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Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

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DOI: 10.1007/s10551-016-3038-5


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J Bus Ethics
DOI 10.1007/s10551-016-3038-5

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

Benjamin R. Walker1 • Chris J. Jackson1

Received: 25 February 2015 / Accepted: 20 January 2016

Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Abstract While psychopathy research has been growing workplace deviance (Dunlop and Lee 2004). Psychopathy
for decades, a relatively new area of research is corporate is a personality disorder characterized by behavioral,
psychopathy. Corporate psychopaths are simply psy- affective, and interpersonal deficits including shallow
chopaths working in organizational settings. They may be emotions, reduced concern for social norms, and lack of
attracted to the financial, power, and status gains available guilt, remorse, and empathy (Hare 1993). While psy-
in senior positions and can cause considerable damage chopaths are over-represented in the prison population
within these roles from a manipulative interpersonal style (Hare 1996), many psychopaths are non-violent members
to large-scale fraud. Based upon prior studies, we analyze of the community (Stout 2005). Corporate psychopaths are
psychopathy research pertaining to 23 moral emotions subclinical psychopaths within an organizational setting
classified according to functional quality (positive vs. (Boddy 2014), and research has suggested that psychopa-
negative signal) and target (self vs. other). Based upon our thy can even confer an advantage on individuals seeking
review, we suggest that psychopaths are high in moral individual rewards within a corporate setting (Ray and Ray
emotions associated with other-directed negative signals, 1982), which indicates they can rise to the top of organi-
low in self-directed negative signals, and low in other- zations (Boddy 2011d; Chiaburu et al. 2013). While
directed positive signals. We found no empirical articles researchers continue to be interested in corporate psy-
related to self-directed positive signals. This understanding chopathy, a review has yet to be conducted on the influence
of the specific moral emotion deficits of corporate psy- of moral emotions on corporate psychopathy and unethical
chopaths provides greater theoretical understanding and behavior. According to Haidt’s (2003, p. 276) definition,
practical implications of knowing which individuals not to moral emotions ‘‘are linked to the interests or welfare
promote, though more research is needed on moral emo- either of society as a whole or at least of persons other than
tions that are faked for manipulative reasons. the judge or agent.’’ We use the 23 moral emotions iden-
tified by Rudolph et al. (2013) to identify overlapping
Keywords Moral emotions  Emotions  Psychopathy  scholarship related to psychopathy or corporate psy-
Corporate psychopathy  Anger chopathy. Our aim is to help create an understanding of
how moral emotions play a role in shaping and under-
Corporate psychopathy has emerged as a lens to understand standing the unethical behavior of corporate psychopaths.
unethical behavior in organizations and has been impli- This review will provide greater theoretical understanding
cated in, but is different from, bullying (Boddy 2011c), as well as guidance for practitioners in how to manage
dysfunctional leadership (Mathieu et al. 2014), and corporate psychopaths.
Psychopathy is present in approximately one percent of
the population (Coid et al. 2009) and is a disorder char-
& Benjamin R. Walker acterized by disagreeableness, shallow affect, callousness,
a parasitic lifestyle, and lack of conscience (Hare 1993). In
School of Management, UNSW Business School, University The mask of sanity, Cleckley (1941) initially proposed
of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia psychopathy as a classification for individuals who appear

B. R. Walker, C. J. Jackson

normal but conceal a mental disorder. Cleckley examined reciprocal altruism may be beneficial for most, a proportion
psychiatric patients, and the ‘‘mask’’ refers to the tendency of the population may use a ‘‘cheater’’ strategy where they
for psychopaths to initially present as confident, social, and choose not to reciprocate and therefore choose self-interest
well-adjusted compared to other patients, but over time over cooperation (Book and Quinsey 2004; Baughman
their pathology is revealed. He proposed 16 diagnostic et al. 2014; Jonason et al. 2014). A cheater strategy is
criteria related to positive adjustment, behavioral deviance, frequency dependent. If too many individuals within the
and emotional-interpersonal deficits. population use a cheater strategy, then the strategy would
Fully developed psychopaths, according to Cleckley’s not be successful because it is based on others’ anticipation
(1941) definition, are less likely to be successful in cor- that goodwill is the natural state of affairs, and they in turn
porate settings because they are too deviant and impulsive, will receive goodwill. Since a cheater strategy involves
but more recent research suggests that psychopathy is a taking advantage of others, psychopaths can act as ‘‘con
spectrum rather than a typology (Vachon et al. 2013), and artists’’ because of the anticipation of reciprocation (Hare
research using community samples has found individuals 1996). Potentially beneficial features of psychopathy
situated along a psychopathy continuum (Lilienfeld et al. include undue acquisition and maintenance of resources as
2014). Corporate psychopaths exhibit subclinical rather a result of superficial charm, deception, lack of other-
than clinical symptoms with different variations on specific centered emotions, and a manipulative and parasitic life-
dimensions of psychopathy (Dutton 2012). While fully style. Game theory, as demonstrated in the prisoner’s
developed psychopaths may have more severe moral dilemma, has demonstrated that cheating can be an effec-
emotion deficits and relatively little attachments to others, tive strategy if the associate does not cheat (Mealey 1995).
subclinical corporate psychopaths may instead have some From an evolutionary perspective of gaining resources, ‘‘it
moral emotion deficits and some attachments to others. can be good to be bad, adaptively speaking’’ (Jonason et al.
While research has traditionally examined psy- 2013, p. 574). The cheater strategy can be particularly
chopaths in institutional settings (e.g., psychiatric facili- useful for psychopaths within a corporate setting for rising
ties and prisons), a growing body of research has in the corporate hierarchy because it can be associated with
examined psychopaths in community settings including unfairly gaining status and acquiring financial benefits.
businesses (Boddy 2011b; De Vries et al. 2012; Holt and Psychopaths have been described as homo economus
Marques 2012; Stevens et al. 2012; Marshall et al. 2013). (Haidt 2003) because they are focused on gaining rewards
Psychopathy is not necessarily an impediment to corpo- and unconcerned with social consequences including pos-
rate advancement because risk taking, low fear, and lack sible punishment. While others may use aggression as an
of concern for consequences are all associated with emotional reaction, psychopaths are more likely to use
ambition and strong leadership styles (Babiak 1995; aggression proactively and without emotion. Psychopaths
Babiak and Hare 2006; Babiak et al. 2010), such that are higher on instrumental aggression and are less likely to
corporate psychopaths and other individuals with dark inhibit violence in response to distress cues (Blair 2001).
personalities appear to be able to rise to the top of Aggression is simply a means to an end to ensure that
organizations (Boddy 2011b; Chiaburu et al. 2013; psychopaths get what they want (Glenn and Raine 2009).
Hogan et al. 1990; Singh 2008). Corporate psychopaths Corporate psychopaths similarly prioritize self-interest,
in leadership positions therefore have the potential to which can include destructive consequences such as dis-
adversely influence the lives of many individuals (Hogan ruptions to group functioning (Baysinger et al. 2014).
et al. 1994; Hogan and Kaiser 2005). Moreover, corpo- Previous research and philosophy have emphasized that
rate psychopaths may also engage in fraud and even morals arise through reasoning and reflection (Kohlberg
resort to violence to prevent fraud discovery, which again 1969; Piaget 1965). More recently, emotion has been
can be very damaging to individuals and the organization identified as an increasingly important component. Since
(Perri 2011a, b, 2013; Perri and Brody 2011). These the 1980s ‘‘affective revolution’’ (Tomkins 1981), some
examples highlight the importance of learning about researchers have suggested that emotion is the primary
psychopathy in the workplace. component in determining morals (Haidt 2001; Wilson
Psychopathy is a trait that has evolved in the gene pool, 1993). Moral judgments may be made intuitively, and
rather than been selected out of the gene pool, which reasoning and reflection may be simply a means to justify
suggests that it confers some survival and reproductive the intuitively made judgment. Corporate psychopaths will
advantages (Krupp et al. 2013). Humans are a social spe- generally lack these moral emotions because of their self-
cies concerned with reputation, so reciprocal altruism is interested concern. Intelligent psychopaths may be able to
beneficial for most of the population because cooperation articulate what they believe to be the socially appropriate
can increase survival in the long term even if it reduces responses to moral issues, and may be able to fake such
opportunities in the short term (Trivers 1971). While responses but are less likely to feel these emotions.

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

This review integrates research from corporate psy- We found few articles directly related to corporate
chopathy, moral emotions, and ethics in organizations. psychopathy but a sufficient number of articles related to
Rudolph et al. (2013) identified 23 moral emotions using the moral emotions and psychopathy generally. Some of the
‘‘affective lexicon’’ (Clore et al. 1987) and research on moral articles were part of Dark Triad research, which examines
emotions by Haidt (2003) and Weiner (2006). Rudolph and psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism together
Tscharaktschiew (2014) created a 2 9 2 typology that (Paulhus and Williams 2002; O’Boyle et al. 2012; Jonason
includes functional quality (positive vs. negative signal) and et al. 2012). This review attempts to extend the broader
target of the moral emotion (self vs. other). For clarity, we literate on psychopathy to corporate psychopathy and so
use the terms self or self-directed instead of actor and other focuses on psychopathy alone if in the context of Dark
or other-directed instead of observer. Signal refers to whe- Triad research.
ther the moral emotions is experienced internally by the self We clustered some of the 23 moral emotions into groups
or directed toward another person. Research into moral rather than discussed them independently to simplify the
emotions continues, and Rudolph and colleagues note that review and because some moral emotions were utilized in
the list of 23 moral emotions is not intended to be definitive, few psychopathy studies (see Table 1). Rudolph and
but rather a contemporary collection of moral emotions that Tscharaktschiew (2014) note that some emotions are
has been utilized by one or more researchers. While we qualitatively similar but gradations in intensity or expres-
include positive and negative valences (regarding signals) in sed in different contexts and so we clustered the moral
this review, we note that this is a simplification and that emotions based on general similarity. Guilt, regret,
emotions are multifarious with different valences in differ- remorse, and shame are similar moral emotions about
ent situations (Solomon 2003). We also note that psy- feeling bad about an action, whereas embarrassment con-
chopaths sometimes use a cheater strategy (Book and cerns feeling self-conscious about an action. Anger, rage,
Quinsey 2004) and moral emotions can potentially be faked and indignation are approach moral emotions about getting
to gain advantage. back at someone, whereas contempt, disgust, resentment,
and scorn are disparaging moral emotions. Envy and jeal-
ousy concern feelings of inadequacy because of another
Literature Search person’s perceived better situation. Admiration, awe, ele-
vation, and respect are positive feelings toward another
We conducted a series of literature reviews using the Web person because of noteworthy attributes, whereas pity and
of Science database to identify literature relevant to each of sympathy are associated with another person’s misfortune.
the 23 moral emotions identified by Rudolph et al. (2013). Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation following a positive
For each moral emotion, we conducted three topic sear- action of another person. Schadenfreude is delighting in
ches: the relevant moral emotion and ‘‘psychopath,’’ the the misfortune of another person, and pride is positive
relevant moral emotion and ‘‘psychopathy,’’ and the rele- enhancement of the self. While we cluster these emotions
vant moral emotion and ‘‘psychopathic.’’ We similarly for simplicity in the current study, we note the importance
included different endings to the moral emotion words, of studying discrete emotions and that each emotion con-
such as ‘‘angry’’ and ‘‘anger.’’ We did not use the asterisk tains particular appraisal process (Solomon 1993; Gooty
wildcard search ‘‘psychopath*’’ where any article that et al. 2009). We now discuss clusters of the 23 moral
included a word starting with ‘‘psychopath’’ is displayed, emotions grouped within Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew’s
because this incorporates ‘‘psychopathology’’ and would (2014) 2 9 2 typology of functional quality (positive vs.
provide an extensive number of irrelevant results. negative signal) and target (self vs. other) and discuss their

Table 1 Rudolph and

Functional quality
Tscharaktschiew’s (2014) 23
moral emotions clustered and Negative signal Positive signal
classified by functional quality
(positive vs. negative) and Self Guilt, regret, remorse, shame Pride
target of the moral emotion (self Embarrassment
vs. other)
Other Anger, rage, indignation Admiration, awe, elevation, respect
Contempt, disgust, resentment, scorn Pity, sympathy
Envy, jealousy Gratitude
Table adapted from Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew (2014) with clustering of moral emotions

B. R. Walker, C. J. Jackson

relation to psychopathy and corporate psychopathy. See using him (Cangemi and Pfohl 2009). An examination of
Table 2 for a summary of the results. 11 case studies of severely psychopathic offenders found
most lacked remorse but overall were a heterogeneous
group that experienced some psychological pain (Gull-
Self-directed Negative Signals haugen and Nøttestad 2011). A study found psychopathic
alcoholics lacked remorse (Walsh 1999). A review sug-
Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Shame gested less remorse in psychopaths is associated with
higher instrumental aggression (Glenn and Raine 2009).
Guilt is a ‘‘self-conscious’’ moral emotion that is inter- Another author notes that while psychopaths have low
personal and experienced subsequent to a transgression remorse, they still have moral responsibility (Glannon
(Haidt 2003). One of Cleckley’s (1941) 16 diagnostic cri- 2008).
terions is ‘‘lack of remorse or shame’’ and a key part of the Psychopaths appear to be low on shame because of their
affective component of Hare’s (1991) Psychopathy low concern for social conventions. A study of adolescent
Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is lack of remorse or guilt. boys in juvenile facilities founder higher scores in an
Reduced guilt is one of the features of psychopathy adolescent measure of psychopathy predicted lower shame
because psychopaths are unconcerned with the conse- (Holmqvist 2008). A study found differences in shame
quences of their actions (Thompson et al. 2014), so we when dividing psychopaths into primary and secondary
expect research to show reduced guilt in corporate psychopaths (Blackburn 1975, 1996): Primary psychopaths
psychopaths. had higher social rank than secondary psychopaths and
Two review articles examined psychopathy and corpo- were lower in shame and anger (Morrison and Gilbert
rate crime and suggested reduced guilt is a key feature of 2001). Another study found both primary and secondary
corporate crime (Pardue et al. 2013a, b). Many other psychopathy included externalizing shame coping and a
studies examined guilt in psychopaths. A study directly negative relationship with adaptive shame coping, but
examined guilt and psychopathy in offenders and found primary psychopathy had a negative relationship with
psychopaths attributed less blame to themselves and had internalizing shame coping, and secondary psychopathy
reduced guilt (Johnsson et al. 2014). Another study found had a positive relationship with internalizing shame coping
psychopaths and non-psychopathic controls could make (Campbell and Elison 2005). A study found higher psy-
effective attributions of happiness, sadness, and embar- chopathy-related personality traits related to higher
rassment, but that psychopaths had difficulty attributing unconscious and externalized shame management strate-
guilt. The authors infer that psychopaths experience hap- gies (Nystrom and Mikkelsen 2013). A review article
piness, sadness, and embarrassment but less guilt (Blair agreed with the Millon and Davis (1998) suggestion that a
et al. 1995). One review also associates reduced guilt in psychopath’s explosive anger could be triggered by feel-
psychopathy with instrumental aggression and suggests ings of shame and humiliation, and argued for a re-exam-
evolutionary reasons for psychopathy as an alternative life ination of Hare’s (1993) link between psychopathic
strategy that benefits themselves (Glenn and Raine 2009), insensitivity and humiliation. Another study of risky sexual
while another suggests low guilt is a key feature of anti- behavior and psychopathy traits in college women found
social behavior (Baumeister and Lobbestael 2011). no association with shame (Fulton et al. 2014). Overall, we
Regret pertains to intrapersonal faults as opposed to expected to find psychopaths to be lower in shame, but
guilt which relates to harm to others (Rudolph and instead we found mixed results, with differences between
Tscharaktschiew 2014). Reduced regret also appears to be primary and secondary psychopathy, and one study finding
a key feature of psychopathy. Using a simulated gambling no relation. Primary psychopathy may be more related to
task, psychopathic incarcerated offenders displayed less corporate psychopathy because primary psychopaths are
regret than control participants (Hughes et al. 2014). more in control of themselves (less impulsive) and more
Lack of remorse is a key feature of psychopathy (Hare social or at least more adept at disguising their antisocial
1994), so we would expect corporate psychopaths to be low tendencies (Levenson 1992, 1993). We note that
on the ‘‘self-conscious’’ moral emotion of remorse. One researchers differ in their definitions of primary and sec-
review article notes the therapeutic challenge for rehabili- ondary psychopathy and etiological evidence is still limited
tating individuals who lack remorse, because it reduces (Waldman and Rhee 2006). Further research is necessary to
desire to change (Thompson et al. 2014). A case study examine the role of shame and corporate psychopathy.
example of a corporate psychopath with low remorse is a One issue that might confuse results reported in studies
director of an international non-profit organization who is faking. In a case study, a corporate psychopath alternated
hired a professor to secure a grant, but once the grant was between bullying behavior and begging for forgiveness
established fired the professor with no sense of remorse for (Babiak 1995); begging for forgiveness is normally elicited

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

Table 2 Summary of results and literature relating to Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew’s (2014) 23 moral emotions
Moral emotion Key finding Literature

Self-directed negative signals

Guilt Psychopaths are low on guilt Pardue et al. (2013a, b), Johnsson et al. (2014), Blair et al.
(1995), Glenn and Raine (2009), Baumeister and
Lobbestael (2011)
Regret Psychopaths are low in regret Hughes et al. (2014)
Remorse Psychopaths are low on remorse Thompson et al. (2014), Cangemi and Pfohl (2009),
Gullhaugen and Nøttestad (2011), Walsh (1999), Glenn and
Raine (2009), Glannon (2008)
Shame Psychopaths are generally low on shame, but some mixed Holmqvist (2008), Morrison and Gilbert (2001), Campbell
results. Secondary psychopaths are higher in shame than and Elison (2005), Nystrom and Mikkelsen (2013), Millon
primary psychopaths. Another study found no relation with and Davis (1998), Fulton et al. (2014)
Embarrassment Psychopaths are low on embarrassment Angrilli et al. (2013), Blair et al. (1995)
Self-directed positive signals
Pride No empirical literature on psychopathy and pride. A review Theoretical article: Walker and Bright (2009)
article suggested psychopaths and other may use aggression
to restore pride
Other-directed negative signals
Anger Psychopaths are high in anger Many studies including: Decuyper et al. (2009), Morrison
and Gilbert (2001), Blackburn and Leeevans (1985),
Bowen et al. (2014), Reidy et al. (2008, 2013a, b),
LeBreton et al. (2013), Angrilli et al. (2013)
Rage A case study found a corporate psychopath exhibited rage. Babiak (1995)
Theoretical articles suggest psychopaths may be low on Theoretical articles: Weinshenker and Siegel (2002),
rage and that their aggression is predatory rather than Declercq and Audenaert (2011), Dutton et al. (2013)
arising from affective rage
Indignation No literature on psychopaths and felt indignation. One study Book and Quinsey (2004)
found psychopaths use displays of indignation as a cheater
life strategy to gain resources
Disgust No literature on psychopathy and socio-moral disgust, but Many studies including: Bowen et al. (2014), Seidel et al.
many studies show psychopaths are low on general disgust (2013), Marsh and Cardinale (2012, 2014)
Resentment Psychopaths are high in resentment Blackburn and Fawcett (1999), Brody and Rosenfeld (2002)
Envy Psychopaths are high in schadenfreude which is correlated James et al. (2014), Porter et al. (2014)
with envy
Jealousy Two studies found non-significant results for psychopathy Costa and Babcock (2008), Meehan et al. (2001)
and jealousy
Rage No empirical literature on psychopathy and rage. Theoretical Theoretical articles: Weinshenker and Siegel (2002),
articles suggest psychopaths may be low on rage and that Declercq and Audenaert (2011), Dutton et al. (2013)
their aggression is predatory rather than arising from
affective rage
Schadenfreude Psychopaths are high in schadenfreude James et al. (2014), Porter et al. (2014)
Other-directed positive signals
Pity One study found organizational constraints increased as Boddy (2011a)
corporate psychopathy increased, which may be due to low
pity for employees in corporate psychopaths
Sympathy Large literature on psychopathy and empathy, but no studies Marsh and Ambady (2007)
directly examining psychopathy and sympathy. One study
found fear and sadness priming predicted greater sympathy
and interpreted the results as relevant because psychopaths
have low fear
Admiration No literature on psychopathy and admiration for others. Back et al. (2013), Foulkes et al. (2014), Kansi (2003)
Literature shows psychopaths enjoy admiration from others

B. R. Walker, C. J. Jackson

by guilt, but in this case, the corporate psychopath may be faked. A meta-analysis found psychopathy was positively
using this behavior to reduce potential consequences. In associated with scores on the angry–hostility dimension
another case study, a corporate psychopath lied and (Decuyper et al. 2009). Classifying psychopaths into pri-
manipulated others but then would apologize, which is an mary psychopaths, with better social competence, and
action tendency of regret, because the apology would aid in secondary psychopaths, who are moody and have lower
manipulating others (Cangemi and Pfohl 2009). In these self-esteem (Blackburn 1975), a study found primary psy-
cases, we think psychopaths are likely to be faking moral chopaths to be higher in social rank and lower in anger than
emotions with the aim of escaping detection or as a way of secondary psychopaths (Morrison and Gilbert 2001). A
engaging in further manipulation. study found psychopaths were higher in anger than controls
and more likely to interpret a provocation as an attack;
Embarrassment secondary psychopaths experienced higher anger arousal
than primary psychopaths (Blackburn and Leeevans 1985).
Embarrassment is a ‘‘self-conscious emotion’’ and serves Offenders show reduced recognition of anger at low
an appeasement function after transgressing a social norm levels, but increased recognition of anger in others at high
(Keltner and Haidt 1999). We predict that corporate psy- levels and offense severity predicted the differences
chopaths would be low on embarrassment because they (Bowen et al. 2014). Another study found that interpersonal
neither care about social norms nor appeasement. A non- and affective psychopathy had a negative relationship with
psychopath would be embarrassed to give a presentation to anger activation after interpersonal conflict; lifestyle and
senior people in their organization without preparation, but antisocial psychopathy had a positive relationship with
a psychopath would feel no embarrassment about a poor- anger activation related to interpersonal conflict (Reidy
quality presentation to senior managers. Since a psy- et al. 2013b). Lifestyle and antisocial psychopathy had a
chopath is concerned with social status and projection of heightened experience to anger in a lexical decision task
success, we also think a psychopath is likely to aim to (Reidy et al. 2008). A study found anger was associated
avoid presenting a poor-quality presentation to senior with psychopathy and this predicted hostile attitudes
managers. toward women in single men (LeBreton et al. 2013). A case
A case study of a serial killer found low recognition of study of a serial killer found low recognition of anger
embarrassment (Angrilli et al. 2013). Another study of (Angrilli et al. 2013).
psychopathic and non-psychopathic incarcerated controls We also examined rage, which is similar to anger, but
did not find a difference in embarrassment attributions with higher intensity (Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew 2014).
using vignettes, but this study included a low sample size In a case study, a corporate psychopath exhibited rage
of 25 participants in each condition (Blair et al. 1995). As when his secretary displayed insufficient respect for him
few studies have been conducted on psychopathy and and demanded to his superior that she be fired (Babiak
embarrassment and none on corporate psychopathy, we 1995). A theoretical article suggests psychopaths would be
think the link between low embarrassment and psychopa- low on rage and that their aggression is more likely to be a
thy requires further research. predatory attack than affective defense (Weinshenker and
Siegel 2002). A theoretical article on mass murderers
suggested they were cold-blooded predatory murders rather
Other-Directed Negative Signals than acting in rage (Declercq and Audenaert 2011). A
theoretical article on mass shooters suggested paranoid
Anger, Rage, and Indignation delusions as a cause rather than rage (Dutton et al. 2013).
These articles provide an interesting perspective that the
We predict that corporate psychopaths are likely to be high aggression of psychopaths may be predatory as opposed to
in anger, indignation, and rage. Anger (and the related influenced by rage.
moral emotions of indignation and rage) is unique because No studies examined corporate psychopathy and felt
the signal is negative, but it facilitates an approach rather indignation. One study found support for psychopaths using
than avoidance action tendency (Marsh et al. 2005). Psy- a cheater evolutionary strategy with displays of indignation,
chopaths may also fake anger to serve a purpose. We note which is faking indignation to provide a perception they have
that real versus fake anger is difficult to detect except that been wronged (Book and Quinsey 2004). As indignation is
there may be no emotional escalation or decline in a person similar to rage and anger but with lower intensity, this study
who is faking anger. may support the notion that psychopaths also fake rage and
A case study example of anger is a corporate psychopath anger to achieve their objectives.
who engaged in verbal tirades during staff meetings This research provides evidence of a relationship
(Babiak 1995), though these incidents may have been between psychopathy, anger, rage, and indignation. The

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

relationships are not clear though, because psychopaths are psychopathy and envy, because of its relation with
also adept at manipulation and use emotional strategies to schadenfreude. Another person’s misfortune will elicit
gain advantage over others. Further research is needed on either sympathy or schadenfreude depending on the person’s
the specific relations between simulated and non-simulated empathy (Heider 1958), and the emotional response is more
anger, rage, and indignation in corporate psychopaths. likely to be schadenfreude because of psychopaths’ lack of
empathy. One article found envy was correlated with
Contempt, Disgust, Resentment, and Scorn schadenfreude, which in turn was associated with psy-
chopathy (James et al. 2014). Another article found a relation
We have clustered contempt, disgust, resentment, and between schadenfreude and psychopathy and mentioned
scorn because they all relate to a disparaging, negative envy as a related construct (Porter et al. 2014). These two
signal toward another person. We predict that corporate articles suggest envy is experienced by psychopaths, and we
psychopaths would be higher than non-psychopaths on would expect these results to extend to the workplace.
these indicators. The relationship may be partly related to Few studies exist on psychopathy and jealousy, and the few
psychopathy’s overlap with narcissism in the Dark Triad, studies we identified did not find significant associations. One
and narcissists’ sense of entitlement. No literature was study that incorporated psychopathy did not find differences in
found regarding psychopathy, contempt, and scorn. jealousy related to their wives’ behavior between intimate
Psychopaths were found to be higher in resentment than partner abusers, distressed/non-violent men, and satisfied/non-
individuals with a mental illness or healthy controls in the violent men (Costa and Babcock 2008). Another marital
validation measure of the Antisocial Personality Ques- interaction study examined several constructs including psy-
tionnaire, which includes resentment as one of its factors chopathy and jealousy but found no association between
(Blackburn and Fawcett 1999). A study of criminal men on psychopathy and jealousy (Meehan et al. 2001). Another study
probation found psychopathy related to resentment (Brody examined male batterers with and without psychopathy, but
and Rosenfeld 2002). This limited evidence suggests that did not find a difference and suggests the difference may be
psychopaths are high in resentment. due to other reasons such as jealousy, which was not examined
No evidence in the literature was found concerning psy- (Echeburua and Fernandez-Montalvo 2007).
chopathy and disgust in a socio-moral sense, such as when We found limited literature on psychopathy, envy, and
observing degrading behavior (e.g., fawning and betrayal) of jealousy with mixed results. A possible reason for the lack
others (Rozin et al. 1999). However, several studies report of associations between psychopathy and matrimonial
that psychopaths have low general disgust, which may be jealousy may be their general indifference toward others
indicative of a lack of concern for transgressions. In a sample including their partner and their partner’s behavior. Further
of young offenders, high scores on the Youth Psychopathy research needs to be conducted to determine relations
Inventory (Andershed et al. 2001) were inversely correlated between jealousy and corporate psychopathy. Potentially,
with recognition of low intensity disgust faces in a facial studies need to be conducted that include moderating
emotion recognition task (Bowen et al. 2014). A study of variables. One potential moderator is threat to existing
violent offenders with psychopathy found reduced emotion resources, and another potential moderator is threat to
recognition for bodily disgust (Seidel et al. 2013). In con- future resources. We expect threat to activate jealousy in
trast, one study found no relation between psychopathy and psychopaths, whereas lack of threat would not be associ-
bodily disgust (e.g., Marsh and Cardinale 2012, 2014). ated with jealousy.
Further research is necessary regarding corporate psy-
chopathy, contempt, and scorn. Although limited evidence Schadenfreude
suggests that psychopaths are high in resentment and have
low levels of disgust, we again urge further research. Schadenfreude is an ‘‘other condemning’’ malicious plea-
sure regarding the misfortune of others, which includes the
Envy and Jealousy downfall of people with undeserved status (Haidt 2003).
Schadenfreude is more likely to be shared when the target is
Envy can emerge because of the positive outcomes of another a CEO (high status) than an employee (low status) and when
person (Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew 2014). We thought the misconduct severity is low (Dasborough and Harvey
that corporate psychopaths may feel envy toward, for exam- 2016). We expect corporate psychopaths would experience
ple, a person with a high status job. Alternatively, psy- schadenfreude because it is a self-interested emotion.
chopaths may actively engage in behavior to gain the job, but Schadenfreude may be less likely to be faked because there
not necessarily spend time feeling envious regarding the job. may be less advantage to faking than other emotions.
We found no articles that directly examine envy and Two articles on the Dark Triad of psychopathy, Machi-
corporate psychopathy, but two articles indirectly examine avellianism, and narcissism examined schadenfreude. A

B. R. Walker, C. J. Jackson

survey of the Dark Triad in the general population found by others is valued by psychopaths because of psychopa-
participants who were higher in psychopathy self-reported thy’s relation to narcissism.
higher delight in the misfortune of others (James et al. 2014).
Another study used vignettes of an unfortunate event and Pity and Sympathy
found participants in the general population who were higher
in psychopathy had higher self-reported schadenfreude and Pity is an ‘‘other-suffering’’ moral emotion. We do not
higher smile intensity at the unfortunate event (Porter et al. expect that corporate psychopaths would experience pity or
2014). These articles on psychopathy support the relation- any of the ‘‘other-suffering’’ emotions because it is related
ship between psychopathy and schadenfreude, and we would to lack of empathy, which is a key feature of psychopathy
expect the relationship to extend to corporate psychopathy. (Blair 2005). For example, we would not expect a corpo-
rate psychopath to have pity on a poor performer in a
workplace and provide them feedback for assistance rather
Self-directed Positive Signals than terminating them. One study found that as corporate
psychopathy increases, organizational constraints increase
Pride (Boddy 2011a); examples of organizational constraints
include lack of training, incorrect instructions, and poor
Pride provides positive self-evaluation with the self-di- internal communications. While not tested, the corporate
rected signal ‘‘I can go on like that’’ (Rudolph and psychopath’s reduced pity for employees may be impli-
Tscharaktschiew 2014). We did not find any empirical cated in these organizational constraints.
research related to psychopathy and pride. A review article Lack of empathy is a key feature of psychopathy, so we
examining self-esteem and violence, which included an would expect corporate psychopaths to be low in the ‘‘other-
examination of psychopathy, suggested violence may be a suffering’’ moral emotion of sympathy. Cleckley (1941)
‘‘macho’’ response to threat that restores pride (Walker and alluded to lack of empathy in his diagnostic criterions of
Bright 2009). Corporate psychopaths may have this form of ‘‘pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love’’ and
pride that uses aggression against threats. ‘‘unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations’’. Hare
(1991) specifically referred to empathy in the PCL-R in the
affective component regarding ‘‘callousness/lack of empa-
Other-Directed Positive Signals thy‘‘. We found many studies include lack of empathy but
almost no studies examine sympathy. One study did not
Admiration, Awe, Elevation, and Respect examine psychopathy but related the results to psychopathy
because impaired ability to feel and recognize fear is related
Admiration is an ‘‘other-praising’’ emotion, and we predict to reduced sympathy and has behavioral consequences.
corporate psychopaths are unlikely to admire others Study 1 found participants who viewed fear and sadness
because it is contrary to their self-interest. We found no expressions exhibited greater sympathy and willingness to
literature related to admiration as a moral emotion in assist; Study 2 found participants who were fear primed
psychopathic individuals themselves. We also found no exhibited greater sympathy when reading a vignette of mild
literature related to awe, elevation, and respect. Three distress (Marsh and Ambady 2007).
articles found an association between psychopathy and the The literature on sympathy, empathy, pity, and compas-
social reward of admiration of self by others (Foulkes et al. sion is convoluted, with the words sometimes used as syn-
2014; Back et al. 2013; Kansi 2003), possibly because of onyms and sometimes used with very different definitions
the relationship between psychopathy and narcissism (Haidt 2003). If empathy is defined as a congruent emotional
(Paulhus and Williams 2002). This literature suggests response arising from another individual’s emotional state
corporate psychopaths may value admiration of self by (Eisenberg et al. 1991; Haidt 2003), then empathy does not
others to achieve favorable social comparisons. The desire constitute a discrete emotion, but rather a response to feel
to achieve favorable social comparisons is associated with any emotion the other is feeling, including joy and boredom.
performance goal orientation, which concerns the belief Nevertheless, psychopaths have a fundamental difficulty in
that positive feedback from others drives performance perspective taking, so corporate psychopaths are likely to be
improvement (VandeWalle 2003) and may be associated low on this moral emotion using any definition.
with social anxiety (Jackson 2009; White and Depue 1999).
Further research is needed regarding admiration and cor- Gratitude
porate psychopathy to determine whether corporate psy-
chopaths lack admiration for others, but overall this A feature of psychopathy is a parasitic lifestyle in which
research appears to support the view that admiration of self psychopaths take without reciprocity (Jones 2014).

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

Gratitude is an ‘‘other-praising’’ moral emotion that has the We found broad support for deficits in most of the moral
function of promoting prosocial action toward the bene- emotions. Psychopaths are intrinsically self-interested so
factor as well as civic behavior (Haidt 2003). We expect are unlikely to feel emotions in support of others. They
that corporate psychopaths are unlikely to experience appear to be comfortable directing negative emotions
gratitude because their behavior suggests self-interested toward others but are less likely to direct positive emotions
rather than social behavior even when they are the bene- toward others or experience negative emotions directed
ficiary of prosocial action. We suspect however that psy- toward themselves. Corporate psychopaths are subclinical
chopaths might fake gratitude as a result of a desire to but likely have deficits in these same moral emotions.
charm others. No literature was identified for psychopathy Moral emotion deficits potentially confer advantages on
and gratitude. Future research will need to determine if the individuals to reap themselves business rewards such as
cheater behavior of corporate psychopaths is indicative of a money and status. However, these same rewards are unli-
lack of gratitude. kely to confer an advantage on the organization or the
broader society, and of course many corporate psychopaths
are caught and punished for their behavior. Their short-
Discussion term self-interested focus sometimes, but not always, has
long term negative consequences.
In this review article, we examined corporate psychopathy in We raise an interesting issue regarding corporate psy-
relation to the 23 moral emotions identified by Rudolph chopaths that is relatively unexplored in the literature. One
et al. (2013). We utilized Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew’s study found that psychopaths expressed indignation as a
(2014) 2 9 2 typology and organized the moral emotions in mechanism to manipulate people (Book and Quinsey
terms of functional quality (positive vs. negative signal) and 2004). In other words, psychopaths use a cheater strategy
target (self vs. other). We clustered the moral emotions into to maximize individual gain and this may include manip-
groups because limited literature on psychopathy was found ulating others’ emotions. We suggest that the difference
with some of these emotions. The purpose of our review was between felt emotions and expressed emotions could be
to provide theoretical detail on the specific deficits of moral researched more clearly in corporate psychopaths who may
emotions and to provide practitioners with details on the use emotional displays for gain. In the 2 9 2 typology of
likely moral emotion deficits in corporate psychopaths. Rudolph and Tscharaktschiew (2014), some negative
In general, we found very few corporate psychopathy emotions directed toward others (anger, rage, indignation,
articles related to moral emotions, but we think articles on contempt, disgust, resentment, and scorn) may have the
general psychopathy are nevertheless relevant. Corporate effect of changing a person’s behavior because these
psychopaths are adept at gaining an advantage in organi- expressed emotions signal to the other person that they
zations (Ray and Ray 1982) and can manipulate their way have behaved inappropriately. When a psychopath simu-
to the top of the organizational hierarchy (Chiaburu et al. lates these emotions, the other person may believe they
2013). This review therefore provides theoretical insight have behaved inappropriately, even if their behavior was
into the specific moral emotion deficits of corporate psy- suitable, and change their behavior in the direction suited
chopaths that may be associated with this success. This by the corporate psychopath. Delineating when these
theoretical development can also be useful for practitioners emotions are expressed or felt, and when they are faked, is
who struggle with corporate psychopaths. Corporate psy- necessary for future research.
chopaths can be initially charming, so organizations may Psychopaths appear unlikely to experience negative
be unclear they are hiring a corporate psychopath until emotions directed toward themselves (guilt, regret,
considerable damage has been inflicted (Babiak and Hare remorse, shame, and embarrassment). The limited research
2006) both at the individual level (e.g., poor personnel in this area suggests that psychopaths do not feel these self-
management) and at the corporate level (e.g., directionless directed negative emotions, because psychopaths are gen-
leadership or misuse of resources; Boddy et al. 2015), erally unconcerned what other people think of them, apart
because even if they are able to attain leadership positions, from individuals who have access to desired resources and
their leadership abilities are usually associated with poor capabilities. We note, though, that corporate psychopaths
outcomes (Mathieu et al. 2015; Jackson and Walker 2015). may also express but not feel these emotions to gain
While we expect corporate psychopaths to be similar to advantage. For example, when caught stealing company
general psychopaths in how they are influenced by moral funds, an expression of remorse may encourage the com-
emotions, research may identify differences given that pany to deal with the matter internally rather than seek
corporate psychopaths may be smarter, have more social police intervention. We found no empirical evidence of
skills, and be less prone to aggression than general self-directed positive signals, although a theoretical article
psychopaths. suggested that psychopaths may have some pride and that a

B. R. Walker, C. J. Jackson

violent response to threat may be an attempt to restore the number of psychopaths who enter the organization and
pride. who are promoted within the organization.
As expected, our literature review found minimal evi-
dence that corporate psychopaths feel any other-directed Practical Implications
positive signals (admiration, awe, elevation, respect, pity,
sympathy, gratitude). Psychopaths are concerned with One of the key findings of our review is that psychopaths
themselves and unconcerned with the attributes of others. tend to be high in other-directed negative emotions and low
A corporate psychopath may use these emotional tools for in self-directed negative emotions. In other words, they
flattery, which is one-way corporate psychopaths may rise may be frequently giving signals to others to change their
the corporate ladder. While no evidence discerns that behavior but rarely be changing their own behavior. If a
psychopaths feel admiration, we found that psychopaths consistent pattern of this behavior is observed in an orga-
value admiration from others, which is possibly related to nization, then organizations should be wary of promoting
the association between psychopathy and narcissism. In this person to upper levels of management. The problem of
terms of other-directed negative signals, we found an promoting this person to senior management is that cor-
association between psychopathy and schadenfreude, porate psychopaths potentially create an extreme work-
which is similar to the understanding of psychopaths as place environment (Boddy et al. 2015). This can include
bullies and delighting in the misfortune of others, whether not only the individual-level problems such as abusive
caused by them or not. We found mixed results for jealousy supervision but also the corporate-level problems such as
and envy. Psychopaths may care about blocked resources, large-scale fraud that leads to corporate collapse. Unfor-
but in terms of a partner, they may be unconcerned about tunately, moral emotion deficits may be difficult to detect
the behavior of their partner. Faked schadenfreude, jeal- in initial employment interviews, though measures have
ousy, and envy may be less useful to psychopaths. been devised to assess corporate psychopathy (Mathieu
Our key findings of the specific moral emotion deficits et al. 2013) and toxic leadership behavior (Hogan and
provide further understanding of the functioning of cor- Kaiser 2005). Staff surveys that include feedback from
porate psychopaths. Psychopaths differ from individuals colleagues and subordinates can assist in determining who
with Anti-Social Personality Disorder, although the litera- to promote. Organizations should investigate before pro-
ture often conflates the two, because individuals with Anti- moting someone for whom there is a large disparity
Social Personality Disorder have some moral emotions and between a person’s self-ratings and colleague and subor-
make some basic moral decisions. In contrast, psychopaths’ dinate ratings of that person (Furnham 2015).
lack of moral emotions indicates they are incapable of
moral decision-making. They engage in heinous crimes Methodological Comment
simply because no behavior is inherently right or wrong.
Psychopaths may be aware of social norms of right and These studies include the strength of using several
wrong, but they do not care (Cima et al. 2010), because the methodologies. These include self-report questionnaires,
understanding does not stem from moral emotions. Any vignette studies, an examination of facial expressions, and
behavior is simply a means to gaining their desires. For attributions of these emotions in others. Nevertheless, these
example, they are unconcerned if their corporate fraud studies also contain some methodological limitations.
steals many client’s life savings and renders them destitute. Many of the studies contain small samples sizes when
They are unconcerned if their hostile interpersonal behav- comparing psychopaths and non-psychopaths. Other stud-
ior renders people unable to continue work in that ies are case studies that provide detailed analysis, but
environment. future studies need larger sample sizes to determine the
Our findings also show how psychopaths differ from generalizability of the findings. Almost no studies use
people with other mental disorders. In contrast to people longitudinal studies or a causal chain of experiments.
who are psychotic, psychopaths have rational decision- Future studies could use several methodologies. To deter-
making processes. Psychotic individuals hear voices, have mine causality between corporate psychopathy and moral
hallucinations, and perceive an altered sense of reality, emotions, studies need either longitudinal experimental
whereas psychopaths understand reality but have deficits in studies (Maxwell and Cole 2007) or a sequence of related
moral emotions that in turn effect their decision-making experiments (Spencer et al. 2005). A possible methodology
and behavior. Regarding the individuals themselves, it is to include in corporate psychopathy studies is 360° feed-
difficult to know how to treat psychopaths because most back, which is multi-source feedback from supervisors,
therapeutic interventions have failed (Reidy et al. 2013a). colleagues, and subordinates. As mentioned already, we
From an organizational perspective, prevention is better think a major issue in the study of psychopathy and moral
than cure. In other words, organizations need to minimize emotions concerns faking, and we urge the design of new

Moral Emotions and Corporate Psychopathy: A Review

methodologies to investigate when and how corporate Babiak, P. (1995). When psychopaths go to work: A case study of an
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Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths
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Law, 28, 174–193.
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moral emotions and corporate psychopathy. Using Rudolph Rauthmann, J. F., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2013). Narcissistic
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chopaths and moral emotions, and the review may assist on group processes and group effectiveness. Journal of Applied
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