The psychopathy test for dating and more

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated January 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The Psychopath Test was written by author Jon Ronson in 2011. Ronson covers the intricacies of antisocial personality disorder and how it’s portrayed in the media. In addition to interviewing psychopaths, psychologists, and psychiatrists, Ronson dives into the nuance of personal responsibility over behaviors that may be influenced by mental illness. Many critics believed that many of Ronson's findings and assertions were sensationalized and unhelpful to those labeled “psychopaths” and those who have been hurt by their actions. While Ronson is not a psychologist or scientist, his work may help spark discussions about what psychopathy may look like, how it can affect others, and the best ways to address it without creating unnecessary stigma.

Understanding psychopathy

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Psychopathy is not a term used for clinical diagnosis but is one of the words often used to describe a person who has been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. This disorder can affect people’s emotional responses and make them unable to care about the needs or feelings of others.

Those labeled psychopaths, therefore, are usually seen as being without a conscience or empathy and being unable to tell right from wrong.

Only around 1.2% of men and 0.3% to 0.7% of women are considered to have “psychopathic traits” that are clinically significant (or able to be identified as harmful to a person’s ability to function). These numbers seem to rise, however, among populations of imprisoned persons, where rates of psychopathic traits can rise from 15% to 25%.

According to clinical studies, the anatomy of the brain, genetics, and one's environment can contribute to antisocial personality disorder. Experts also believe that a disorderly or otherwise unstable childhood can lead to the development of psychopathy or behaviors associated with it, including those listed below.


In most cases, individuals who are marked as psychopaths exhibit three tell-tale signs: manipulation, a lack of empathy, and narcissism.

Sometimes psychopaths engage in manipulation for the sake of getting something they want; other times, it's simply done for sport. Often, they are wholly concerned with their interests and will do whatever it takes to fulfill them, even if it leads to the peril or demise of others. Individuals who display these traits or behaviors are also usually very skilled at feigning sincerity.

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths are often known for their indifference to others. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and have the feelings of others. However, people with antisocial personality disorder are often incapable of feeling empathy for others. Due to their lack of empathy, they generally don’t feel emotions like pity, compassion, guilt, remorse, or sympathy. 

Along with psychopaths' lack of empathy may come an inability to control impulses. This lack of self-control often manifests in the form of violent behavior, hostility, and risky conduct.

Psychopaths may mimic other people to disguise their lack of empathy. They may pretend to be upset or angry if they have learned that this is the socially appropriate reaction. The goal is likely to appear normal and be undetected by others.


Psychopaths usually exhibit signs of narcissistic personality disorder, often touting themselves as better and superior to others. However, despite exterior appearances, many clinical narcissists are not truly as confident and self-assured as they present themselves to be. Narcissists usually have very low levels of self-esteem deep down. This concealed low self-esteem is typically what compels them to seek out compliments and props from others. Psychopaths and narcissists also typically have a difficult time handling criticism and often become angry and defensive when they are not admired or lauded by other people.

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Psychopathy and dating

It can be hard to identify behaviors that might align with antisocial personality disorder when we meet someone new or enter a new relationship. Typically, it does not reveal itself until the relationship has gone on for quite some time. On the surface, psychopaths can appear charming and attentive. Also, they are often skilled at feigning interest and care for others. Still, they may enter into relationships for their gain and not because they feel a real or genuine connection with the other person.

There are some warning signs that may be present if you’re in a relationship with someone who might be someone with antisocial personality disorder. Things like displays of superiority, a lack of personal accountability, and frequent lies, manipulation, or deceit may be worth noting. Given that psychopaths tend to be highly narcissistic, they may feel compelled to view themselves as better than others and might, therefore, make their partners feel as though they are inferior. This may be unintentional, or it might be an attempt to exert control over the relationship or partner in question.

Likewise, these individuals are known for shifting the blame onto others. In their mind, they may never be at fault; something else or someone else might always seem deserving of blame.

It’s not always easy to get solid answers on whether your partner may be living with a mental illness, especially if they are unwilling or unable to empathize with your concerns. It can help to remember that you don’t necessarily need to have “proof” of antisocial personality disorder or any other mental health disorder to end a relationship that has become toxic; maltreatment itself can be reason enough.

Remaining involved with a person who shows signs of psychopathy is generally not advisable. While it may be hard to walk away from a relationship, doing so may be best for your mental health, safety, and long-term well-being.

How to receive professional support

Whether you identify with some of the traits of antisocial personality disorder yourself or are in a relationship with someone who might, it can be beneficial to seek professional advice. A mental health professional can listen to your concerns, decide how to best move forward, and provide any support you may need to make things easier.

If you’re nervous about attending therapy in person, you might consider online therapy. With online therapy, there’s no need to be seen going into a therapist’s office. With BetterHelp, you can be comfortable in your own space when you reach out to a therapist online. You can communicate via phone, video chat, or in-app messaging.

Research supports the effectiveness of online therapy for treating a variety of mental health conditions and symptoms. For instance, one recent study published in JMIR Mental Health concluded that online therapy was effective for people with anxiety or depression

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Navigating a toxic or unhealthy relationship can be hard

Counselor Reviews

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Ultimately, Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test raises questions about the way society views antisocial personality disorder and may serve as a helpful resource for learning more about the topic. Ronson’s work and that of experts in the field may help you identify potentially concerning behavior in yourself or others so you can receive the help you might need. To learn more about psychopathy and other mental health concerns, reach out to BetterHelp today.
Understand psychopathy with professional guidance
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