Psychopaths dead eyes
Signs, Sanpaku Eyes, Stare, & More
Crime dramas, thriller movies, and mystery novels have popularized psychopathy, contributing to plenty of myths around what it truly means.
For example, sometimes people use “psychopath” interchangeably with other stigmatizing terms, such as “evil,” “violent,” or “criminal.” Perhaps you’ve read psychopaths experience no emotions at all and care nothing for the consequences of their actions.
You might’ve even heard it’s possible to recognize a psychopath simply by looking into their eyes.
Yet psychopathy is somewhat more complex than these ideas suggest.
First of all, psychopathy isn’t an actual mental health diagnosis. It’s a casual term for traits typically associated with a psychiatric diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
People with ASPD usually:
- lack a clear sense of right and wrong
- have trouble understanding and empathizing with other people’s feelings
- show little remorse for their actions
These traits can certainly increase the chances of someone partaking in unlawful or harmful behavior, but they don’t necessarily make someone violent.
What about the so-called psychopathic stare? Is there any truth to the idea you can recognize psychopathic traits in someone’s eyes? Or is that just another myth? You’ll find an evidence-backed explanation below.
Your eyes, and their movements, can convey a lot of information about mood and emotions, from happiness to humor to boredom to disdain.
While your gaze might linger on someone you find attractive or appealing, you might quickly look away from something that frightens or disturbs you. Your pupils also dilate when you experience strong emotions, including fear, anger, and love (or lust).
Some experts even believe eyes can offer clues to underlying personality traits, offering support for the idea that your eyes offer a glimpse of your soul.
The various suggested characteristics of “psychopath eyes” seem to echo the general belief that people with ASPD have no emotions to show.
These descriptions include:
- dead, flat, or reptilian-like eyes
- very dark irises, or eyes that appear black
- pupils that don’t dilate
- an expression, such as a smile, that doesn’t reach the eyes
- a “soulless” stare
Maybe you’ve also heard of the “psychopath stare. ”
People generally describe this as a prolonged, predatory gaze, or a fixed stare that feels unsettling and uncomfortable. Maybe you feel like someone’s watching you and catch their eyes every time you look up.
The suggested reasons for this stare vary.
Some people believe those with psychopathic traits use intense eye contact to startle others and catch them off-guard, so they can use manipulation tactics more easily.
Others suggest it’s a way of maintaining power and control during social interactions.
Still, others say it’s simply boredom. Staring intensely could make someone feel nervous, even somewhat fearful — reactions that people who enjoy causing fear and pain would, of course, enjoy.
But there’s little evidence to support any of these ideas. It’s also worth noting that a diagnosis of ASPD doesn’t automatically mean someone enjoys hurting others.
According to Japanese face reading, various elements of your face can offer insight on your personality, abilities, and experiences.
Sanpaku, which means “three whites,” is one element of face reading.
If you look at your own eyes in a mirror, you’ll see the whites (sclera) on either side of each iris, of course. But if you also see white above or below the iris, your eyes are considered sanpaku — they have three whites.
Sanpaku is further divided into two subtypes:
- Yin sanpaku. This refers to the white below the iris. Traditionally, yin sanpaku suggests you may face some type of threat or danger from the world, or that you have a tendency to expose yourself to risks or danger.
- Yang sanpaku. This refers to the white above the iris. It’s said to suggest you face more of a threat from within. In other words, you’re more likely to have a hard time managing unwanted emotions, which could negatively affect both your behavior and overall well-being.
George Ohsawa is generally credited with introducing the idea of sanpaku to Western society. His explanation, however, deviated somewhat from traditional face reading, as he suggested sanpaku had more negative connotations.
Yang sanpaku, in particular, became associated with mental illness and psychopathic traits, including:
- tendency toward angry or violent outbursts
- suspicion of others
- poor self-control
Someone’s habitual facial expressions can absolutely offer clues to their personality or mood. That said, no scientific evidence to date supports any association between sanpaku and psychopathic traits.
Researchers have observed two main differences when comparing the eyes or gaze of people with traits of ASPD to people without those traits.
Here’s a brief snapshot of their findings.
A 2018 study explored the connection between psychopathic traits and pupil dilation in response to stimuli.
Researchers started by measuring primary and secondary psychopathy traits in 82 male psychiatric hospital inpatients:
- Primary psychopathy traits refer to interpersonal-affective traits and behaviors, such as lack of guilt, low empathy, and a tendency to manipulate.
- Secondary psychopathy traits refer to lifestyle-antisocial behaviors, such as lawbreaking, conduct problems, and impulsive or risky behavior.
They then showed participants a combination of images, video, and sound clips intended to provoke negative, positive, or neutral emotional responses.
When looking at negative images or angry faces, participants with higher levels of primary psychopathy showed less pupil dilation than other participants.
Experts didn’t notice any change in pupil dilation in response to the positive images, or any of the audio clips. They also didn’t find a similar response in participants who scored high on measures of secondary psychopathy, but not primary psychopathy.
An earlier study conducted by the same researchers considered the possible connection between psychopathic traits and pupil activity in 102 male and female university students. This study didn’t show any clear link between psychopathic traits and a diminished pupil response.
The study authors offered a potential explanation that levels of psychopathy tend to be lower in community samples.
In other words, the primary traits they later connected to pupil response may not show up as often, or as strongly, in the general community — only in people who score very high on measures of psychopathy.
Three separate studies challenge the idea of the so-called “psychopathic stare.”
Findings from these studies suggest people who score higher on measures of psychopathy are actually less likely to make eye contact or fixate on the eyes of others.
A 2017 study compared 30 men who had at least one conviction for violence with 25 men who didn’t.
When shown images of faces, participants with higher boldness scores on the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure (a questionnaire designed to identify psychopathy) were slower to look at the eye region. They also spent less time overall looking at the eyes.
The study authors suggested this could support links between psychopathic traits, difficulty processing emotions, and a decreased fear response.
A 2018 study explored the connection between psychopathic traits and eye gaze in a sample of 108 incarcerated men. This study also found evidence to suggest people who scored higher on measures of interpersonal-affective traits paid less attention to faces showing fear.
A third study published in 2020 focused on eye contact in social interactions.
Through a series of face-to-face conversations with 30 incarcerated adults, researchers found that those with higher affective psychopathy scores tended to make less eye contact throughout the conversation.
Together, these findings contradict the idea of a psychopathic stare.
They also support existing research that suggests people with psychopathic traits have trouble recognizing and processing emotions, social cues, and facial expressions.
It’s pretty much impossible to “see” psychopathy in someone’s eyes, or in any other physical characteristics.
Yes, people with specific psychopathic traits may show less pupil dilation when encountering frightening images. Still, as experts have pointed out, this may be less obvious in everyday life — especially when you don’t know exactly what to look for.
Even then, the lack of dilation could have another explanation. And, don’t forget, decreased pupil response didn’t seem to apply to people with mostly secondary psychopathic traits.
The same goes for eye contact. People may or may not make eye contact during conversations for any number of reasons. They might be shy or simply nervous. They could have social anxiety or autism.
Research also counters other common assumptions about psychopathy.
For example, people with ASPD can:
- experience emotions, though they generally find it challenging to recognize and regulate them
- form relationships and maintain connections with others
- feel regret after unwanted outcomes, though they have a hard time using the experience to make different choices in the future
It’s always best to avoid making assumptions about personality based on appearance or body language. Personality disorders, like any other mental health condition, show up in different ways from person to person.
Only trained mental health professionals have the knowledge and expertise needed to accurately diagnose ASPD. They’ll make this diagnosis by exploring long-standing patterns of exploitation and manipulation in a person’s behavior — not by looking into their eyes.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
Psychopathy: Is It In Their Eyes?
“It’s their eyes that are the most remarkable feature. How they drill into you.”
Dr. Robert Hare, psychopathy expert
Do a psychopath’s eyes give them away? Are they a reliable sign we can use to identify and avoid them?
The answer might just be “yes. ” But nothing is foolproof, of course. If you don’t see the signs in someone’s eyes, it doesn’t mean they’re not psychopathic. Many of us have seen firsthand or read descriptions of psychopaths having an intense gaze, a predatory or reptilian stare, or eyes that are lifeless, dead, emotionless, cold, icy, flat, black, or empty.
I’ve gotten many comments from readers who describe the phenomenon:
I have noticed that sometimes his eyes looked completely without expression, like glass…
I couldn’t even look him in his eyes because I felt a shiver running through me. I thought it was because I was in love.
My nickname for him was Devil Eyes…
As the relationship progressed I saw his eyes change to evil, soulless tools and it was frightening and perplexing.
I saw that serpent look in the eyes…
I saw a picture of me and him the first day we hung out. It was like staring at the eyes of the devil…
Once you look into those cold, dead eyes, you aren’t the same. .
I have one very eerie photo taken on a holiday where he is looking directly at me through the lens. His eyes appear to be flashing with hatred and contempt.
My two year anniversary is Sunday and I looked at our wedding pictures, just to see if his eyes were as dead then as they are now. I was horrified. They were.
“Pod Person,” that’s what I call him. The lifelessness, lack of light or soul behind his eyes is chilling. His eyeballs appear as if they are made of stones.
It’s eerie indeed, as I recall my psychopath’s lifeless expressions, lizard eyes…
I have not a doubt that I was hypnotized by him and I believe I know when. And it was when he told me to “look into my eyes” which I did and his response was, “I love when you look into my eyes.” By the next day, I woke up and thought about him immediately and couldn’t stop…
My psychopath had a lined face but the eyes were bright and he tended to act as if he was in his twenties (going on 60 in physical terms!). It can be a very sexy combination.
Sometimes during sex, mine would stare directly into my eyes for up to twenty minutes at a time. His eyes would not waver…
I remember thinking how his eyes were like that of a lizard, alive but somehow dead, at odds with the rest of his face.
What do the experts have to say about the psychopath’s eyes?
Some have compared the psychopath’s gaze to an intense narrow-beam searchlight. When they lose interest and look away, it feels as if a light was suddenly switched off.
Many believe the psychopath is unconsciously projecting an “annihilatory stare,” meaning he or she isn’t seeing the other person as a human being, but coldly assessing them as an object he can use, manipulate or destroy.
The psychopath’s fixated, intense stare is sometimes referred to as scoptophilia: the sexualization of looking; predatory staring. It is visual predation.
Experts also call it a “reptilian stare,” and that might be more than just a colorful description. Dr. Reid Meloy’s Reptilian State Theory hypothesizes that psychopaths are more like reptiles than mammals. The brain structure of the reptile supports the behaviors of establishment and defense of territory, hunting, feeding, mating, dominance, aggression, and imitation. Psychopaths and reptiles are missing behaviors that are products of the emotion-generating limbic system, which is absent in reptiles and markedly underactive in psychopaths.
It is widely understood that psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.
“The ‘house of psychopath’ is constructed on a foundation of no attachment, underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character. Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. It is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles. ” ~ A Psychoanalytic View of the Psychopath, J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute
Now I understand where the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work” really got its title.
Dr Robert Hare says the intensity of the psychopath’s gaze is “similar to the concentration with which a predator stalks its prey.” They are totally focused and their rapt attention does not waver. In his book Without Conscience, Hare wrote, “Many people find it difficult to deal with intense, emotionless, or “predatory” stare of the psychopath. Normal people maintain close eye contact with others for a variety of reasons, but the fixated stare of the psychopath is more prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power than simple interest or empathetic caring.”
In Without Conscience, a victim described the predatory stare: “I found it difficult to look at his eyes because they confused me. I didn’t know what was behind them and they didn’t tell me what he was thinking or what his intentions were. ”
A psychopath’s strange, unsettling gazes are not constant – they can be momentary, lasting for a very short time.
In my own experience, the psychopath I knew had lambent eyes — brilliantly playful, softly bright, luminous. They twinkled with warmth when he smiled, or so I thought. It was actually the twinkle of amusement as he manipulated me. A few times I saw the light go out in his eyes, and in those moments they became flat and dead. He had a transfixing, steady gaze and could lock my eyes onto his for long periods. It was as if there were a connection between our eyes that made it impossible to look away. I become completely absorbed in it and oblivious to the world around me. I mistook the psychopath’s predatory focus for the gaze of someone who was enamored with me. He smiled and said all the right things, but his gaze was actually the focus of a predator on his prey. Literally.
Nothing is foolproof. If you don’t see the signs in someone’s eyes, it doesn’t mean they’re not psychopathic. And depending on their particular gaze, there may not seem to be anything amiss until after the fact. For example, while a gaze that comes across as “reptilian” would be disconcerting and arouse suspicion, a gaze that’s simply “intense” could easily be misread.
Don’t ignore the signs that you might be looking into a psychopath’s eyes. If you do, remember this:
“When one gazes upon the psychopath, there is less there than meets the eye.”
~ Reid Meloy, PhD., International Handbook on Psychopathic Disorders and the Law, Volume 1, p. 341
In a catalytic act:
♥ Thank you for reading.
Comments are closed.
“Wonderful read. Such a great gem. If you’re wondering if you are encountering a psychopath, read this book and you will know without a doubt.”
“Quite relevant and helpful, written in a useful down-to-earth-style which emphasizes the practical. Obviously written from direct experience.”
“The truth shall make you free… the description of typical behavior and common reaction to that behavior was more helpful to me in freeing myself than all the books on what a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist is”
Are "psychopath eyes" really a thing?
- How they are supposedly different
- Psychopathic look
- What about sanpaku eyes?
- What the study says
- Student's response
- Eye contact
- Are there any reliable ways to tell if someone has psychopathy?
- Bottom line
Crime dramas, thrillers, and detective novels have popularized psychopathy, fueling many myths about its true meaning.
For example, sometimes people use the term "psychopath" interchangeably with other stigmatizing terms such as "evil", "violent" or "criminal". You may have read that psychopaths don't feel emotions at all and don't care about the consequences of their actions.
You may have even heard that a psychopath can be recognized simply by looking into his eyes.
Still, psychopathy is somewhat more complex than these ideas suggest.
First, psychopathy is not a true mental health diagnosis. It is a casual term for traits commonly associated with a psychiatric diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
People with ASPD typically:
- lack a clear understanding of right and wrong
- have trouble understanding and empathizing with other people's feelings
- show little remorse for their actions
These traits can certainly increase the chances that someone -someone will engage in illegal or harmful behavior, but they don't necessarily make someone violent.
What about the so-called psychopathic gaze? Is there any truth to the fact that you can recognize psychopathic traits in someone's eyes? Or is this just another myth? Below you will find a reasonable explanation.
How they are supposedly different
Your eyes and their movements can convey a lot of information about mood and emotions, from happiness to humor, from boredom to neglect.
Although your eyes may linger on someone you find attractive or attractive, you can quickly look away from something that frightens or worries you. Your pupils also dilate when you experience strong emotions, including fear, anger, and love (or lust).
Some experts even believe that the eyes can provide clues to basic personality traits, supporting the idea that your eyes allow you to see into your soul.
The various proposed characterizations of the "psychopath eye" seem to echo the general belief that people with ASPD have no emotions to show.
These descriptions include:
- dead, flat or reptilian eyes
- very dark irises or eyes that appear black
- pupils do not dilate
- an expression such as a smile that does not reach the eyes
- "soulless" gaze
You may also have heard of the "psychopath look".
People usually describe it as a prolonged predatory gaze or a fixed gaze that causes anxiety and discomfort. Maybe you feel like someone is watching you and catch their eyes every time you look up.
Suggested reasons for this view vary.
Some people believe that people with psychopathic traits use intense eye contact to frighten and surprise others so that they can more easily use manipulation tactics.
Others suggest that this is a way to maintain power and control during social interactions.
However, others say it's just boring. A tense stare can make someone nervous and even a little afraid - a reaction that will certainly appeal to people who enjoy inflicting fear and pain.
But there is little evidence to support either of these ideas. It's also worth noting that a diagnosis of ASPD does not automatically mean that someone enjoys hurting others.
What about sanpaku eyes?
According to Japanese face reading, different elements of your face can give an idea of your personality, abilities and experience.
Sanpaku, which means three whites, is one of the elements of face reading.
If you look at your eyes in a mirror, you will of course see whites (sclera) on either side of each iris. But if you also see white above or below the iris, your eyes are considered sanpaku—they have three whites.
Sanpaku is further divided into two subtypes:
- Yin sanpaku. This refers to white under the iris. Traditionally, yin-sanpaku suggests that you may face some kind of threat or danger from the world, or that you have a tendency to expose yourself to risk or danger.
- Which is my sanpa. This refers to the white above the iris. This is said to suggest that you will face a greater threat from within. In other words, you will likely find it difficult to deal with unwanted emotions that can negatively affect both your behavior and overall well-being.
George Osawa is generally credited with introducing the idea of sanpaku to Western society. His explanation, however, deviated somewhat from traditional face reading, as he suggested that sanpaku had a more negative connotation.
Yang sanpaku in particular has become associated with mental illness and psychopathic traits, including:0010
A person's habitual facial expression can give clues to their personality or mood. However, to date, there is no scientific evidence to support any connection between sanpaku and psychopathic traits.
What the study says
Researchers have found two major differences when comparing the eyes or gaze of people with signs of ADHD and people without these signs.
Here's a snapshot of their findings.
A 2018 study investigated the association between psychopathic traits and pupillary dilation in response to stimuli.
The researchers began by measuring primary and secondary psychopathy features in 82 male mental hospital inpatients:
- Primary psychopathy traits refer to interpersonal-affective traits and behaviors such as lack of guilt, low empathy, and manipulative tendencies.
- Secondary features of psychopathy relate to lifestyle and antisocial behavior such as breaking the law, behavioral problems, and impulsive or risk-taking behavior.
They then showed participants a combination of images, videos, and sound clips designed to provoke negative, positive, or neutral emotional responses.
When looking at negative images or angry faces, participants with higher levels of primary psychopathy showed pupil dilation than other participants.
The examiners did not notice any change in pupillary dilation in response to positive images or any audio clips. They also found no similar response in participants who scored high on secondary psychopathy but not on primary psychopathy.
An earlier study by the same investigators looked at a possible association between psychopathic traits and pupillary activity in 102 male and female students. This study shows no clear link between psychopathic traits and decreased pupillary response.
The authors of the study proposed a potential explanation for the fact that levels of psychopathy tend to be lower in community samples.
In other words, the primary traits they later associated with pupillary responses may not show up as often or as strongly in society at large—only in people with very high rates of psychopathy.
Three separate studies challenge the idea of the so-called "psychopathic gaze".
The results of these studies suggest that people with higher psychopathy scores are actually more likely to make eye contact with or fixate on others.
A 2017 study compared 30 men with at least one conviction for violence with 25 men with no convictions.
When shown pictures of faces, participants with higher levels of courage on the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure (a questionnaire designed to detect psychopathy) looked at the eye area more slowly. They also spent less time making eye contact.
The authors of the study suggested that this may support the link between psychopathic traits, difficulty processing emotions, and reduced fear response.
A 2018 study investigated the association between psychopathic traits and gaze in a sample of 108 male prisoners. This study also found evidence that people with higher scores on interpersonal affective traits paid less attention to faces expressing fear.
A third of a study published in 2020 focuses on eye contact in social interactions.
In a series of face-to-face interviews with 30 adult inmates, the researchers found that those with higher scores for affective psychopathy tended to make less eye contact throughout the conversation.
Together, these results contradict the idea of the psychopathic gaze.
They also support existing research that suggests that people with psychopathic traits have difficulty recognizing and processing emotions, social cues, and facial expressions.
Are there reliable ways to determine if someone has psychopathy?
It is almost impossible to "see" psychopathy in someone's eyes or in any other physical characteristics.
Yes, in people with certain psychopathic traits, pupils may dilate less when confronted with frightening images. However, as experts point out, in everyday life it can be less obvious, especially when you don't know exactly what to look for.
Even then, there could be another explanation for the lack of an extension. And, don't forget, decreased pupillary response didn't seem to apply to people with predominantly secondary psychopathic traits.
The same goes for eye contact. People may or may not make eye contact during a conversation for a number of reasons. They may be shy or just nervous. They may have social anxiety or autism.
Research also refutes other common assumptions about psychopathy.
For example, people with ASPD may:
- experience emotions, although they usually have difficulty recognizing and regulating them
- build relationships and connect with others
- regret undesirable results even though they find it difficult to use the experience to make other choices in the future
It's always best not to make assumptions about personality based on appearance or body language. Personality disorders, like any other mental illness, manifest differently in different people.
Only trained mental health professionals have the knowledge and experience needed to accurately diagnose ASPD. They make this diagnosis by examining longstanding patterns of exploitation and manipulation of a person's behavior rather than by looking them in the eye.Health
Do you live with a psychopath? Clear signs indicating personality instability
Not many people have had to deal with psychopaths on a regular basis. Nevertheless, they are among us and make up one percent of the total population of the Earth. And there is no guarantee that not one of them is next to you. In order not to fall under the influence of such a person, you need to know some of the features that distinguish a psychopath from an ordinary person.
Psychopaths manipulate people and exploit their weaknesses
All psychopaths are subtle manipulators. And so subtle that the victim is not even able to understand what is happening, and blames himself for everything.
A single glance is enough for a psychopath to assess you and discover your weaknesses. Such people instantly find your weak point and use it to benefit for themselves. A psychopath who is in close relationship with you will collect all the information about you in order to use it to his advantage later.
They are amazingly charming
You will never meet a more charming person than a psychopath. Although not everyone who is charming is a psychopath, nonetheless, every psychopath is able to win you over immediately. And this is their distinguishing feature.
The psychopath inflicts pain invisibly
Having well studied your weaknesses, the psychopath may not act immediately. However, the information received will sooner or later be used against you anyway. Moreover, neighbors, friends and colleagues may react with disbelief when they hear that someone they knew well has shown himself to be a psychopath.
They say what you want to hear
Anyone who comes into close contact with a psychopath eventually finds himself constantly being used. When in close relationships, the psychopath tells his partner exactly what he wants to hear. Since this person is charming and has studied the person very well, the victim may not even know the true intentions of his alleged partner or spouse. Relatives and friends of some psychopathic killers often claim that they have never seen any warning signs and cannot believe that it was this person who did this.
They have no conscience
The psychopath has no conscience. He can inflict pain without the slightest feeling of guilt. Although it can imitate. Psychopaths invent and develop whole scenarios of disgusting actions that they perform with a joy that a normal person does not understand. Psychopaths don't react emotionally to the crimes they commit.
Lack of fear
Many psychologists argue that psychopaths cannot experience fear. Their ability to maintain common sense where many of us would immediately panic helps them cope with difficult and dangerous situations.
Psychopaths often change jobs
Psychopaths rarely stay in one job for long. They leave themselves or they are fired, in any case, they do not stay in one place. In doing so, they easily find a very plausible explanation for such inconsistency.
Dead, lifeless eyes and monotonous voice
If you look closely into the eyes of notorious serial killers like Bundy, Gacy and others, you will notice that their eyes are empty and lifeless. But at the same time, the person outwardly looks cheerful, charming, optimistic and positive. The voice of a person with a mental disorder is usually monotonous. It's almost impossible to piss him off enough to make him raise his voice.