Can psychopaths excel in the arts

18.07.2017 09:14

Study reveals link between corporate psychopaths and white-collar crime

Melanie Loew Press and public relations
Technical University of Kaiserslautern

People who have the specific traits of a psychopath are more likely to consent to white-collar crime in companies. This is the result of a study by Professor Dr. Volker Lingnau, Florian Fuchs and Till Dehne-Niemann. The researchers at the Technical University (TU) Kaiserslautern have examined the willingness to manipulate balance sheets and engage in insider trading. Above all, character traits such as cold-heartedness and high-grade, manipulative egoism play a role. The researchers are also discussing how to recognize such people early on. The work was published in the prestigious Journal of Business Economics.

The starting point for the study that has just been published is the phenomenon of “psychopaths in pinstripes”. "These are people who work individually and successfully and often in leading positions in companies, but who act in a highly selfish, unscrupulous, manipulative and empathetic manner," says Volker Lingnau, who heads the chair for corporate accounting and controlling at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern. "We are particularly interested in these because we assume that they can cause lasting damage to companies."

But it is important to differentiate this form of psychopathy from the everyday understanding of psychopaths. As is the case in the thriller “American Psycho” with US actor Christian Bale in the lead role, who is conspicuous as Patrick Bateman through brutal physical violence and comes into conflict with the law. In contrast, corporate psychopaths - also known as "successful" or, based on the Canadian criminal psychologist Robert D. Hare, "factor 1 psychopaths" - can usually hide their "dark" traits well using high intelligence. "Corporate scandals, such as the American energy giant Enron, which went bankrupt in 2001 due to massive balance sheet fraud, show that corporate psychopaths can pose an existential threat to the economy and society through their ability to lie and manipulate without remorse," says Professor Lingnau.

The economists have therefore dealt with the question of the extent to which personalities with the characteristics of a corporate psychopath are more willing to accept balance sheet manipulation and insider trading - two of the classic forms of white-collar crime that, like Enron, often occur together.

For their study, they carried out two online surveys in which a total of 469 people took part. In doing so, they first examined the participants' psychopathic tendencies. They then checked their attitudes towards the behavior of other people who manipulate balance sheets and engage in insider trading.

In their work, Lingnau's team comes to the conclusion that those factors that reflect the “dark” character traits of corporate psychopaths predict a significantly higher level of agreement with the two forms of white-collar crime. “The two factors cold-heartedness and the so-called Machiavellian egoism, which is characterized by particular ruthlessness and manipulative abilities, were particularly meaningful. Both personality factors can therefore be seen as absolute risk factors and should be taken into account in recruitment tests, for example, ”says Lingnau.

In addition, the study shows how it can be successful in business practice to prevent the rise of such psychopaths. In addition to social working conditions in which they become noticeable sooner or later due to their social incompetence, appropriate training of colleagues can also be helpful. In addition, the researchers discuss how new incentive systems can help make advancement more difficult for psychopaths or make such a company appear less attractive to these people.

The study "The Influence of Psychopathic Traits on the Acceptance of White-Collar Crime: Do Corporate Psychopaths Cook the Books and Misuse the News?" Was published in the renowned journal "Journal of Business Economics": http://link.springer. com / article / 10.1007 / s11573-017-0864-6
Read-only access for those interested without a subscription to the magazine can be found at:

Answering questions:
Prof. Dr. Volker Lingnau
Email: lingnau (at)
Tel .: 0631 205-2822

Florian Fuchs, M.Sc.
Email: Fuchs (at)
Tel .: 0631 205-3745

Features of this press release:
Journalists, business representatives
Psychology, economics
Research results, scientific publications