One in five business professionals are psychopaths - study

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a character from film American Psycho
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a character from film American Psycho

An Australian researcher says companies should consider psychological screening as part of their hiring process so they don't hire "successful psychopaths".

A study of 261 corporate high-flyers found they are up to 21 times more likely to have psychopathic traits than the general public.

It's estimated around 1 percent of the population have traits that would make them a psychopath. That rises to 21 percent for business bosses - about the same amount as in prisons.

Psychopathic traits include egotism, antisocial behaviour and a lack of empathy or remorse.

Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks says companies should pay close attention to character before skills in interviews.

"We find people in positions - CEOs, directors - all that could be considered as being actual psychopaths."

The study was inspired by the global financial crisis, with researchers keen to find out how unethical behaviour is allowed to flourish in corporate boardrooms.

The findings were presented on Tuesday at the Australian Psychological Society Congress in Melbourne.

"We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there's an adequate assessment to hopefully identify this problem, to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly," says Mr Brooks.