Dr. Robert Hare writes (‘Without Conscience’):
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 empathic caring.
Some people respond to the emotionsless stare of the psychopath with considerable discomfort. Normal people maintain close eye contact with others for a variety of reasons, but the fixated stare of the psychopath is more a prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power than simple interest or emmpathic caring. … Some people respond to the emotionless stare of the psychopath, with considerable discomfort, almost as if they feel like potential prey in the presence of a predator.
The words he use are typical for how many so called victims describe psychopaths, but non-victimized people describe it in the same manner, though perhaps generally with slightly less dramatic words.
An example is how author James Clarke in ‘Last Rampage‘ describes a convicted murderer named Gary Tyson:
But Gary’s most striking physical feature–the thing most people noticed and never forgot–was his deep-set, expressionless … eyes. It was as if his eyes had no connection with any emotion he expressed. Whatever his mood–whether he was angry, jovial, or anything in between–his eyes remained the same. Empty. It was impossible to tell what Gary was actually thinking or feeling looking at his eyes … His stare was riveting, unsettling, with a mlign intensity. What people remembered most about Gary were those cold, hard eyes.
Oddly, this is almost word to next what a very few people have said about me. I’m happy to be able to say that it has happened only on a very few occasions that I have been described that way, and usually people remember quite different things about me.
Another description by a “victim” is much more like how people typically see me. Again, from ‘Without Conscience’:
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.
From ‘Echoes in the Darkness‘ by Joseph Wambaugh:
His gaze was so intense it could transfix, so his eyes were variously described as “poetic”, “icy” or “hypnotic”, depending upon his moods.
This comes closest to the way my eyes and my gaze is most often described. I hear it so often that I’m inclined to think it’s likely to be how people really see me, and it fits well with how I intend them to see me.
As I’ve mentioned, psychopaths are not all alike, and intelligence level differs. Most who are familiar with psychopaths have met the simple, petty thieves types who have no self understanding and who walks like elephants all over the place (I’m often surprised at how these folk manage to succeed at anything at all).
I would like to finish this article with a few words of caution:
Psychopaths, like other people, are not all alike, not in how we look at people, and not in how we behave or what we like or don’t like, etc. We’re different people.
What’s more, neurotypicals – those we call ‘normal people’ – can have a peculiar stare as well!…
Sometimes when I’m talking with someone, exchanging courtesies, I notice that even though they smile and say nice things and are clearly very interested in me, they have this unblinking gaze that follows my every move. I imagine some people would feel uncomfortable when somebody looks at them like this. In a way it’s not unlike the way I sometimes look at people. The difference is only that they make sure to signal good will, and I sometimes do the opposite, or I don’t signal anything. But I generally have the impression that those who look at me like this are merely being very anxious. It’s not a controlling or soulless stare, it’s a slightly frightened stare. I have no idea if it is me personally who make them uncomfortable or uneasy, or if it’s how they generally feel when they meet new people. It’s most likely a little bit of both.
So don’t try to label or judge people by their stare or lack of stare… Because, it’s basically not possible and you won’t succeed. The way someone stares at you is not in itself useful as a basis for determining whether s/he is a psychopathic individual. You need to take the whole context of the situation in which you notice it into consideration.
I didn’t want to use Ted Bundy as an example of the psychopathic stare, but he remains the best example that I can find without having to do extensive searches, and I’m late. I really didn’t want to include him, for he annoys me, I don’t like the fact that he does look like me as I looked on that picture when I was 16, and as I no doubt still look from time to time. I didn’t want to include him because he happens to be a serial killer, and that is far from ‘typical’ for a psychopath.
But now that I’ve chosen to use him anyway, I’ll add that he didn’t always have this slightly awkward stiff gaze. It seems to be a kind of gaze that pops up from time to time.
Here is a picture of Gary Tison. I can’t see anything odd about his eyes or the way he looks at the camera. Maybe others can see it. Robert Hare above writes about reasons for maintaining close eye contact. And I think this is pretty much all it is: Remaining close eye contact. There’s generally nothing special about my eyes or other psychopaths’ eyes, but we use our eyes differently, and that’s what creates the illusion of a “cold” or “emotionsless” stare. I’ve included the picture of Gary Tison to have at least something other than Ted Bundy.
I can pretty much tell when I have ‘the stare’ now, but I have to be focusing on myself or I won’t notice. That’s when others may see it, but mostly there’re other things going on, I’m talking, gesticulating, etc., so my stare isn’t what they’ll remember. Of course, once in a while someone does, clinicians especially will of course make note of it.