Researchers studying people’s musical preferences have found that psychopaths prefer listening to rap music and, contrary to the movie trope epitomised by Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, they are no fonder of classical music than anyone else.
In a study of 200 people who listened to 260 songs, those with the highest psychopath scores were among the greatest fans of the Blackstreet number one hit No Diggity, with Eminem’s Lose Yourself rated highly too.
The New York University team behind the work stress that the results are preliminary and unpublished, but the scientists are sufficiently intrigued to launch a major study in which thousands of people across the psychopathy spectrum will be quizzed on their musical tastes.
Tests on a second group of volunteers suggest the songs could help to predict the disorder. Whatever their other personality traits might be, fans of The Knack’s My Sharona and Sia’s Titanium were among the least psychopathic, the study found.
The researchers have a serious goal in mind: if psychopaths have distinct and robust preferences for songs, their playlists could be used to identify them.
“The media portrays psychopaths as axe murderers and serial killers, but the reality is they are not obvious; they are not like The Joker in Batman. They might be working right next to you, and they blend in. They are like psychological dark matter,” said Pascal Wallisch who led the research.
About 1% of the general population meets the description of a psychopath, but the figure is far higher in prisons, where about one in five has the disorder. One estimate, from Kent Kiehl, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, suggests that psychopaths cost the US government alone $460bn (£340bn) a year.
“You don’t want to have these people in positions where they can cause a lot of harm,” said Wallisch. “We need a tool to identify them without their cooperation or consent.”