Brain and Body

Research Reveals the Best Way to Resist a Psychopath’s Manipulating Powers

April 13, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Business man offering a handshake
Photo credit: Johnny Magnusson

Looks like they can’t be successful schemers in all situations.

Psychopathy is a complex personality trait — it’s characterized by antisocial behavior and a reduced ability to feel empathy towards others. Psychopaths often commit violent or sexual crimes since they have trouble controlling their impulses, but they often feel no remorse for their actions. Think Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Jack the Ripper — these are some of the infamous psychopaths you’ve probably heard of.

Psychopaths are notorious for manipulating and lying to others in order to get what they want, and some research has even found that psychopathic traits are linked to success.

For those trying to steer clear of a psychopath’s manipulative charm, a new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences reveals that, while they’re particularly crafty at getting what they want in person, they’re far less effective at exuding their psychopathic skills over the internet.

SEE ALSO: What’s the Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath?

“The results of this study are pretty clear – once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier,” lead author Michael Woodworth, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, said in a media statement. “We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate, or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience.”

In the study, researchers assessed 200 Canadian students on their “dark triad” personality traits — psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, which is the ability to be a master manipulator.

Then, the volunteers were asked to participate in some simple buying and selling negotiations in which they could win real sums of money. Some took place face-to-face, where others took place online with real-time instant messaging software.

The results showed that the participants who scored highly on the dark triad (DT) spectrum performed well in the face-to-face negotiations, but not so much online. In fact, the higher-ranking DT participants were 12.5 percent less successful at negotiating online than those who ranked low for the psychopathic, manipulative traits.

"While there has long been a fascination with DT personalities and how they can impact 'ordinary' people, little has been studied as to how these people behave online," says Woodworth.

Why do psychopaths choke online? There are a few explanations.

SEE ALSO: Does Taking a Lot of Selfies Make You Psychopathic?

First, people with darker personalities thrive when they can use a visual medium to their advantage — eye contact and body language is known to have a strong effect on communication.

Second, when there’s no manipulative visual component to accompany their negotiating language, it appears that psychopaths come off quite hostile online, tipping off the other party that there’s a red flag.

Finally, those who score low on the DT personality spectrum will feel more comfortable negotiating online rather than face-to-face — it can take off the edge for those who are more anxious in person.

"What this research tells us is that if you want to be confident in your ability not be taken in by these types of known manipulators, you're probably better off dealing with them online," Woodworth advises.

So in conclusion, it looks like psychopaths have a weak spot when it comes to online interactions. In an increasingly digitized world, at least there’s one way to potentially dodge their manipulative schemes.

Hot Topics

Facebook comments