Could that amazing new person you or a loved one is dating actually be a sociopath? It's not as far-fetched as you might imagine. Roughly one in 25 Americans is a sociopath, according to Harvard psychologist Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door.
Of course, not all sociopaths are dangerous criminals. But they certainly can make life difficult, given that the defining characteristic of sociopathy is antisocial behavior.
Here are 11 RED FLAGS to look out for:
RED FLAG #1. Having an oversized ego.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) notes that sociopaths have an inflated sense of self. They are narcissists to the extreme, with a huge sense of entitlement, Dr. Seth Meyers, a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, wrote for Psychology Today. They tend to blame others for their own failures.
RED FLAG #2. Lying and exhibiting manipulative behavior.
Sociopaths use deceit and manipulation on a regular basis. Why? "Lying for the sake of lying. Lying just to see whether you can trick people. And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects," Dr. Stout told Interview Magazine.
RED FLAG #3. Exhibiting a lack of empathy.
“They don’t really have the meaningful emotional inner worlds that most people have and perhaps because of that they can't really imagine or feel the emotional worlds of other people," M. E. Thomas, a diagnosed sociopath and author of Confessions Of A Sociopath, told NPR. "It’s very foreign to them.”
RED FLAG #4. Showing a lack of remorse or shame.
The DSM-V entry on antisocial personality disorder indicates that sociopaths lack remorse, guilt or shame.
RED FLAG #5. Staying eerily calm in scary or dangerous situations.
A sociopath might not be anxious following a car accident, for instance, M.E. Thomas said. And experiments have shown that while normal people show fear when they see disturbing images or are threatened with electric shocks, sociopaths tend not to.
RED FLAG #6. Behaving irresponsibly or with extreme impulsivity.
Sociopaths bounce from goal to goal, and act on the spur of the moment, according to the DSM. They can be irresponsible when it comes to their finances and their obligations to other people.
RED FLAG #7. Having few friends.
Sociopaths tend not to have friends--not real ones, anyway. "Sociopaths don’t want friends, unless they need them. Or all of their friends are superficially connected with them, friends by association," psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg, author of the Human Magnet Syndrome, told The Huffington Post.
RED FLAG #8. Being charming--but only superfically.
Sociopaths can be very charismatic and friendly -- because they know it will help them get what they want. “They are expert con artists and always have a secret agenda,” Rosenberg said. "People are so amazed when they find that someone is a sociopath because they’re so amazingly effective at blending in. They’re masters of disguise. Their main tool to keep them from being discovered is a creation of an outer personality."
As M.E. Thomas described in a post for Psychology Today: "You would like me if you met me. I have the kind of smile that is common among television show characters and rare in real life, perfect in its sparkly teeth dimensions and ability to express pleasant invitation."
RED FLAG #9. Living by the "pleasure principle."
"If it feels good and they are able to avoid consequences, they will do it! They live their life in the fast lane -- to the extreme -- seeking stimulation, excitement and pleasure from wherever they can get it," Rosenberg wrote in Human Magnet Syndrome.
RED FLAG #10. Showing disregard for societal norms.
They break rules and laws because they don't believe society's rules apply to them, psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer wrote in a blog on Psychology Today.
RED FLAG #11. Having "intense" eyes.
Sociopaths have no problem with maintaining uninterrupted eye contact. "Our failure to look away politely is also perceived as being aggressive or seductive," M.E. Thomas wrote for Psychology Today.
Also on HuffPost:
In their 2012 book "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">The Longevity Project</a>," which looked at research over the course of 80 years, authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin identified an association between being conscientious and a longer life span. "Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood," <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">the authors wrote in their book</a>. "The young adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail oriented, and responsible lived the longest." Why do more prudent people tend to live longer? According to the authors, this group is more likely to take care of their health and avoid risks, and they also develop healthier relationships, whether it be romantic, friendly or work-related. "That's right, conscientious people create healthy, long-life pathways for themselves," Friedman and Martin wrote. And finally, the researchers point out that some people seem to have a biological predisposition toward a more careful personality. "While we are not yet sure of the precise physiological reasons," they write, "it appears that conscientious and un- conscientious people have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains, including serotonin." For more on the phenomenon, and other insights into longevity, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">check out "The Longevity Project" here</a>.
Easy To Laugh
In a study published this past May in the journal <em>Aging</em>, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Yeshiva University pinpointed several personality traits linked to a longer lifespan. Among the list? Frequent laughter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/optimism-longer-life-longevity-genes-personality_n_1553967.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported when the findings were released</a>. "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," study researcher Dr. Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life."
Thank your family and friends for this one: a 2010 study published in the journal <em>PloS Medicine</em> found that <a href="http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000316" target="_hplink">strong social relationships</a> can boost survival odds by 50 percent. The Brigham Young University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers evaluated 148 studies. "We take relationships for granted as humans -- we're like fish that don't notice the water," BYU's Timothy Smith <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100727174909.htm" target="_hplink">said in a statement about the findings</a>. "That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health."
The same 2012 <em>Aging</em> study that identified frequent laughter as a boost to longevity also found that optimism might tack on years to your life. Out of the 243 centenarians evaluated in the research, most were optimistic and easygoing, study researcher Dr. Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don't know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans," <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">he said in the release</a>. "Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity."
Don't worry, be happy, live longer? A study published last year in the journal <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em> found that older people who report being happy have a 35 percent decreased risk of dying over five years, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/happiness-long-life-_n_1068209.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported when the findings were released</a>. The researchers evaluated more than 3,000 people by monitoring their happiness throughout the day -- they then followed up five years later to see how many had died. "I was a bit surprised that the happiness effect was so strong, even among people who had chronic diseases," study author Andrew Steptoe, a professor at University College, London, <a href="http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/31/8565511-want-to-live-longer-get-happy-study-says?ocid=twitter" target="_hplink">told MSNBC</a>.
<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02189.x/abstract" target="_hplink">A 2009 study published in the <em>Journal of the American Geriatrics Society</em></a> looked at the offspring of centenarians (other research has found <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090403114823.htm" target="_hplink">exceptional longevity tends to run in families</a>) -- the volunteers were typically in the high range for extroversion (and in the low range for neuroticism). "It's likely that the low neuroticism and higher extroversion will confer health benefits for these subjects," study author Thomas Perls, M.D., MPH, director of the New England Centenarian Study, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090403114823.htm" target="_hplink">said in a statement </a>when the findings were released. "For example, people who are lower in neuroticism are able to manage or regulate stressful situations more effectively than those with higher neuroticism levels. Similarly, high extroversion levels have been associated with establishing friendships and looking after yourself." The women evaluated in the study also scored high for agreeableness.