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Boredom Can Trigger a Psychopath's Impulsivity

Disaster often strikes when a psychopath acts because of pervasive boredom.

Key points

  • People high in psychopathy get easily bored and may have trouble with impulse control.
  • They have limited ability to daydream or experience healthy fantasizing.
  • This can lead to destructive behaviors that may harm them or others.

Psychopaths grow easily bored and generally do not weigh the consequences of their actions. Most of us go through a complex series of mental steps when planning how to deal with a situation before moving forward. It is as though we run multiple experiments in our minds, imagining how we can achieve the best results. The psychopath does not do this and may, in fact, be incapable of doing this. This thought process is too arduous and boring to the psychopath, who would rather take the shortcut with no concern for outcomes—even for outcomes that may produce catastrophic results.1

The dull fantasy life of a psychopath

Mid-20th-century psychiatrist Benjamin Karpman explains this behavior by suggesting that “the psychopath’s fantasy life is a dull one. He lives for the moment only, and his fantasies might more correctly be called anticipations of fu­ture gratifications.” 2 Research conducted in the early 1960s suggested that this is also evident in young people who display significant psychopathic characteristics.3

According to psychopathy researcher Robert Hare, fantasizing is essential to consider the consequences of various paths of action. The psychopath is largely incapable of fantasizing in this manner. Instead, their impulsivity leads them to jump to the easiest solution they believe will bring them the quickest results. Shortcuts are more appealing to psychopaths, regardless of risk and danger.4

Di Zhang/Pixabay
Source: Di Zhang/Pixabay

Boredom can lead to destructive behaviors

The psychopath’s boredom often leads them to “risk-taking through overt behavior rather than satisfaction through emotional experiences within themselves and with others.” 5 This can lead to unintentionally self-destructive behaviors. Hare attributes much harmful drug abuse and other self-defeating behaviors by psychopaths to “part of their general search for something new and exciting.” 6 They often and abruptly move from one location to another and rapidly switch from job to job, all part of their “search for a fresh buzz.” “Many psychopaths describe ‘doing crime’ for excitement or thrills.” 7

How psychopaths experience the passage of time

Forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy extensively discusses how psychopaths experience boredom in The Psychopathic Mind, his seminal work on the origins and dynamics of psychopathy. He notes that there is much psychobiological support for the prevalence of boredom in psychopaths, citing studies with skin conductivities and central nervous system arousal.8 Psychopaths do not experience purposeful daydreaming and are locked into a disturbance of how they experience the passage of time. “They experience themselves in a slow-moving, almost immobile present, which they obviously do not enjoy, yet find preferable—‘safer’—than either a past or future orientation.” 9 The sense of boredom is at the root of the psychopath’s grandiose sense of self and promotes impulsivity.10

Some examples of predictably harmful impacts

We have all read about psychopaths committing crimes because they were bored. Some cold-blooded homicides can be attributed to this cause. Similarly, boredom may lead someone with psychopathic characteristics to commit crimes such as torturing and killing animals because they find it amusing, defacing churches, synagogues, and mosques because they think it is funny, or starting forest fires because there is simply nothing else to do.

I heard a story recently about a young man who displayed many psychopathic characteristics. On one occasion, being bored, he decided to add some excitement by brandishing a pistol that he owned in front of his girlfriend. He pulled the trigger several times while pointing the gun toward her in his apartment. When the girl became frightened, the man laughed that he had scared her, telling her that the safety was on.

This incident could easily have ended in tragedy. Safeties aren’t foolproof. Impulse drove his actions in an attempt to overcome boredom. He enjoyed a short-lived thrill from his girlfriend’s shocked and fearful reaction. Lucky for her, she was able to leave and never saw him again.

These destructive thrill-seekers who are prone to boredom yearn for excitement and loathe repetitive tasks, long hours of work, and the grind and self-discipline of organization and focus. The psychopath’s attempts to overcome boredom through impulsive actions frequently lead to disaster.


1. Cleckley, Hervey. (1985). The Mask of Sanity, 5th Ed. sanity_1.doc ( 322, 388, 402.

2. Karpman, B. (1961). "The structure of neurosis: with special differentials between neurosis, psychosis ... psychopathy and criminality." Archives of Criminal Psychodynamics. 622.

3. Silver, A.W. (1963). "TAT and MMPI psychopathic deviate scale differences between delinquent and nondelinquent adolescents." Journal of Consulting Psychology. Vol 27. 370.

4. Hare, Robert D. (1970). Psychopathy: Theory and Research. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 23.

5. Meloy, J. Reid. (2002). The Psychopathic Mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. 111.

6. Hare, Robert D. (1993). Without Conscience. New York: The Guilford Press. 61.

7. Without Conscience. 61.

8. Meloy. 111.

9. Meloy. 109

10. Meloy. 109.

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