Scientific American FSG Books


The Wisdom of Psychopaths

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

Kevin Dutton


Speaking of the Olympics: Seven Things That Psychopaths Have in Common with Great Athletes

  1. Cool under pressure: Scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out; holing the final putt to win the Masters; playing a backhand winner down the line at match point all require the ability to hold one’s nerve.
  2. Focus: The need to put one’s own needs first above those of friends and family; to make the necessary sacrifices; to be able to screen out and work through pain are all the preserve of the top sportsperson.
  3. Ruthlessness: The ability to finish the job, to put an opponent away as quickly and emphatically as possible are essential features of the mindset of a champion.
  4. Vulnerability Radar: The ability to sense weaknesses in the opponent’s psyche and/or game, and to instinctively know how to exploit them, is key to sporting success.
  5. Mental toughness: Every top athlete has suffered setbacks in their career. The capacity to deal with those and come back for more is the hallmark of a champion.
  6. Living in the present: In golf, it’s well-known that the best players are those who are able to put bad shots out of their head and concentrate purely on the shot in hand. This ability to live ‘in the moment’ is something that top athletes share with both psychopaths and elite Buddhist monks.
  7. Charm and Charisma: All sporting greats exude a certain ‘presence’—both when they’re competing and when they’re not competing. Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt all spring to mind. Psychopaths are also renowned for theirs. Charm, too,  at least at a superficial level, is also common to psychopaths and sporting giants. Butter wouldn’t melt in Roger Federer’s mouth off the court. But on it he’s a different proposition entirely.

—Kevin Dutton

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