Can economies afford psychopathic traders? There is a significant and growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that financial traders are not wired like the rest of us. Some recent research suggests that traders have more in common with psychopaths than ordinary people. But the academic community and media have still to tackle the implications of the work: are potential and actual psychopaths attracted to work in financial markets? Or is the impetus the other way round, with market practices encouraging psychopathic tendencies? Equally important, what are the implications for the economy and society? Two experienced researchers working on an executive MBA thesis at a Swiss university discovered that share traders were both more reckless and more manipulative than psychopaths. The two, a forensic expert and a forensic psychiatrist who is a lead administrator at a Swiss prison, devised computer simulations and intelligence tests to measure the egotism of 28 professional traders and to check their willingness to co-operate with others. Thomas Noll, the prison administrator, told Germany's Der Spiegel that the traders "behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test". What surprised the researchers was the competitive attitude of the financial traders, which had a destructive edge. Instead of being businesslike and aiming to reach the highest profit, explained Noll, "It was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents, and they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents." This came out when the participants played a prisoner's dilemma game, where the players can co-operate or betray each other. The bottom line was that the traders' performance was harmed and their results were no better than those of a control group. Nick Leeson was the first modern anti-hero who brought the illustrious 233-year history of Barings Bank to an abrupt end in 1995 with his losses of US$1.3 billion on Nikkei futures trading, for which he received a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence and a subsequent career as an after-dinner speaker and an adviser on risk and corporate responsibility. Since then, Leeson's record of losses has been bettered by several people, most recently by Jerome Kerviel, who cost Societe Generale €4.9 billion (HK$48.6 billion) on European stock index futures, and Kweku Adoboli, who is accused of losing US$2.3 billion for UBS through stock index futures trading. But the recent research suggests that there is an underlying problem not merely of individual bad or rogue elements but an institutional issue - that financial trading encourages anti-social patterns of behaviour and rewards people who lose a sense of proportion, as well as of right and wrong. Lisa Marshall, of Glasgow Caledonian University, conducted research into psychopaths 15 years ago and concluded that they were made, not born. However, with proper parenting they could become successful stockbrokers rather than serial killers. She found that psychopaths were easily bored and needed a career "where there is a lot of action. They would never do a mundane job. They are cold and quite callous and they are risk-takers. They have to be in a situation where things are changing the whole time and they don't have to make long-term plans". In The Atlantic last year, James Somers went on a Wall Street trading floor to report on a friend's day. He noted that this was different from a law firm, Silicon Valley start-up, magazine or normal corporate headquarters. "Even if what they do there shakes the world, even if the staff practically sneezes vibrant creativity, still you can't escape that Office-y undercurrent, the unmistakable imitation of malaise you find wherever adults are stuck inside doing their homework. This place, on the other hand, feels like something closer to an active battleship." He notices the banks of eternally flashing screens - his friend has six on which 44 windows are open - and the lizard eyes of the traders constantly darting from one to another, and follows his friend as he buys US$60 million of Standard & Poor's futures in four seconds. "Imagine the psychological impact of having that kind of money and machinery at your fingertips," writes Somers. "You must feel powerful. Too powerful, even, like a young pilot who's just been given the keys to his first F-35 Lightning II tactical strike fighter. A mixture of relish and trepidation."