The business world is a ruthless place, and studies have shown that the field tends to attract a ruthless sort: psychopaths. Now a psychology student from the University of Huddersfield has discovered that even more psychopaths may occupy top managerial positions than previously believed, reports Science Daily.

By combining results from a number of distinct psychological evaluations, undergraduate Carolyn Bate has shown that psychopaths with high IQs are capable of masking their symptoms by manipulating tests designed to reveal their personalities. Since high-IQ psychopaths are suspected to disproportionately seek out high-level business positions, this could mean that there are even more psychopaths in top managerial positions than previous tests have shown.

Research has shown that about 1 percent of the population is psychopathic, but among business managers that figure rises to 3 percent. 

"I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business. The figure could be more than 3 percent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie — they are quite manipulative and lack empathy. This could have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives," said Bate.

Bate therefore set out to devise a method for revealing whether some psychopaths are in fact capable of evading tests. She assembled 50 study participants and subjected them to a number of psychological and intelligence evaluations, including IQ tests and the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale. After these initial evaluations, participants were then tested using a technique called the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), which involves placing electrodes on the fingers of participants in order to gauge their reactions to images on a computer screen.

Participants were shown disturbing images, such as pictures of crying children, people being threatened and scenes of natural disasters. Psychopaths have been shown to react to these kinds of images with either excitement or apathy, depending on their type of psychopathy. 

Bate found that the GSR responses were as predicted, except for the fact that only psychopaths with lower levels of intelligence displayed the expected levels of excitement. The implication therefore being that psychopaths with high intelligence were capable of faking an emotional response. The results could lead to new procedures for screening out psychopathic people who are in line for top business posts.

"Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness. But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring," suggested Bate.

The research has been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology.

Related on MNN: