sense of self-worth (He was convinced he would be governor of Texas one day. And considering his borderline-legal teenage antics, this was a complete delusion.)
- Pathological lying (Do I even have to … no. You get it.)
- Conning/manipulative (Every time we fought, he would find a way out of the dog house and back to our bed.)
- Lack of remorse or guilt (Thinking back, he would sometimes say he was sorry, but there was always a weirdly frozen look in his eyes. Like not even he believed what he was saying.)
- Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (Ha. Clearly.)
- Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (He could not ever sit still. There was no hanging out and being lazy on a Sunday afternoon, one of my most cherished activities.)
- Poor behavioral control (There was one night where he ended up driving his car THROUGH THE SUNROOF. Like, he was riding on the roof of his car, steering while someone else worked the pedals.)
- Lack of realistic long-term goals (I mean, governor? When he always traveled with brass knuckles in his pocket?)
- Impulsivity (“We’ve been dating a month— you should move to Texas! So we can get married! Hey, I’m bored and your flight leaves in two hours, let’s go look at engagement rings!”)
- Early behavior problems (See above: brass knuckles. Coupled with many bottles of Jack Daniels.)
- Promiscuous sexual behavior (Oh, oh, this is the best part. Have you ever seen cheaterville.com? You know, where disgruntled exes post their partner’s indiscretions? Not only has he been written up, but he has also been searched for multiple times.)
In the end, I scored Richard a 28.
But here’s the problem with the psychopath test, which Ronson relies on heavily to highlight a major problem with the field of psychology: the whole thing is subjective. There was a scientific basis in creating the test, but in executing it, you rely on a process that is marred with human error.
Try as I might, of course I’m going to score Richard as borderline psychopath. Hello, he’s still my ex-boyfriend, there is no objectivity in that. But I’ll happily admit, there is a sense of closure that comes with feeling that all of his obscene behavior wasn’t a result of my actions alone.
Bitch Rating: 3 out of 4 bitches — excellent!
Title: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Author: Jon Ronson
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Length: 288 pages (paperback)