While it’s well known that facial expressions, micro-expressions and body language are capable of revealing things which people are trying to hide, this article will focus on a subject’s lack of fluid expression as an indicator of the absence of empathy and more specifically, the condition of sociopathy in a subject.
While this method of identification is not yet a mature and 100 % definitive process of identifying a sociopath or psychopath, it is a first look at a technique which can recognize facial expressions shared by people who are considered to have sociopathic personalities. We can apply these facial pattern indicators to any group of photos of known or unknown persons to get a pretty good indicator as to whether they might have sociopathic personalities. In time, through the use of computer facial analysis, it will be possible to fine-tune these observations and achieve results of significantly greater accuracy for identifying not only sociopathy but many other personality types and disorders.
At the end of this article are a number of examples of how this system works which you can test yourself. However, before I lay out the results of my informal study which include hundreds of images, a few explanations are in order.
First, sociopathy is a condition where the subject (the sociopath) is unable to experience empathy. It’s as simple as that. They are otherwise normal personalities but with this one important deficit which does eventually dominate their persona. In scholarly “publish or perish” fashion, too much has been written that make this condition seem considerably more complicated but the simple truth is, the inability to experience empathy defines the sociopath. From this single trait arises all the other personality characteristics we associate with sociopaths; lack of remorse, inability to associate actions with consequences, manipulative behavior, incapacity for love and more. They all stem from the single issue, the inability to experience empathy. It is something a sociopath is born with and is like a switch in the brain that never got turned on.
It’s important to understand that the inability to experience empathy is not the same thing as being unempathetic. We all know people who are unempathetic but they are not all sociopaths. They are, for the most part, just jerks, people who are capable of experiencing empathy but choose not to in order to achieve some perceived personal advantage. True sociopaths do not have this choice. They have never experienced empathy and therefore do not have any personal reference for empathy. They are born with this anomaly and must find other ways of relating to people which do not depend on the empathic connection we all take for granted. More on that in another article. Here I will illustrate a surprisingly accurate way to tell who probably is sociopathic and who isn’t.
Scientists postulate that empathy arose in humans to enhance their ability to work together in groups, to their better evolutionary advantage. During our early development, humans were not the largest, strongest or most prevalent species on the planet but our big brains allowed us to grow in more subtle ways. Researchers believe empathy developed to allow humans to cooperate using not only obvious, outward means of communication (speech, directive body language) but also to be able to intuit more unspoken, emotional feelings and thoughts that would help us collaborate and coordinate more effectively in situations critical to our survival such as hunting, maintaining family units, the creation of tribes for protection and work distribution and collective agriculture. In other words, empathy allowed us to bind individuals into larger working entities.
Over millions of years this served us well and we have dominated the planet. However, we and our world have finally changed to the point where empathy is no longer an advantage but has become a disadvantage in the race for evolutionary preeminence, hence the rise of the sociopath.
The conditions which benefitted from empathetic bonding are no longer the driving forces in our society. Our daily survival does not depend on hunting parties, nuclear families, communal living and cooperative agriculture. These all benefitted from the ability to empathize, to be able to put one’s self in another’s place in order to work together more efficiently, but today’s atmosphere of brutal, individual competitiveness does not. People no longer need families, they don’t need tribes. In a world of digital news and data, computer controlled outcomes, exploitation is king. Those who succeed are those who feed on others without conscience. The sociopath who is not burdened with empathy for others has a distinct advantage now. Empathy has become a trait which inhibits survival in a viciously competitive world rather than assists it. Feelings for others weaken an individual in the competitive race to supremacy. Although I am not yet aware of any empirical data to prove this, mankind now seems to be devolving to a state on a global level, where comparatively more people are being born without the disadvantage of empathy.
One last definition before the fun begins. The terms ‘sociopath’ and ‘psychopath’ are not interchangeable. A sociopath does not have a proclivity for violence. A psychopath is a violent sociopath. There is a lot more to be said on this subject but again, it’s not that complicated and further discussion on this topic is not needed here. Sociopaths have complex personalities like the rest of us and most of us are not violent. When a sociopath crosses a line and begins to express themselves through violent acts, they are then known as psychopaths. These are your animal torturers and serial killers, sociopathic personalities with propensities toward violence. So remember, while all psychopaths are sociopathic, not all sociopaths are psychotic (violent).
Now, as you can imagine, due to its complexity, it’s not necessary easy to spot a sociopath (or even a psychopath) in a crowd. Actually, it’s not easy even if you have a close relationship with them. Sociopaths, according to their abilities and talents, can develop brilliant ways to mimic empathy and blend into society, often excelling at many things. High level business and politics are areas that are well-populated with sociopathic personalities.
Sociopaths are consummate actors. They present specific facial expressions and body language for specific reasons only. They are all about efficiency. They don’t leak inner emotional states indiscriminately first, because they are not conflicted or actually feeling complex empathetic contradictions and second, because they have learned to display outwardly only what they require in order to produce certain immediate, desired results. They don’t waste energy on superfluous posing. And many sociopaths become incredibly adept and persuasive at this, as will be illustrated by some of the names below. However, this pathological efficiency can be brought to light by examining a large sample of a subject’s facial expressions, taken in as many different situations as possible, and can be an Achilles heel which signals observers as to their personality type.
I am fascinated with this topic and through my study, came to the realization that today, with access to worldwide internet-based search engines, we have an unintentional database archive of photos of nearly every prominent person on the planet with which to work. As an example, using the Google search engine can provide us with a plethora of images of any single person including many photos taken when they were not aware they were being photographed. This gallery of photographs contains a wealth of data on people’s personalities, if we are able to interpret it.
If you search for a well-known person on Google (we will use Google here as it is the most heavily used search engine), and then go to the “Images” tab, you will be presented with hundreds or even thousands of photos of that individual. Well, here’s the bombshell. It becomes quickly evident that sociopaths have a very limited stable of expressions compared to normal people. In some cases, they might have only one or two expressions that they present in all situations. The rest of us exhibit a more fluid archive of expressions and variations of expressions that we use all the time which is how we signal other empathetic people as to how we are feeling. Sociopaths do not have this ability and so they learn a few basic expressions to present when they believe they will be useful. Essentially, they build a collection of masks. This becomes very obvious now that we are able to compare galleries of photos of known sociopaths and non-sociopaths.
First, let’s look at some just plain folks, people who show a wide range of emotion in their facial expressions. One caveat: we must remember that celebrities’ photos will almost always be professional photos taken when the subject was posing and trying to project something in particular. Still, in spite of this, with enough photos to compare, with most people you can see through this to an underlying, genuine empathy (or not), often expressed in the eyes. With a sociopath, you will see very few different expressions, repeated over and over and essentially no empathetic leakage.
Let’s get a baseline from which to work from a few people who are NOT sociopathic by examining sets of their photos available to the public. Click the links below to go to the Google Search Engine “Images” page for that person and read and consider my analysis:
Oprah Winfrey – almost every shot you will see of Oprah is a studied, studio shot taken by a professional photographer. Her expressions are always purposely smiling and engaging but her expressions are really NOT the same. You can see it in her eyes. There is a wealth of different feelings and emotions under the surface. Oprah is NOT a sociopath.
Barack Obama – as one of the most photographed men in the world, Barack gives us ample material to consider. Even though his PR team has carefully filtered most of the photos we see, they still show a wide pallet of emotion and expression, probably more than any other photographed president to date. Barack is NOT a sociopath.
Michelle Obama – I couldn’t help checking out Michelle who is even more wildly expressive than her husband. This unfiltered projecting of her inner states clearly identifies Michelle as NOT being a sociopath.
Bernie Sanders – if you really want to swing the pendulum away from sociopath, check out Bernie Sanders. He is so unfiltered you could say he basically has no state of rest. He continually telegraphs his fluctuating inner conditions and is NOT a sociopath.
Now for a few baseline examples for the sociopathic personality:
Charles Manson – Manson, the killer cult leader of the 60s has essentially one expression. Except for when he is making faces at the camera, it’s always the same. Since his particular brand of exploitation did not require a wide range of expressions, he simply did not bother to develop or use them. Charles Manson IS a violent sociopath, a psychopath.
Jeffrey Dahmer – Dahmer was a serial killer who ate his victims. You can see essentially, one or two expressions over a series of perhaps a hundred photos. Dahmer IS a psychopath.
Charles Sobhraj – Sobhraj is a serial killer who in the 70s drugged and murdered at least a dozen people. I actually met him during that period and can attest that he had a magnetic personality which drew many people including me to him. I was lucky. Charles is a social con-man and so has a couple of expressions, one which is a small, controlled smile but you will never see any uncontrolled empathetic leakage because there is nothing to leak. He uses his expressions carefully and with purpose. Charles Sobhraj IS a psychopath.
Anders Behring Breivik – Breivik is the Norwegian mass murderer who in 2011 killed or injured more than 70 people with car bombs and guns. Pre-trial medical examiners disagreed as to whether he was a sociopath or a narcissist. Judge for yourself. His two expressions, a tight grimace and a controlled smile say to me he IS a violent sociopath, a psychopath.
Now let’s look at some present-day personalities and see what we think. Below are my opinions of the results:
Vladimir Putin – Vladimir Putin is a consummate actor who has a couple of facial expressions including one small smile which he uses when he feels it can be of benefit. Otherwise, he is devoid of spontaneity or any signs of empathy. He IS a sociopath and probably a psychopath.
Bernie Madoff – Since Bernie’s job was bilking people out of billions of dollars, he developed a broad smile in his very limited stable of facial expressions, which I can imagine suggested to people that he liked them and could be trusted. Otherwise, no expression whatsoever. Bernie Madoff IS a sociopath.
Kim Jong Un – Kim Jong Un has two expressions, one is an angry pout and the other is a big, shit-eating grin he uses to try to convince the North Koreans of how much fun they are having. There is almost nothing in between. Kim Jong Un IS a sociopath and probably a psychopath.
Donald Trump – Now the one you have been waiting for. Trump is a narcissist. Narcissists are frequently mistaken for sociopaths as they do exhibit many of the same personality traits. Since they are so obsessed with themselves, they do not express empathy for others but they actually are capable of feeling empathy. However, it does not serve their self-fixations and so they choose to be unempathetic. Donald Trump’s photos however, while they do show a man who is focused on himself, they also indicate he is able to spontaneously express a wide variety of inner feelings. Donald Trump is NOT a sociopath.
Jared Kushner – Kushner is a high-level advisor to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law. Kushner has essentially two expressions; one, a sort of smirky grin and another which seems to express that he is interested in something he is hearing. That’s it. In my opinion, Jared Kushner IS a sociopath.
Marine Le Pen – Marine Le Pen is running for President of France and has a very good chance of winning. Her ideology is essentially Nazi although she denies this. While Le Pen does have a smile in her repertoire, it is really the only other facial expression you will see other than her grimace. I’m betting that Marine Le Pen IS a sociopath.
Harrison Ford – Ford is an actor who has carefully cultivated the same gritty glower throughout his career. Someone once did a comparison of many of the advertising posters for his movies and found that each and every facial expression was exactly the same. But if you look at the Google results today, you see that while he is not wildly animated, he is certainly capable of expressing a wide range of spontaneous emotion. Harrison Ford is NOT a sociopath.
Mitt Romney – His model-good looks and controlled, Ken-doll mien made him suspect as a politician but his photos do show clearly that he has a wide range of spontaneous expression. Mitt Romney is NOT a sociopath.
Bill O’Reilly – This Fox News channel host is currently reaping the results of a long, powerful, manipulative and chauvinistic career but looking at his photos we see too unstable and fluctuating a range of expression to think he could be sociopathic. Being an angry, pathological liar is something else. Bill is NOT a sociopath.
David Miscavige – Miscavige is the head of the scientology movement. He’s a hard call because there are actually very few different photos of him available as scientology monitors closely what photos become public. Many of what you see in the Google search are repeat photos, just reprocessed. Judging from what we can see, he has a certain canned smile in about 90% of those photos and almost nothing else which leads me to be of the opinion that David Miscavige IS a sociopath.
Hillary Clinton – Although she was accused of almost every atrocity committed in the last few centuries during her run for president (including actually being a sociopath) the wide range of empathy expressed in her photos makes it unequivocally clear that she is NOT a sociopath.
Julian Assange – If you've ever wondered why you can't get a bead on Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, you are not alone. Probably one of the most well-known names in the world at this point, no one agrees whether he is a patriot and hero or a dangerous terrorist and no one can forecast what his next move will be or who he will attempt to unmask and/or defame next. His motives seem to be a constantly moving target and examining the only two expressions he is able to produce through his Google images gallery, it's pretty clear that Julian Assange IS a sociopath.
Billy McFarland – The latest Ponzi schemer who sold millions of dollars-worth of tickets and services for a fictitious music festival in the Bahamas that he never actually produced, and left people wandering around an abandoned beach with no food or shelter. It’s reported that when the festival failed, he seemed bewildered. Sociopaths cannot understand the connection between their actions and their eventual consequences. His photos show one facial expression, a reproducible smile which he uses to disarm people. He a IS a sociopath.
The sociopathic personality is inevitable. Sociopaths and psychopaths are being born every minute around the world. We do not understand exactly why or what circumstances influence these births but we probably will someday. In the meantime, we do have an opportunity to influence the paths sociopaths will take as they grow from children to adults by understanding their differences and including them in society.
Sociopaths are in almost all ways exactly like empathy-enabled beings. The inability to experience empathy, even though in the big picture it may be an evolutionary step forward, is a disability for those individuals in social intercourse. Sociopaths must learn to play on a field which is not tilted in their favor. They must understand their disability and learn to mimic empathy in order to be accepted as normal by their peers. This can either be an exciting challenge or a painful and traumatic experience for a growing child.
When this developmental process is understood by educators and parents of a sociopathic child, assistance can be given to help them integrate into society rather than identify themselves as outsiders. As is the same with everyone, sociopaths can lead productive lives if they are not driven by unconscious, destructive impulses.
Understanding the sociopathic mind is an integral part of the evolutionary leap we are experiencing.