Monthly Archive: November 2009

The Psychology of Evil

It’s a weird thing to discover, if you are a basically honest person, that a very large number of people in the world don’t have a conscience. (“Basically” in the preceding sentence just notes that even the most honest person in the world will, at times, be inclined to be dishonest, even if only to protect the feelings of others or combat the potential ill effects of violating unjust laws or social taboos.) According to Martha Stout, a psychologist previously at Harvard, the number of people without a conscience is 1 in 25, four percent of the population (see The Sociopath Next Door). That’s a remarkable number. Think about it. Are there 100 people where you work? On average, there would be four people totally devoid of a sense of right and wrong. This lack of conscience doesn’t correlate with looks, intelligence, or background. These people, who find it humorous that you and I have a sense of right and wrong, are indistinguishable from the normal crowd. They even tend to be glib and charming, albeit in a superficial way. Perhaps the percentage is less, but even so, exercise caution until you really know a person.