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Scared of psychopaths? Stay away from this U.S. state

If you want to avoid psychopaths, you might want to stay well away from Washington, D.C.

According to new research, the nation’s capital hosts the largest amount of psychopaths in the entire country. Surprised?

To figure out how the population of psychopaths is broken down state by state, Southern Methodist University professor and study author Ryan Murphy produced a state-level estimate of psychopathy using previous research about personality traits. He then ranked the 48 continental United States and the District of Columbia based on traits likely to define psychopathic tendencies, determining that the nation’s capital has a level of psychopathy far greater than any state. Why is this the case? Based on his prior research, he believes it is because “psychopaths are likely to be effective in the political sphere.” Hmmm.

Now this doesn’t mean that D.C. is full of maniacal Hannibal Lecters. When many of us hear the word “psychopath,” we think of serial killers in masks — which most politicians clearly aren’t — so what is it that defines a psychopath?

Clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles Dr. Ramani Durvasula tells LIVESTRONG.COM that a psychopath is “a person who lacks empathy, is entitled, deeply manipulative and exploitative and prone to deceit and lying. They also feel no guilt or remorse in the face of bad behavior of any kind.” Sound familiar?

Dr. Durvasula agrees with Murphy that politics is the “logical” career for psychopaths. “It provides them with power and a perfect perch from which to manipulate and exploit,” Dr. Durvasula explains.

Also, “it allows them to frame their more malevolent motivations into something that looks like it is for the common good. For example, they open a new school or some other public event while shunting dollars to causes that keep their pockets lined.”

Politics also requires manipulative behavior when it comes to everything from securing donors to getting the most votes. Because a psychopath’s strengths tend to include lying, exploiting and not caring about negatively impacting others, it makes politics the perfect fit for them.

However, Dr. Durvasula is quick to point out that, of course, not all politicians are psychopaths.

“There are some well-motivated politicians, but they are becoming fewer and far between, largely because of how our political system in the U.S. and in many parts of the world is constructed,” she says. She explains that these systems require an individual to use tactics like manipulation to get what they want in terms of donors and votes and that these are the strengths of a psychopath, “as they are willing to lie and exploit and not care about who they need to throw under the bus.”

Here’s how Murphy created the list: Using previous research, which established levels of the “Big Five” personality traits (agreeableness, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism) in every state, he then translated those traits into ones that are linked to psychopathy (disinhibition, boldness and meanness). “Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness,” Murphy explained to Quartz. Using that information, Murphy was able to devise a numeric “raw” score for each state that he used to estimate a ranking.

Trailing behind D.C. for number of psychopaths was Connecticut, California, New Jersey and a tie for fifth place between Wyoming and New York.

The state with the least amount of psychopaths, per his research, was West Virginia, followed by Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina and New Mexico. Murphy told Newsweek that he believes the distribution of psychopaths across the country has to do with “urban/rural distinctions.” Basically, they are more likely to be in cities than in rural settings, which is another reason the dense geographical region of the District of Columbia could have nabbed the top spot.

The findings have been published the Social Science Research Network, but have not yet been peer reviewed — meaning outside researchers haven’t as of yet endorsed Murphy’s findings.

Here is the entire list ranked in order of psychopaths:

1. District of Columbia

2. Connecticut

3. California

4. New Jersey

5. New York and Wyoming (tie)

7. Maine

8. Wisconsin

9. Nevada

10. Illinois

11. Virginia

12. Maryland

13. South Dakota

14. Delaware

15. Massachusetts

16. Arizona

17. Florida

18. Iowa

19. Colorado

20. Texas

21. Ohio

22. Utah

23. Arkansas

24. Idaho

25. North Dakota

26. Michigan

27. Alabama

28. Pennsylvania

29. Rhode Island

30. Louisiana

31. Kansas

32. Georgia

33. Minnesota

34. Missouri

35. Washington

36. Kentucky

37. Nebraska

38. South Carolina

39. New Hampshire

40. Oregon

41. Indiana

42. Mississippi

43. Montana

44. Oklahoma

45. New Mexico

46. North Carolina

47. Tennessee

48. Vermont

49. West Virginia

Now you can use this new research to help you better identify psychopaths near you — or at least better understand the genesis of some politicians!

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised that Washington, D.C., has the greatest amount of psychopaths in the United States? Why do you think that is the case?

Did any of the state rankings surprise you? Tell us in the comments!

  • Are you surprised that Washington, D.C., has the greatest amount of psychopaths in the United States?
  • Why do you think that is the case?