To say that you can spot a law-abiding psychopath is almost an oxymoron (though clearly it’s never stopped me from trying). Psychopaths are by definition masters of emotional disguise. If there were an Olympics for impression management, psychopaths would be frequent and exultant medalists—they, more than most liars, are capable of subterfuge in matters large and small. Indeed, psychopathy evolved, according to one line of thinking, because there is great value in exploiting the vast majority who conform to social norms. It is a lonely niche, worth occupying precisely because it is foreign to most people.
I met this man three years ago, for one second. We locked eyes in the grocery store and a jolt of adrenaline forever imprinted his face on my mind. The French call it coup de foudre, but the electric charge was wholly negative. I looked at his eyes—an unusual iris-to-pupil ratio—and feared for my safety in the midst of a brightly-lit cereal aisle. I was certain that I’d just met a psychopath. I wish I could say that his mugshot appeared in the next day’s paper—such things do happen. But in this case, it is just as likely that he was on drugs, or that the fluorescent light refracted something sinister into my eager imagination.