It’s no secret psychopaths’ brains are different than “normal” ones. In the past, brain scans have shown reduced activity in areas that regulate impulses, emotions, aggression, and morality, Inc. reports. But sans scans, how can you tell if you’re dealing with a real-life psychopath? Turns out, there are subtle ways to point one out.
They speak in past tense. According to an eye-opening study which examined existing literature on psychopaths, there are not one, not three, but nine specific communication patterns they use. The first? Regularly speaking in past tense, according to Inc.
Psychopaths use way, way more past-tense verbs than “normal” people. Inc. explains: “When talking about an event happening right now, most of us would say, ‘I think this is a good idea.’ A psychopath might be more likely to say, ‘I thought that was a good idea.’”
We know what you’re probably wondering: But why do psychopaths do this? Unfortunately, scientists don’t really know. That said, they do suspect that it’s because they are detached from their behavior and their surroundings.
Convincing body language.The second communication pattern psychopaths use? Convincing body language. More often than not, psychopaths lie to make themselves look good— the thing is, they’re really good at this.
As Inc. notes, “their nonverbal behavior is often so convincing–and distracting–that people don’t recognize they’re being deceitful.” The outlet adds: “In the police interview with murderer and rapist Paul Bernadino, FBI agents noticed he used powerful hand gestures to distract from his spoken lies.”
Lack real emotions. For psychopaths, saying “I love you” doesn’t really mean anything. In fact, this statement doesn’t bring up any more emotion than saying, “Pass the salt, please.” According to Inc., Their ability to verbalize feelings is most likely a learned behavior, as opposed to a genuine emotional experience.”
Sound charming. It’s no secret psychopaths can be charming (hello, Ted Bundy). And, researchers have even found that psychopaths talk more and use more emotional words in an attempt to gain attention and admiration.
Additionally, they’re also really good manipulators. “Psychopaths are really good at saying just the right thing at the right time,” Inc. explains. “They know how to play on other people’s emotions and they’re master manipulators.”
Speak slow and quietly. Another communication pattern that psychopaths use is that they speak slowly and quietly. “They don’t emphasize emotional words like other people do,” according to Inc. “Their tone remains fairly neutral throughout the conversation.”
The question then is: Why do psychopaths speak so slow and quietly? As Inc. notes, researchers believe they do this in order to craft a calm demeanor so it can help them gain more control in their relationships.
Everything is cause and effect. More often than not, psychopaths talk about things in terms of cause and effect. Inc. explains: “Psychopaths–especially those who commit crimes–talk about their behavior in terms of cause and effect. For example, one might say, ‘I had to teach him a lesson.’ Rather than show remorse, a psychopath is likely to justify his actions.”
Focus on basic needs. Generally, psychopaths ignore things like spiritual or emotional needs, focusing more on the basics, like food and shelter. Why do they do this? Well, no one is entirely sure.
Still, it’s something that’s quite common amongst psychopaths. “A psychopath who confesses to a murder, for example, is more likely to spend the bulk of his time talking about what he ate for lunch and what he hoped to gain financially, rather than how his behavior affected other people,” Inc. explains.
They say “um.” Like, a lot. Inc. notes: “Psychopaths are more likely to use filler words and sounds, like ‘uh’ and ‘um.’ While many people use such sounds to avoid an awkward silence, researchers suspect psychopaths use them in an effort to appear sane.”
Amazing storytellers. And last but not least, psychopaths are often amazing storytellers who tell colorful stories about themselves. Per Inc.: “While some stories are likely to paint them as victims, the bulk of their stories are likely to portray them as heroes. All of their stories stem from their desire to gain trust and manipulate their listeners.”