Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
By Jon Ronson

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Product Description

In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

Product Details
  • Amazon Sales Rank: #85 in Books
  • Published on: 2011-05-12
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 288 pages
Editorial Reviews

About the Author
Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His books Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats were both international bestsellers. The Men Who Stare at Goats was released as a major motion picture in 2009, starring George Clooney. Ronson lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

265 of 290 people found the following review helpful.
5A Serious Topic Tackled with Humanity
By Monty Archibald
'People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get what they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimizing others.'
- Robert Hare, Ph.D

I've been hooked on Jon Ronson's writing since 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' was first published. Ronson cuts right to the heart of important topics by having the guts to ask the difficult questions. His literary style is equal parts journalistic rigour, deep compassion and incisive observational humour that often shines the light of ridicule on darker human behaviours. 'The Psychopath Test' explores psychiatry, psychopathology, medication and incarceration of 'dangerous' individuals. The book reads like a mystery novel, which - driven by Ronson's compelling prose - makes it difficult to put down.

The story begins with a meeting between Ronson and a history student who has received a cryptic book called 'Being or Nothingness' in the mail. The same book has been received by several individuals around the globe, most of whom work in the field of psychiatry. The book contains 42 pages, every second one blank. (This made me wonder...in 'The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy', the ultimate answer to life, the Universe and Everything was 42. Was this relevant? Was the mysterious author of 'Being or Nothingness' implying that his cryptic messages, if decoded, could lead to enlightenment?)

Ronson's journey leads him to 'Tony' in Broadmoor, who - when charged with GBH and facing prison 12 years earlier - had faked insanity in the hope of being sent to a comfortable psychiatric hospital. Instead, he had been sent to Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital (home to Britain's most dangerous psychotic prisoners), where he was being held indefinitely. Tony explains that he had picked characteristics of various movie lunatics then pieced them together into his 'insane' persona. Getting into Broadmoor had been easy, but getting out was proving immeasurably harder. A senior psychiatrist admits to knowing that Tony isn't insane, as a truly insane person wouldn't manufacture a new personality in the hope of avoiding prison...but a manipulative psychopath would.

Ronson meets Bob Hare, creator of the PCL-R Test, a 20-step Psychopath Checklist which gives individuals scores between zero and forty; the higher the score, the more psychopathic the person. Hare reveals that inmates at prisons and psychiatric institutions aren't the only ones who score highly on his 'psychopath test': many CEOs and directors of corporations qualify as psychopaths too. This prompts Ronson to wonder 'if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.'

Al Dunlap closed Shubuta's Sunbeam factory (the economic heart of that community), showing no empathy while firing workers and effectively killing the town. While laying off employees, he even spouted jokes such as, "You may have a sports car, but I'll tell you what you don't have. A job!" Bob Hare flags Dunlap as a psychopath, so Ronson sets out to meet the man. When Ronson asks probing questions based on the PCL-R checklist, Dunlap's responses mark him as a textbook psychopath.

Hare explains the science of psychopathology: a part of the brain called the amygdala doesn't function in psychopaths as it does in other human beings. When a regular person experiences extreme violence or carnage (or even photographs of such scenes), his amygdala becomes overstimulated, provoking an extreme anxiety response in the central nervous system. When a psychopath experiences the same stimuli, his amygdala does not respond: no anxiety response occurs. This explains the psychopath's lack of empathy.

'The Psychopath Test' is a compelling read. Ronson's fluid style is the perfect balance of rigorous research, keen observation, poignancy and humour. Congratulations to Jon Ronson on another phenomenal achievement.

139 of 151 people found the following review helpful.
5Psychopaths among us
By Ethan Jones
I think it's safe to say that British journalist Jon Ronson is obsessed with obsessives. Known for the book behind the film, The Men Who Stare At Goats, he turns his attention in this book to psychopaths'the rare, incredibly manipulative individuals who are devoid of normal human emotion and spend their days treating people as play things to manipulate for their own gain.

In the book, Ronson takes us into the fascinating world of psychopaths by speaking to the experts and having amusing conversations with the psychopaths themselves. His conversations with psychopaths provide the book's best moments. Ronson comes across as anxious and easy to manipulate, which really gets the psychopaths to open up with him. He's also quite funny, which makes for some great interviews.

One in a hundred people are psychopaths, and those who aren't locked up in prisons can be hard to identify if you don't know what you're looking for. The book includes the actual test developed by Candadian psychologist Robert Hare that determines whether a person is a psychopath. Thankfully, I passed the test and it's quite fun to take it and see how you score on the traits typically seen in psychopaths: a lack of remorse, pathological lying, superficial charm, sexual promiscuity and extreme, self-serving manipulation.

When I bought the book, I was disappointed to see the Search Inside feature wasn't available, so here's the Table of Contents for those interested:

1 - THE MISSING PART OF THE PUZZLE REVEALED
2 - THE MAN WHO FAKED MADNESS
3 - PSYCHOPATHS DREAM IN BLACK AND WHITE
4 - THE PSYCHOPATH TEST
5 - TOTO
6 - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
7 - THE RIGHT SORT OF MADNESS
8 - THE MADNESS OF DAVID SHAYLER
9 - AIMING A BIT HIGH
10 - THE AVOIDABLE DEATH OF REBECCA RILEY
11 - GOOD LUCK

The book's strengths:

- In a nutshell, the book is a highly entertaining series of stories and interviews.
- It's a great read for those interested in psychology and the study of society's outliers.
- Ronson is quite funny.

The book's only weakness:

- I would've liked to learn how typical people can lower their psychopath score (aka, be more empathetic and connected with others). Actually, there's a slick little book for this that also comes with a test (an emotional intelligence test) called Emotional Intelligence 2.0

36 of 41 people found the following review helpful.
4A quirky and humorous romp
By Karen Franklin
The power to label is intoxicating. That's what Jon Ronson found after taking a 3-day training that gave him license to diagnose people as psychopaths. Armed with a 40-item checklist, the journalist went gallivanting around the globe, sniffing out prospective psychopaths from convicted murderers to corporate job-slashers and Haitian war criminals.

Ronson's chronicle of his two-year quest for the elusive psychopath is at times whimsical, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and always riveting.

Those in the field of psychology will be perhaps most intrigued by Ronson's interviews with Robert Hare, inventor of the faddish Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist at the helm of the biggest diagnostic explosion of all time, the DSM-III development, and reclusive figures from back in the old days who choreographed naked, LSD-infused encounter groups for psychopaths at the Oak Ridge hospital for the criminally insane in Ontario, Canada.

Ronson, a journalist, film director, humorist, and author of the bestselling The Men Who Stare at Goats, was able to gain the confidence of his interview subjects to the point that they let down their guards and confided some of their concerns about psychiatric diagnosis and the misuse of psychopathy in the legal world.

In particular, Hare expressed chagrin about how his PCL-R instrument is being used as a basis for civilly detaining convicted sex offenders in the United States after they have finished serving their criminal sentences, for acts they might commit in the future:

" `PCL-R plays a role in that," Bob said. "I tried to train some of the people who administer it. They were sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, rolling their eyes, doodling, cutting their fingernails - these were people who were going to use it.' ... He told me of an alarming world of globe-trotting experts, forensic psychologists, criminal profilers, traveling the planet armed with nothing much more than a Certificate of Attendance, just like the one I had. These people might have influence inside parole hearings, death penalty hearings, serial-killer incident rooms, and on and on. I think he saw his checklist as something pure - innocent as only science can be - but the humans who administered it as masses of weird prejudices and crazy dispositions."

The Psychopath Test only skims the surface, and Ronson's meandering and tangential style feels almost schizophrenic at times. I also found myself disappointed that in the end--after all of his skepticism--he seems to buy into the overrated concept of psychopathy. But I would still recommend the book to anyone interested in a fast-paced and humorous romp through the psychiatric labeling industry.

http://astore.amazon.com/amazon-book-books-20/detail/1594488010

 

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