Incidence of personality disorders by occupation
June 24, 2014 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Is anyone aware of any studies/articles/information that talks about the frequency of certain personality disorders by occupation? Is this even a thing? Just idle curiosity...
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
When I was watching some show, probably "Cold Case Files," they noted that serial killers tend to be small business owners. They mentioned this in discussing their efforts to profile a serial killer and see if they could track him down. I think the explanation was that they tended to not be very employable at regular jobs and, also, being their own boss was very helpful in terms of freedom to come and go as they pleased and generally find cover stories and what not for their activities.

I heard of one study that suggested that people with ADD/ADHD or similar issues tended to make better soldiers -- I guess in times of actual combat. (I have casually read on the topic at times and, from what I gather, men who are excellent soldiers in time of war are often misfits who can't do much right the rest of the time.) So, my recollection is that the study boils down to the idea that paranoid/jumpy/highly reactive personalities survive better in war conditions. However, that does not really speak to frequency per se.

This fits reasonably well with what I know of my father. He fought in the front lines of two wars and, after a lifetime of listening to my mother explain his personal ticks away with "He's paranoid because he fought in two wars" I finally told her "No, you have that backwards: He survived two wars because he's paranoid. My oldest son is very much like his grandfather and has never been in a war zone."

Unfortunately, a quick google is not turning up any confirmation.

I have also read a good bit that sociopathic personalities do better in corporate jobs. That might be something you can verify. I have seen a number of articles which deal with this idea in some fashion or another. A quick google turned up 10 Professions that attract the most sociopaths.
posted by Michele in California at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's the Hunter vs. Farmer hypothesis regarding ADHD.


Separately, people who are pyromaniacs are more likely to become firefighters.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to a Russell Barkley lecture on Youtube ( I can't remember which one), he says that the US military screens for ADHD because they've found that it has extreme negative consequences for the performance of soldiers. I suppose though that this doesn't necessarily have to contradict that there may be more people with ADHD in the military than many other occupations. There may still be many reasons why people with ADHD might be attracted to the military.
posted by Blitz at 6:16 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't remember where I heard this (I believe it was an article in the Wall Street Journal), but I remember hearing that obsessive-compulsive traits were commonly found among pilots. I don't believe the author was referring to any disorder (OCD or OCPD) per se, just "traits".
posted by Seeking Direction at 6:24 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Among a normal (i.e., nonpsychiatric) population, you will definitely find correlations between personality characteristics and occupations. This is the stuff of which master's degrees in I/O psychology are made. If you google [occupation of interest] + "personality characteristics" you will be bombarded with enough results to keep you fascinated for hours.

Actual personality disorder diagnoses will be a slightly different story, though. Diagnoses tend to come through psychiatrists (in the course of their practice) and, unless people were recruited for a research study (for which very few high functioning executives, for example, volunteer), all the study subjects will be "misfits" in some way or they wouldn't have sought out - or been referred to - a psychiatrist in the first place. A gross overgeneralization, for sure, but true enough.

With a normal, functioning, employed population, we tend not to talk about psychiatric diagnoses. Rather, there is a trend in personality testing and measurement to look at "the dark side". By that I mean what these ordinary and generally desirable strengths (e.g., persistence, skepticism) look like when they are overused or otherwise run amok (e.g., inflexibility, paranoia).
posted by DrGail at 6:54 PM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

ADHD isn't a personality disorder, it's brain chemistry.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:59 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Artists and depression. I think I read once that that writers are most likely to commit suicide of any other occupation.
posted by bearette at 7:33 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Longterm studies of people with borderline personality disorder struggle to hold down stable employment and generally work freelance jobs or jobs that can be picked up and dropped easily (waiting tables, driving cabs etc) and that don't require teamwork.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:42 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spoke on Monday to an academic psychologist researcher working on a thesis about the people who are to be found working in overseas development jobs and their over-representation on the Autism-Aspergers spectrum.

Memail me; I cant divulge more here. But I was like "OMG Yes!"
posted by evil_esto at 2:40 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

FYI, you're probably interested in prevalence, not incidence.

Incidence is the rate of new cases.
Prevalence is the rate of cases in a population.
posted by entropone at 7:15 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

he says that the US military screens for ADHD because they've found that it has extreme negative consequences for the performance of soldiers.

My ex husband was a recruiter. At the time that he was a recruiter, a history of being on certain drugs, I believe including Ritalin, was a potential disqualifier for service. (It isn't simple. I once looked some of this up for someone with a kid with some other medical issue and the criteria can have a lot of provisos concerning how long since x, how many times, severity, etc etc.) So I do not doubt that this is true.

Both my father and ex husband were career military and my husband was further a military history buff and I was, at one time, a history major (and, in fact, I have an AA in Humanities). Historically, a lot of people who made good soldiers during war time made sucky soldiers during peace time.

For example, General Grant was an alcoholic and ne'er-do-well who had trouble keeping a job at all. He was, however, a "good general" in that he got things done but he got things done in part because he was willing to use the one advantage the North had over the South: numbers of bodies. He was willing to just throw his people into a meat grinder and let it be a bloodbath. No one else was willing to do that. General Lee was a brilliant tactician and strategist and no one in the Northern army could match him. General Grant just kept throwing men at him, who died in vast quantities -- something that was much decried by the civilian population. He was kind of viewed as a monster at the time but his ultimate success as a general also led to him becoming president.

It is very likely that this country has, anomalously, only had a single civil war because he was such a total loser for so much of his life. It is very likely that this is why he did the extremely unexpected, precedent-setting move of being merciful when Lee surrendered and placing a minimal amount of conditions upon the surrender, one of them being "and you agree to let us come in and help you rebuild." This is in stark contrast to widespread historical precedent of saddling the losing side with paying war reparations while not helping them recover economically. This long human history is why Lee was very reluctant to surrender: He fully expected that surrendering would result in the South being their bitch.

The people who are really talented at war are often people you would not want to work with, who are willing to make ugly choices that "normal" people find horrifying, etc. They also are often terrible soldiers, in constant trouble, during peace time. So I do not doubt that the military tries to screen them out. The military also has a history of kind of looking the other way during times of war, if these psychos and misfits are actually getting results.

My ex likely qualifies for some kind of diagnosis. He is likely ASD but has no formal diagnosis. He also learned while he was a recruiter that his history of back problems should have kept him out of the military. He did not know that when he joined. He spent a year futzing around with trying to join the Air Force before joining the Army. Even so, it required a waiver to get him in (unrelated to the back issue -- so he had multiple defects). But he did get in and served honorably for over 22 years. He also knew every synonym for "pig headed and persistent" that you can find in a thesaurus and liked to emphasis the nicer sounding ones.

So I see no contradiction at all between the idea that people with X traits gravitate to and do well in the military (at least in times of war) and also the military tries to keep these same people out (but may not always succeed).
posted by Michele in California at 11:14 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

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