The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test isn’t a book that I would have necessarily picked up to read. However, it was recommended by a friend and colleague and I thought I’d give it a go. What a fascinating book it is!

Jon Ronson investigates the test that has become the measuring stick for diagnosing psychopathy and is applied by criminal justice systems across the world. Throughout the book, Ronson considers the diagnosis and treatment of psychopaths over the years and interviews people who are perceived to be psychopaths and some who he considers perhaps should be labelled as psychopaths after he uses his newly acquired, amateur psychologist skills to apply the “psychopath test” to them. He considers the stigma of the label of “psychopath” and the implications for those who are incarcerated as a result of this test and he meets the psychologists who have deemed these people as incurable psychopaths.

The people that Ronson meets could, to varying degrees, be labelled psychopaths, and that’s just the psychologists! Following his attendance at a course ran by Bob Hare, who created the test and has spent his life’s work refining it, Ronson administers the test to analyse everyone he meets in his investigations, as well as pointing out his own potential psychopathic tendencies. It’s catching, too! As Ronson points out things that people do that could be construed as psychopathic pointers, I found myself totting up the features in the test that could apply to me. “Item 14 – Impulsivity” could certainly apply to me, particularly where shopping for shoes and handbags is concerned! “Item 15 – Irresponsibility” – I’m pretty sure that when I’ve gone on a night out in the middle of winter without a jacket could be classed as irresponsible! “Item 5 – Cunning/Manipulative” – when it’s time to get the children in bed I often use cunning and manipulative tactics! (I wonder if it could be considered narcissistic that I’ve even give all this any thought?) Okay, none of these things could really indicate that I’m a psychopath and I’m happy to say that the other items don’t really apply, but when the list is considered, I’d be very surprised if anyone could not find a single trait that they could at least loosely apply to themselves.

I enjoyed this book wholeheartedly and it most definitely provides food for thought. I also think Ronson may be on to something when he considers that people in power, politicians and CEO’s of large conglomerates, could be borderline psychopath as they separate themselves from the human aspect of their positions so they can make big decisions that affect lots of people. This is the first book that I’ve read by Jon Ronson and his writing style is easy to read and very funny. I would absolutely read the other books that he has written and have been advised that Them: Adventures with Extremists is well worth a read too. (Watch this space!) Ronson’s journalistic tone, tinged with self-deprecation, is very endearing and makes this book very enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but be prepared to analyse everyone for psychopathic tendencies afterwards!