What is Corporate Psychopathy & How Do We Measure It?



Before we learn more about psychopathy in the corporate setting, we must first understand what psychopathy is. Psychopathy is a clinical personality disorder defined by a constellation of affective and behavioral symptoms. Major symptoms of psychopathy consist of shallow affect; lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse; irresponsibility; impulsivity; and poor planning and decision-making (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). The best current estimate suggests that less than 1% of all non-institutionalized adults meet criteria for the disorder (Hare, 1996). However, the base rate of psychopathy is higher in institutional settings, with an estimated 15-25% of incarcerated individuals meeting criteria for the disorder.


When it comes to empirical research on psychopathy, psychopathy is most often measured using the psychopathy checklist. Dr. Robert Hare created the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) in 1980 and revised it in 1991 (PCL-R). The Psychopathy Checklist and its successors remain the most widely used expert-rater devices to assess psychopathy today (Craig et al., 2008). The PCL-R consists of 20 rating scale items that measure 4 related factors or dimensions (interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, antisocial, poor behavioral controls, adolescent antisocial behavior, and adult antisocial behavior) that support the construct of psychopathy. Although Cooke and Michie (2001) have contended that antisocial features (the antisocial factor) are best left out of the assessment of psychopathy, traditional clinical conceptualizations of psychopathy are filled with antisociality. Much like reinventing the wheel, it is therefore difficult to understand how the very defining traits of psychopathy could be assessed without reference to and a focus on antisocial behaviors (Hare, 2003; Hare & Neumann, 2008).


Recently, researchers have focused their attention on the nature and implications of psychopathic characteristics in the workplace. Research is hampered by the lack of an assessment tool focused on the corporate/organizational world, an instrument that uses ratings of others to measure psychopathic features in workplace settings. The B-Scan 360 may resolve this problem. The public most often associates psychopathy with people who kill, rape, attack, enslave, or commit other serious crimes. Offenders who have high levels of psychopathy are generally at higher risk of committing such crimes than are other criminals, but it is important to note that psychopathy is a dimensional construct (Guay, Ruscio, Knight, & Hare, 2007), most criminals are not psychopaths, and many high-scoring psychopathic individuals are able to avoid formal contact with the criminal justice system (e.g., Babiak, Neumann and Hare, 2010). In a study of 203 upper-level managers, Babiak, Neumann, and Hare (2010) found that the PCL-R - particularly its interpersonal component - was positively associated with in-house ratings of Charisma/Presentation style (creativity, strategic thinking and communication skills) and negatively associated with ratings of Responsibility/Performance (being a team player, leadership and management skills, and overall accomplishments). It was concluded that the ability to charm, manipulate and deceive allowed psychopathic leaders to achieve apparent success in their careers despite negative performance ratings and behaviors potentially harmful to the corporation and its personnel. Other researchers have found psychopathy is correlated with unethical decision making (Stevens, Deuling, & Armenakis, 2012). Initially, those with psychopathic tendencies will likely seem attractive during hiring or recruitment and may even be successful temporarily. However, Matheiu, et al. argue that much like individuals with narcissistic tendencies, the destructive aspects of the pathological personality will emerge given a sufficient amount of time (Campbell, Hoffman, Campbell, & Marchisio, 2011). The biggest problem in improving the understanding of corporate psychopathy is the unavailability of an appropriate instrument for construct assessment in business environments.


Babiak and Hare began working several years ago on the development of an instrument for rating psychopathic features in corporate and organizational settings. The original item set was based on a multitude of behaviors, attitudes, and judgments considered problematic (by human resources personnel and industrial/organizational psychologists) in corporate succession plans. The result was the 113-item Business-Scan 360, referred to here as the B-Scan. It is designed as a scale in which different members of an organization rate others, including superiors, subordinates, and colleagues (Babiak & Hare, 2012). The aim was to determine the factor structure of the B-Scan as a measure of psychopathy when subordinates use them to evaluate their superiors in corporate environments. It was difficult to attract the participation of organizations to validate and study the B-Scan. The introduction of an online survey greatly facilitated and enabled researchers to collect large amounts of data that are reasonably representative of populations of interest. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk; www.mturk.com) was particularly useful in this regard (Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011). MTurk is an online marketplace used to assist individuals offering payment for completion of human intelligence tasks (HITs) with workers willing to complete those tasks. In terms of generalizability, many studies report that samples obtained through MTurk are more representative than studies using student participants (e.g., Behrend, Sharek, Meade, & Wiebe, 2011; Buhrmester et al., 2011). MTurk is a useful option for employee-focused research (Barger, Behrend, Sharek, & Sinar, 2011).


Current Study

Earlier versions of the B-Scan were designed to encompass a four-factor model of psychopathy, and the amount of empirical data available was too small to perform a satisfactory statistical analysis. MTurk was used to collect two large independent samples from business staff who rated their supervisors using the original B-Scan items and on several relevant external variables.


Sample 1: Exploratory Analyses

Participants in Sample 1 were 340 working adults recruited on Amazon’s MTurk website (57% women; mean age 33.64 years, SD 11.78; 74% European heritage, 7% African heritage, 7% East Asian, 4% South Asian, 8% other mixed ethnicities). In MTurk, all participants have the right to pre-select the tasks they want to perform and receive a nominal fee for it. In this case, the task was to “rate your boss’s personality.” Of those who took part in the survey, 2% were the executive director or senior manager, 12% were middle management, 13% were line management, and 73% did not have a managerial position.


Results - Sample 1:

Six factors were identified. Two factors were not directly relevant to psychopathy but were considered important in assessing corporate potential and performance. These were tentatively described as an “ability” dimension (e.g., has the knowledge to perform his/her job well) and a “disruptive behavior” dimension (e.g., enjoys being disruptive at times). These factors were similar in nature to the performance and presentation style ratings which were previously described in the corporate psychopathy study conducted by Babiak and colleagues (2010). Because the present study’s goal was to test the viability of a four-factor structure of psychopathy, similar to other well-established derivatives of the PCL-R, the authors decided to remove items that loaded on these two factors and items that did not sufficiently load on one of the remaining four factors. These two factors will be addressed in future research testing the B-Scan in organizational settings. Each item mapped well onto the four previously established PCL-R-based psychopathy factors (i.e., Interpersonal, Affective, Lifestyle, and Antisocial). However, because the B-Scan factors were meant to be used in a corporate environment, the researchers relabeled them as Manipulative/Unethical, Callous/Insensitive, Unreliable/Unfocused, and Intimidating/Aggressive.


Sample 2: Confirmatory Factor Analysis

The purpose of Sample 2 was to confirm the factor structure and its reliability. The participants were 806 employed adults from Amazon's MTurk website. The Sample 2 demographics of study participants and supervisors were similar to those used in Sample 1 (59% women; mean age 30.3, SD 10.3; 68% European heritage, 12% East Asian, 5% Latino, 6% African heritage, 4% other mixed ethnicities; 58% of the supervisors were men). Participants reported that they had known their superiors for an average of 4.5 years. After filling out demographic information, participants rated their supervisors online with the same 113 B-Scan items that had been used in Sample 1 as a part of a larger overarching study on personalities in business.


Results - Sample 2:

The factor analysis results for the 20-item model (four correlated factors, five items per factor) selected in Sample 1 had an acceptable fit for the Sample 2 data. The resulting model replicated the four psychopathy factors found in Sample 1, and the total score and each factor score were about as reliable as those in Sample 1.


Discussion:

This study provides support for the four factors of the B-Scan 360 structure, which is an instrument designed for managers, subordinates, and colleagues to assess corporate psychopathy in others. The results gave some initial empirical evidence that the B-Scan structural model is reliable. Within organizational or corporate settings, psychopathic traits are expected to be ultimately expressed in actions that are self-serving and frequently damaging to the organization and its members. Such behaviors are likely to be covertly unethical or illegal, and may include manipulation, deception, intimidation, threats, coercion, bullying, fraud, and corruption. Those characteristics reflected in the four factors of the B-Scan appear to be related to the very same workplace deleterious behaviors previously described in the business literature such as “organizational retaliatory behavior” (Skarlicki, Folger, & Tesluk, 1999), “workplace bullying” (Mathisen, Einarsen, & Mykletun, 2011), and “interpersonal deviance” (Bolton, Becker, & Barber, 2010). Furthermore, the authors concluded that those employees who scored high on psychopathic traits exhibited few behaviors that would ultimately facilitate the functioning of the organization but exhibited many behaviors that would harm both the organization and its members. This pattern of actions, along with other factors and characteristics, has been associated with detrimental job performance (Rotundo & Sackett, 2002). Due to the damaging nature of these individuals who are high on psychopathic traits, the development of a valid and reliable measure specifically designed for business or corporate settings is important. This study’s results indicate the B-Scan 360 appears to be such a measure. While more research is needed before it can be effectively used in corporate settings, the study authors concluded that this validation study of the B-Scan was an essential step forward in the scientific study of corporate psychopathy.


References

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Article written by:

Elma Pašić Benjamin Silber

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