Posted by: David Harley | June 24, 2014

Psychological Testing and Psychobabble Hoaxing

This is a version of an internet meme I’ve only come across recently, though an article on Snopes about a very similar message notes that it’s been around since 2002.

This is a genuine psychological test:

It is a story about a girl. While at the funeral of her own mother, she met this guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing, so much her dream guy she believed him to be just that, she fell in love with him there and then but never asked for his number and then… A few days later the girl killed her own sister.

Question: What is her motive in killing her sister?

Think about this before you scroll down for the answer.

Since this isn’t a genuine psychological test and doesn’t prove what it claims to prove I don’t mind in the least if you scroll down to find out what the answer is. On the other hand, you might find it amusing as an exercise. So the only purpose and relevance of this photograph of the Wordsworth family graves in Grasmere, in the English Lake District, is as a distractor, to give you a moment to think about whether you want to have a guess or just cut to the chase.

(Please, no Hitchcock jokes about shower curtains.)


OK. Ready for the answer?

Answer: She was hoping that the guy would appear at the funeral again.

If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath.

This was a test by a famous American psychologist used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer. Many arrested serial killers took part in this test and answered it correctly. If you didn’t answer correctly – good for you. If your friends hit the jackpot, may I suggest that you keep your distance. (If you got the answer correct, please let me know so that I can take you off my distribution list.)

You know what I’m going to say about this, don’t you?

The last line is amusing in a sour sort of way, but this is a hoax. (Or maybe a semi-hoax: a meme that isn’t true but may not have ben intended to mislead, but has become more misleading as it has passed from person to person.) It might have some validity as a test of lateral thinking, but if a psychologist – or, come to that, a psychiatrist – had really proposed that you could use a single question as a test of psychopathy, he’d need to be sent back to shrink school.

The fact that there’s no attempt to attribute it by name is a fair indication of an attempt to deceive, though it’s very common for real people or organizations to be cited in a hoax as a source, on the all-too-justified assumption that many people won’t take the time to check.

There isn’t even universal agreement on whether psychopathy is a discrete psychological category or just a definition of someone who scores higher than the general population in certain antisocial traits and behaviours, let alone on the exact definition of a psychopath.

So no-one who answers the question correctly should start worrying about being an undiagnosed psychopath. Though you might argue that someone who would worry about that would probably not score highly on generally-acknowledged psychopathic traits like disinhibition and lack of empathy.

Being able to think like a psychopath isn’t something to fret about (though it’s not necessarily something to boast about): I’d worry more about thinking like a scriptwriter.

On the other hand, if you feel the need to forward this thing for the joke value of its rather weak punchline, at least make it clear that it is a joke. I’m not sure that everyone is going to get it. And some people who do get it are going to find it less than amusing.

In a Facebook-disseminated variant I saw, the punchline was something like “if you got it right, let me know so that I can unfriend you…” It’s amazing how well email hoaxes have translated to social networking.

By the way, Barbara Mikkelson, at Snopes, does a pretty good job of explaining just why this is such a ‘silly canard’, even if she does give the impression that psychopathy and sociopathy are exactly the same thing. This isn’t altogether true, even though these conditions may present similarly, clinically speaking. But that’s a discussion probably best left to someone with more (and more recent) experience of the mental health system.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

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