The stereotypical psychopath depicted in movies and television shows isn’t the reality of what a psychopath is actually like. While most of us envision a lunatic, crazed by blood, the reality is much different.
Over the past few decades, clinicians and researchers have worked diligently to crack the code of the psychopath. And through their work, they have discovered many things about how a psychopath communicates, including their nonverbal communication styles. One thing that has long stood out is the psychopathic stare. Dr. Robert Hare, the creator of the Psychopathy Checklist describes the psychopathic stare as “intense eye contact” and “piercing eyes.”
Other studies have found that unlike “normal” people, when psychopaths view disturbing imagery, their pupils do not dilate.
Recently, a new study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality and it provides some interesting information about the psychopathic stare. For their study, researchers used AI to analyze video interviews of 507 male inmates in New Mexico.
Each video interview lasted between one to four hours, and the inmates were also asked to complete the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. The purpose of the Hare Psychopathy test is to determine interpersonal, lifestyle, affective, developmental, and anti-social traits.
Those who score 30 out of 40 on the test are typically considered to be a psychopath. Of the 507 inmates, scores ranged from 3.2 to 37, averaging around 20.35.
What the researchers discovered was that the inmates who had scored higher on the scale of psychopathy also tended to hold their heads still throughout their interviews.
The reason for this study ties into the importance of non-verbal communication. In the past, researchers have studied interpersonal communication, observing that head movement often helps to express agreement, dissent, and confusion.
When you take things further and study head movement with gaze, you can understand the emotional state and social control of a person.
Because this study didn’t focus on the WHY behind the limited head movements of a psychopath, the study is limited. However, the researchers did provide a theory as to why the psychopaths seemed to move their heads less when communicating. According to them, they believe that it ties to amygdala dysfunction, which is linked to psychopathy.
The researchers also state that “Violations of personal space (e.g. standing too close), inappropriate approach behavior, and intense orienting may reflect impairments in amygdala function in psychopathy as these are also characteristic of patients with amygdala damage.”