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Think of a psychopath and any number of Hollywood villains might come to mind, from charming killers like Hannibal Lecter to Anton Chigurh, portrayed with chilling menace by Javier Bardem in the film No Country for Old Men. But the traits and symptoms of psychopathy run along scales that range from weak to strong. So, someone may be mildly psychopathic or severely so. There could be a psychopath sitting next to you right now.

Some psychologists argue that the focus on violent and criminal psychopathic behavior has marginalized the study of what they call “successful psychopaths”—people who have psychopathic tendencies but who can stay out of trouble, and perhaps even benefit from these traits in some way. Researchers haven’t yet reached a consensus on which traits distinguish successful psychopaths from serial killers, but they are working to clarify what they say is a misunderstood branch of human behavior. Some even want to reclaim and rehabilitate the concept of psychopathy itself.

“Most of what people think about psychopaths is not what psychopathy actually is,” says Louise Wallace, a lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Derby, in England. “It is not glamorous. It is not a spectacle.” Psychopathic traits exist in everyone to some degree and shouldn’t be glorified or stigmatized, she says.

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