It can sometimes feel like the person you're talking to is crazy, but it can be very hard to distinguish between who's just weird and who's a genuine psychopath. Thanks to some researchers at Cornell University who interviewed criminal psychopaths and analyzed their speech, we now know that there are certain speech patterns that psychopaths tend to use in conversation. Here's what they found:
"[T]hose with psychopathic scores showed a lack of emotion, spoke in terms of cause-and-effect when describing their crimes, and focused their attention on basic needs, such as food, drink and money."
Hmm, that is pretty broad and not all that easily determined during a casual conversation—although if they start describing their crimes to you that might be a tip off! There were a few other, more specific verbal tics that popped up in the study.
"The use of the past tense can be an indicator of psychological detachment, and the researchers found that the psychopaths used it more than the present tense when compared with the nonpsychopaths. They also found more dysfluencies—the 'uhs' and 'ums' that interrupt speech—among psychopaths."
This is all interesting, but can this be used in the real world, like, say, on a first date? Not exactly. These discoveries are more likely to be of use to law enforcement officials who have access to speech analysis software, and they sadly aren't so great for spotting a crazy person during a short encounter at a bar. Since you know who else says lots of "uhs" and "ums"? Normal people who are nervous! Using this criteria, it would be pretty easy to misdiagnose the poor guy who just wants to ask you out for food or drinks and is terrified that you'll say no.
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