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Self-seeking greed and avarice
January 3, 2012 11:00 AM   Subscribe

"At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles." (relatedly via)
posted by xchmp (53 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
This sounds kind of suspect - on the other hand I suspect the actual results for recruiting someone psychologically ideal to be a banker would be much the same.
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on January 3, 2012


Damnit universe stop making Peter watts right.
posted by The Whelk at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


I don't think this is restricted to banking: whenever I've been confronted to management recruitment consultants I've noticed that scruples or remorse weren't exactly at the top of the list of personality traits they were looking for.
posted by Skeptic at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2012


Did no one else see this as apparent in the old British comedy Are you being served?
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:12 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait, haven't the terms Psychopath or Psychopathy been long deprecated in psychology in favor of Antisocial Personality Disorder (and that fundamentally, the diagnostic criteria are quite distinct between the two)? If a journalist can't get something that simple right because they're favoring sensationalism over precision, why should I trust this bit of hearsay? Yes, it's likely that the financial sector favors individuals with high risk tolerance and low empathy. That doesn't mean that any major investment banks are using psychometric testing to identify people with Antisocial Personality Disorder (I'd love to know what kind of "psychometric test" could reasonably deduce this). Then again, it's the financial world. Nothing would really surprise me.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 11:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't exactly find this surprising. I will hopefully have a doctoral degree in a quantitative subject from an Ivy League university in a year. I've often thought about going into finance or consulting, making some money. The number one thing that's stopping me? The culture. I don't know if I could stand it -- almost everyone I know who's gunning for the big bucks like that has this streak of remorselessness, a lack of mercy. There are plenty of people out there for whom that culture is attractive, and I've met them. They naturally gravitate towards finance. You don't really need a test.
posted by peacheater at 11:15 AM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Worked for Pierce & Pierce.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:15 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think, oddly enough, that "psychopath" is becoming a sort of trendy diagnosis. Bankers are psychopaths, "setting the tone" at investment banks. There's nothing wrong with capitalism, it's just all those crazy people running the system, etc etc. Banker culture isn't systemic; society at large isn't implicated; bankers are just soulless evil monsters.

I would like to say that bankers are psychopaths, because it would be emotionally gratifying to me to diagnose them as irretrievably broken and inhuman, and because I think it would be useful in mustering a poorly-ideologized anti-banker constituency.

Sadly, I think it's just the culture of banks. Ordinary people being evil because it's the path of least resistance and provides benefits, the banality of evil, etc etc. Also the culture of masculinity (which, note, is not the same as "being male") - "masculine" culture where men have to prove themselves by being cruel and ruthless and so on is pretty much famous as banker culture.
posted by Frowner at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2012 [45 favorites]


I weep.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:21 AM on January 3, 2012


Someone should organise some kind of protest or something.
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on January 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


I agree with Frowner. This.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:26 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah it's a lot more fun to assume that Bankers Are Assholes and that were we bankers we would make the world a better place and not be so greedy/evil. Really bankers are more likely normal people who are trying to do their best and work in a shitty system that shits shit.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, they did look at all options available in life and say "right, banking, that's for me!" - it's not like they were forced into it by a caste system or lack of opportunity or anything.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Banker culture isn't systemic; society at large isn't implicated; bankers are just soulless evil monsters.

I think you have to ask yourself what society at large is implicated in and how the banker culture got like that. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that psychopaths, while being a small percentage population-wise, can have a huge influence by manipulating large groups into, for instance, setting up systems where it's OK, even morally good, to ignore your conscience.
posted by DU at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's OK, even morally good, to ignore your conscience.

Well, lets face it, what we are talking about here is Capitalism as a whole.
posted by Artw at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2012


What makes rising to the top of a i-bank due to one's "psychopathy" any different than the ultra-competitiveness, intelligence, ruthlessness, and die-hard work ethic required to climb the ladder in any Fortune 500, or even to start a chain of grocery stores? Was Steve Jobs a "psychopath"? I guess if he worked at a bank we would all be jumping on that wagon.

Sure, the two intersect, psychopaths and executives, as they do at every juncture in life. I know some fucking lazy anti-social personality types whose sole purpose of life is to do as little as possible. Others probably like to spend their free time verbally abusing their family, or engaging in serial philandering. I don't think banking is abnormally appealing to psychopaths. I mean, there's the money, but aren't most people pretty damn greedy? Even the non-soulless Give me a break: bankers aren't inherently evil, it's just that the stability of our economy is tied to the health of our banking system. Reform the system; arrest the criminals; and fire the scumbags. Otherwise, this article is sensational bullshit.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not that I don't disagree that there are probably sociopaths and psychopaths running the show at big institutions, but the premise for this article is built on hearsay. At first blush I expected this to be a Yes Men prank.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fully expect the article to turn out to be utter lies... and yet basically true.
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


We say that people are psychopaths when they display a marked lack of empathy and concern for others. That much can be learned. A man who stands to make a lot of money might learn to be properly ruthless and then just... stay that way... because it works for him.

That's not usually enough for psychologists. They want to know how you related to others while you were growing up, and how you relate to others when money isn't on the line. So when we say that callous venture capitalists are psychopaths, we're not doing it because it adds meaning. We already have words like "greedy" and "ruthless" to describe these personality traits, and we're not applying the standards that psychologists use--hell, a lot of people who use "psychopath" for this purpose don't actually know what psychologists do all day.

So, why the change? Why not just call them ruthless bastards? I bet this Ronson quote is why:
"Justice departments and parole boards all over the world have accepted Hare's contention that psychopaths are quite simply incurable and everyone should concentrate their energies instead on learning how to root them out."
We're demonizing. We've got to make bankers into some kind of elemental evil in order to make it okay to fight them, apparently. Maybe this will work? Demonization could well gain the cooperation of ignorant people who just want to fight and don't care what. Jingoists, basically. I guess they might be satisfied with the type of fighting that consists of legal rampage and palm grease. And there sure are a lot of them, if the behavior of various conservative parties is anything to go by.

Maybe some good will come of it. I just think it's terribly unfair to psychologists and genuine psychopaths.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


Artw: "Well, they did look at all options available in life and say "right, banking, that's for me!""

Or they took a look at their interests and talents and the economy and decided that art history maybe wasn't going to enable them to support their parents into retirement and pay off school debt and have a stable life, and so they decided to find a 9-5 that paid well so they could have an enriching off-work life.

It takes all kinds, right? Not all interests and talents are equally employable in this society. That gets back to why the banker culture has become what it is now, when there should (should being the operative word) be nothing morally wrong about someone choosing to work in a bank because it's the least of all evils.

(Not a banker. Or an art historian.)
posted by Phire at 11:41 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


gagglezoomer: "Was Steve Jobs a "psychopath"?"

Probably? I mean I haven't met the guy or interviewed his childhood friends but the stories aren't particularly endearing.
posted by pwnguin at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2012


I found Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work enlightening on this subject.
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


That doesn't mean that any major investment banks are using psychometric testing to identify people with Antisocial Personality Disorder (I'd love to know what kind of "psychometric test" could reasonably deduce this).

Well, there's the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. But it's a tricky thing to administer, because those damn bankers are always lying...
posted by Ahab at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2012


Was Steve Jobs a "psychopath"? I guess if he worked at a bank we would all be jumping on that wagon.

God, my checking account would be so fucking awesome.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm sure anyone who has applied for a menial job at a huge chain has taken one of those "psychometric tests".

I took one years back, when I was in college, to work as a cashier a a huge chain. After the test they told me that the test had indicated I might have issues with agression and asked me some followup questions to establish how I would handle customers. I honestly didn't know what they were looking for, a nice guy that would treat all customers courteously or a ruthless asshole who would shut customers down before they could disturb the managers. As I was trying to gauge what they wanted me to say, I realized I was trying to game a psychometric test to get a job as a fucking cashier. If I wanted to be a banker and had to take one of those tests I would have answered whichever way would have gotten me the job.

When friends of mine were going into banking after college people always told them to just tell the interviewer "The only thing I care about is making money". I don't know if they said that but they all got jobs. When they trot out the stories about Flud saying "rip out their [his competitors] hearts and eat them before they died" that is just machismo. I'm not sure if these people really think Flud was serious or not. People figure out how to fit in, that is what people do as social animals. We adopt a pose we need to fit in.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:02 PM on January 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Fast Company: Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

BBC: Is your boss a 'corporate psycho'?

Psychopaths among us

USC Study Finds Faulty Wiring In Psychopaths

Evidence that psychopaths are born, not made
posted by Nyrath at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Phire: "Or they took a look at their interests and talents and the economy and decided that art history maybe wasn't going to enable them to support their parents into retirement and pay off school debt and have a stable life, and so they decided to find a 9-5 that paid well so they could have an enriching off-work life. "

I didn't realize there were only two options.
posted by klanawa at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


So basically the article author was talking with a guy who was a Senior UK Investment banker and the guy told him this story of how at this place he used to work they recruited psychopaths to be Senior UK investment bankers. Do I have that right?
posted by rocket88 at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


yeah, guy must be a psychopath, but then he wouldn't think twice about lying to the author would he. It is one of them paradoxes.

Finance people love telling stories about how crazy everyone is, this is like the ultimate one-up. "we are so crazy, we only hire legitimate psychopaths. None of those pansy narcissists"
posted by Ad hominem at 12:45 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've often wondered if elected representatives should take various written tests before becoming candidates, probably basic sciences and statistics, as well as psychopathy. You cannot fail the tests but voters can sort candidates by the their scores if they want.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2012


Ad hominem: If I wanted to be a banker and had to take one of those tests I would have answered whichever way would have gotten me the job.

Better psychological tests (i.e. those not designed to reassure your employer's insurer) are sometimes designed to catch people trying to game the test or make themselves look a certain way.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I interviewed (for six weeks) this past spring with a mid-level European bank that unabashedly used graphology as a major evaluation tool. So I have very little problem believing TFA.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2012


It's interesting, but take it with a grain of salt. There are no actual citations, no names, so it's just some blather from a PR guy in England.

What is it that we're really trying to understand? How people got so greedy? That's not hard. Money is fun, and so's the stuff you buy with it.

Another point is that of course the banking system fosters an environment of risk taking and greed, the whole point is to make money. Piles and piles of it. If a banker DIDN'T jump on the whiffy loan bandwagon, he or she would have been FIRED. None of the banks wanted anyone to know that the emperor didn't have any clothes.

They made their piles of money, and when the tide turned, the tax payers bailed them out. But that's how it all works. Soon enough the economy will be on the upswing, and we'll forget all about this.

Just like we did in '87, '89, the dot com boom, post-911, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw a documentary about this. An american investment banker, Patrick Bateman, was such a psycho that he became a cannibal.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finance people love telling stories about how crazy everyone is, this is like the ultimate one-up. "we are so crazy, we only hire legitimate psychopaths. None of those pansy narcissists"

Psychopaths? We only hire vampires and the possessed!
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Right. When I was in banking I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, pour a cup of sulphuric acid over a homeless man, force homeowners to pay for permission to pay their bills, and when I got back from lunch, our CEO would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Frowner says, There's nothing wrong with capitalism, it's just all those crazy people running the system, etc etc.

Indeed. What all these arguments seem to miss* is that decision-makers in corporations are legally obligated to behave as psychopaths on behalf of shareholders; if they behaved with empathy or ethics, they'd be negligent in performing their duties. Whether or not the particular flavor of an individual's psychopathy involves personal greed and defrauding investors in addition to institutional greed and despoiling the commons isn't all that important.

If you hire someone whose job description is "act like a psychopath," worrying about whether or not they happen to be actual psychopaths is a bit silly. That may not relieve the individual actors from an ethical responsibility for what they do in those positions; however, it does mean that blaming individual actors is a mistake, if not an intentional misdirection.

*Note, I haven't actually read Jon Ronson's book, just listened to him talk about it on the radio. It's possible he's put more thought into it than this article.
posted by eotvos at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2012


But I want to be a Lion Tamer!
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:59 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Frowner says, There's nothing wrong with capitalism, it's just all those crazy people running the system, etc etc.

(Just a tiny clarification: this is the logic of "bankers are psychopaths", not a view held by me personally.)
posted by Frowner at 2:00 PM on January 3, 2012


Wait, haven't the terms Psychopath or Psychopathy been long deprecated in psychology in favor of Antisocial Personality Disorder (and that fundamentally, the diagnostic criteria are quite distinct between the two)?

The DSM IV does indeed list Antisocial Personality Disorder as a condition vs. Psycopathy. However, in the UK, many psychologists and psychiatrists use the ICD-10, which is a diagnostic manual put out by the World Health Organization, and Psychopathy is listed as a condition in it.

The UK can mandate indefinite detention for those found to be psychopaths because they're deemed to be incurable and dangerous to society. Read the The Psychopath Testby John Ronson for an entertaining and frankly, quite scary exploration of psychopathy.
posted by dave78981 at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Frowner, for leaving out the context of that remark. (That was clear to me, but perhaps not to people reading my text.)
posted by eotvos at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2012


The thing to realize is that the banker's only purpose in life is to transfer as much money as possible from your pocket to his pocket. To accomplish this he will do anything -- lie, cheat, swindle, try to intentionally confuse you, conceal his intentions in pages of fine print, use asymmetrical information to take advantage of you, hide risks in overly complex financial instruments, intimidate you with unlimited legal resources, employ armies of public relations specialists to polish his image and pay congressmen to protect his interests. The Wall Street banker is as formidable an enemy as you are ever likely to meet and worthy of the term psychopath.
posted by JackFlash at 2:11 PM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


is that decision-makers in corporations are legally obligated to behave as psychopaths on behalf of shareholders

Nobody is required to make money at all costs. Fidicuary responsibility is really the responsibility to remain loyal to the shareholder's interest. It is pretty clear that acting like a psycopath may harm the long term outlook for your company even if it increases short term gains. It is often in the shareholder's interest to act responsibly, such as not destroying the environment your company operates in or destroying your company's credibility through predatory practices. Fidicuary responsibility is a good thing, focus on short term profits over all else is bad.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't normally jump into discussions like this but I would like to point out: "serving the shareholders" in modern parlance often refers to an expectation of unabated company growth in the double digits over long periods of time. No industry that I'm aware of can sustain that kind of growth over the long term. It seems obvious then that the wise CEO must sometimes "manage expectations" as well as profits, rather than promise something he or she cannot deliver without resorting to underhanded tactics.

I think this is often forgotten or brushed aside during discussions of high-powered executives - there is wise management, sober decisions and ethical practices, but all that is unsexy. CEOs today seem to aspire to being celebrities, and celebrities are all about the surface, the flash and glamour of fame, the promise of untold-of riches.

Business can be managed without resorting to destructive, salting-the-earth tactics, but this is fundamentally at odds with the rockstar CEO culture that has grown up since Lee Iacocca appeared on Miami Vice all those years ago.
posted by LN at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is often in the shareholder's interest to act responsibly, such as not destroying the environment your company operates in or destroying your company's credibility through predatory practices.

Amen, Ad Hominem, and I would go further to say, it's supposed to be the CEO's responsibility to point out to the shareholders when they are treading into those territories. The fact that CEOs have lost sight of that fact in the modern day is saddening.
posted by LN at 2:36 PM on January 3, 2012


I don't think a corporation is going to actively recruit people who might be physically dangerous to them. What happens when the company hits a rough patch and you have to fire hundreds of psychopaths? But laissez-faire economics probably does reward psychopathic behavior in otherwise well adjusted people, as does any system that emphasizes the delivery of results without restraint.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2012


Psychopaths? We only hire vampires and the possessed!

Pffftt...compared to Wolfram & Hart, that's like a bunch of kittens and a bowl of Hershey's Kisses.
posted by foonly at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2012


"...Then where are all the good people of conscience? We don't have any of those, folks. This is the best we can do; garbage in, garbage out."

He was talking about politicians, sure, but George had it right. We wonder why these institutions seem to be historically filled with assholes; it's simply; they're filled with people. Lots of people are assholes.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:55 PM on January 3, 2012


CEOs today seem to aspire to being celebrities, and celebrities are all about the surface, the flash and glamour of fame, the promise of untold-of riches.

No doubt there are fame hound CEOs, but I'd say the trend these days is to keep a low profile, for obvious reasons. Or if you're like the Starbucks CEO, at least be seen as having a conscience and making conciliatory noises.
posted by storybored at 4:14 PM on January 3, 2012


Psychopaths? We only hire vampires and the possessed!

I refuse to invest in any company that's not run by beings so utterly monstrous and unnamable that the slightest glimpse of their shadow can drive men insane.

On the other hand, since I haven't been to any shareholders' meetings lately, I have my doubts about the veracity of this article.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:07 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shit, I took one (mandatory) management class at library school, and mostly it was about how to manipulate or trick people into doing what you want them to do.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:49 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I interviewed (for six weeks) this past spring with a mid-level European bank that unabashedly used graphology as a major evaluation tool. So I have very little problem believing TFA.

I don't necessarily disbelieve it either, but the way the OP was written, I was expecting something more in-depth and informative than a "This guy I know told me they use psychopath tests at the Big Bank he worked at and hired the psychopaths. Boy, bankers are psychopaths, aren't they? They sure are psychopaths." op-ed.
posted by mreleganza at 11:07 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure we can trust that article. You can see at a glance how solidly well-researched and reliable it is.

Besides, consider the source. We know for a fact that journalists are never psychopaths, never behave psychopathically in order to meet occupational demands, and certainly have nothing to gain from jumping on popular bandwagons about folk devils and internet diagnosis of major psychiatric disorders. And certainly no-one who looked to the press for guidance would ever have taken a single action, wittingly or not, that ultimately contributed to the financial crisis we find ourselves in now.

Articles like that are such a breath of fresh air.
posted by tel3path at 4:10 AM on January 4, 2012


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