Sunday April 23, 2017

Is Silicon Valley full of psychopaths?

Recent studies suggest there's a higher prevalence of psychopathy amongst high level executives.

Recent studies suggest there's a higher prevalence of psychopathy amongst high level executives.

Listen 10:14

Recent studies suggest there's a higher prevalence of psychopathy amongst high level executives.

That's got some people wondering if the tech world in particular might be a home for that personality type.

Jeff Hancock is a professor at Stanford University where he studies psychopathy and technology.

353 Jeff Hancock

Jeff Hancock

He was recently on a panel at the South By Southwest Conference called "Psychopaths in Silicon Valley."

It looked at how psychopaths play a role in the culture of technology.

"Some of traits that psychopaths have, for example, being bold and taking risks, are a characteristic of a lot of people who come to the Valley to do startups or get involved in venture capitalism," Jeff says.

"You have to be really good at getting other people to do what you want them to do."

Psychopaths can be great leaders if they can use their skills to help a company, but their emotional callousness can often get in the way of a healthy, functional, work environment.

"They can be really destructive, they can really undermine morale and cause a lot of turnover in a company and that's where the real problems come in," says Jeff.

The SXSW panel noted that weak HR departments can enable bad behaviour.

Jeff cites Uber (and the allegations of sexual harassment made by a former employee) as an example.

"I'm not saying the CEO is a psychopath, but rather you get to see in a culture of company how leadership, and the values that they espouse, can influence the whole company," says Jeff.

Jeff has actually developed computer software that analyzes written language -- emails, texts, statements -- for cues associated with psychopathy.

"Psychopaths seem to be less able to control the way they use anger words," says Jeff.

As for what to do if you suspect you're working for a psychopath?

"Record everything," says Jeff. It can be used as evidence, and you're less likely to be manipulated through written correspondence.

"The more interaction you can have in email or text, the better."