Popular culture has offered some flamboyant, unrealistic images of the psychopath: the giggling, twitchy maniac; the silent, masked slasher; the snobbish, culturally refined, highly intelligent cannibal and--depending on how much you like your job--your boss.
Another potentially misleading image appears in the recent trend to imply that anyone with some psychopathic traits is a psychopath. For example, in the eyes of some, a surgeon with a rotten bedside manner, and no inclination to weep with sympathy as he cuts you open to repair your faulty heart valve, nudges his occupation higher on the list of "professions with the most psychopaths." An alternative view suggests this person might be an ambitious, no-nonsense professional, with limited people skills, who wants you to live. He studies for years, trains diligently, and ends up operating on you to repair your faulty heart and extend your life.
A psychopath does have not a few psychopathic traits. He or she has, as the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy explains, "a constellation of traits
." And the image outlined by that constellation doesn't evoke confidence over the long term: lack of empathy and guilt, an inability to form meaningful emotional bonds; narcissism and superficial charm; dishonesty, manipulativeness, and reckless risk-taking. Risk-taking is tolerable in surgeons. Reckless risk-taking is not.