Disorders are adaptive

There has been recent research suggesting that the attributes of good corporate leaders and those of psychopaths are very similar.

the fundamental traits of the corporate psycho are an absolute lack of remorse or guilt for their behaviour, pathological lying, manipulative, callous, egotistical, very kind of self centred individual, glib and superficial charm... This lack of reaction to the distress of others is what allows them to manipulate and control other people because they're able to do that on a very rational logical level but at the same time they don't feel the emotion or empathy for the other person.

I often wondered why mental "illness" does not get bred out of the species (groups less prone to it would drive out those weakened by it). I assumed it was just a recurring failure of the mechanism which comes back as fast as it breeds out.

But this research suggests that at least some phenomena that we call illness or deviancy may be an evolutionary positive.

Many philosophers of politics tell us that a national leader needs to be totally ruthless and impassive when making decisions. A ruler is subject to conflicting emotional appeals: they need to make decisions that are efficient for the collective. Most major decisions by a ruler will involve grief and hardship for some subset of their people. And they must sometimes wage war in the interests of the group: war calls for decisions that only a psychopath could make.

Could it be that we need a certain percentage of psychopaths in our society to give us the effective leaders?

Taking it further do we need some sociopaths (milder lack of empathy, now known by those endlessly inventive psychologists as Antisocial Personality Disorder ) for the lieutenants (managers)?

And right out on a limb: perhaps other "disorders" like bi-polar depression and schizophrenia contributes an essential creative streak that keeps the rest of the group effective? Certainly some "sufferers" think so, and hang on to their "affliction".

Perhaps in evolutionary terms some of these mental "deviancies" (but, I hasten to add, obviously not all) are there for a reason. Perhaps the damage psychopaths do is outweighed by what they contribute?

Or is it just that ruthless, driving bastards breed more?


Further validation

From New Scientist

There seem to be few upsides to being a psychopath. Yet in The Wisdom of Psychopaths Kevin Dutton, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, makes the case that this personality disorder can be beneficial, or even desirable.
First, he says, we have to ditch the false notion that all psychopaths are destined to become serial killers. He also argues that while traits of fearlessness and impulsivity might lead a psychopath to become an arsonist, say, this mindset might equally lead them to make a heroic rescue from a burning building - or help them to scale the corporate ladder.

More research

Does it Take a Psychopath to Make a Good CIO? "Lack of emotion can be helpful in corporate decision-making," said Bechara. "With some people, emotion plays a negative role. It can cause fear or anxiety, and prevent them from reacting in a way that's effective."

In some cases, executives might be giving themselves the characteristics of functional psychopaths without realizing how detached they're becoming.

"Our speculation is that individuals who constantly face emotion-triggering events—like people in finance dealing with the uncertainties of the market—learn over time to suppress their emotions," said another of the researchers, Baba Shiv of Stanford Graduate School of Business. "This, in turn, helps them to make better decisions in their tasks."

great post!

many interesting streams here, such as why is success a given if psychopathic behavior is dominant? do people succumb to a psychopathic great leader out of fear or an innate willingness to take on those traits themselves. furthermore, as outlined in 'the futile pursuit of happiness' by Jon Gertner, rapid detached decisions that cannot be changed often lead to a greater feeling of contentment with the decision. as executives are gauged on the number of decisions made, does being a person who must make rapid decisions all day make an individual develop psychopathic tendencies? S