Bosses, watch your backs.
Not only is fantasizing about murdering your supervisor — a la “Horrible Bosses” or “9 to 5” — totally normal, it’s healthy, Dr. Julia Shaw, a criminal psychologist at University College London, tells The Independent.
Shaw addressed the crowd at the UK’s Cheltenham Science Festival, saying “popular targets” in our murderous reverie could be any number of contemptuous figures in your life — including an employer or ex-partner.
“You can picture where your fantasies might go,” she says. “Now, of course most of us don’t engage in murder ever, luckily.”
But she says such wicked thoughts actually help foster empathy toward your imaginary victim: “You think things through, you imagine what the consequences would be like, you imagine what it might be like to actually go through with it.”
And guess what your decision generally is?
“‘I don’t want to do that, because those are not the consequences I would like,’ ” Shaw says.
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The ability to ponder actions and their potential consequences is “critical to making good decisions,” she adds — and it sets us apart from animals and the psychologically ill. The more time we spend analyzing future choices, the better prepared we will be when the time comes to make a crucial judgement call.
“While things are pretty good — that’s the time to do empathy exercises,” says Shaw. “Now is the time to wrestle with your morality and do a health check, because you don’t know what the future brings and you don’t know what kind of quick decisions you might make later.”
Shaw goes on to say that psychopaths shouldn’t be labeled as “evil,” arguing that many killers simply lack the psychological wherewithal to control their impulses. In other words, empathy exercises do nothing for them.
“It’s a copout, it’s lazy — calling someone evil is saying, ‘I’m done with this conversation, this person is subjectively bad, I don’t need to empathize with them, I don’t need to understand them I don’t need to figure out why I might be similar to them in any way,’ ” she explains.
The American Psychological Association does not officially recognize terms such as psycho- or sociopathy, but lumps them together under the umbrella diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, marked by “a chronic and pervasive disposition to disregard and violate the rights of others … [including a] reckless disregard for the safety of self and others, and irresponsibility, accompanied by lack of guilt, remorse, and empathy.”
Yet a 2013 study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience argues that the mental disorder deserves a designation of its own, noting that those who have antisocial personality disorder are not necessarily also psychopathic: “It is not equivalent to antisocial personality disorder.” They conclude that psychopathy is “a serious developmental disorder marked by pronounced emotional dysfunction and an increased risk for aggression.” In other words, psychopaths suffer from a unique cognitive and neural dysfunction — and certainly not simply evil.