Benefits of Being a Psychopath: Personality Trait Works for Greater Good When It Comes to Sacrificing One to Save Many

Would you sacrifice the life of one for the greater good of a group? If you didn't have to think very hard before answering "yes," then you might have psychopathic tendancies. A new study from England offers insight into the inner workings of the often dark minds of psychopaths, and suggests that those we admire as heroic and brave often have the most prominent psychopathic traits.

We often admire those with the ability to be able to make the tough moral decisions quickly while under pressure. In an effort to understand what motivates individuals to make these hard choices, researchers from Plymouth University in the U.K. asked individuals what they would do in certain stressful situations. The team had 40 volunteers, 34 females and six males between the ages of 18 and 31, fill out four electronic questionnaires designed to gauge their actions.

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The researchers also placed the volunteers in a virtual simulation to see if they kept their word and acted as they would. The simulation forced volunteers to decide whether or not to euthanize an injured soldier against his will in order to save the rest of the troops. Volunteers were measured by how quickly and forcefully they made the action to kill the injured soldier.

In emergency situations, some people are more willing to make tough decisions. George Frey/Getty Images

In addition to these morality tests, the volunteers were also given the Levenson Psychopathy Scale (LSRP), a self-report measure of psychopathy.

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Results revealed that although most people like to believe that they will rise up to be the hero in such a situation, when it comes down to it, people with strong psychopathic traits, such as antisocial behavior and lack of empathy, are more likely to perform these necessary, often harmful, actions with greater physical force.

The researchers emphasize that these results show two things: People often do not do what they say they will do, a lesson that most of us learn as early as kindergarten; and psychopaths, or those with psychopathic tendencies, may be important members of our society.

Psychopaths are often depicted as dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, but they may be the ones making the tough decisions that save the rest of us.