I launched a new presentation last week – a wrap up of the research into the psychological markers of dangerous employees.  I was a little surprised at the level of interest in the topic, but perhaps I should not have been.

After all, all around the world we seem not to have a day go by without reading something about an employee acting with violence or sexual domination against a colleague, a client or a stakeholder.

I wrote the presentation at the request of people in the community sector, who are very concerned about the topic, often because they send caregivers unsupervised into the homes of the vulnerable.  This a bit of a “don’t get me started” topic for me, because there are very clear psychological markers for some of these dangerous behaviours and I find it very frustrating that people do not test for them and therefore put colleagues and clients at risk.  Here is a brief wrap up of some key facts on the topic.

  1. There is a strong genetic component to these behaviours.  I know some people do not like this idea, but the evidence is incontrovertible (eg, Raine, 2014).  Sadly, many of the most famous cases of violence or sexual violence have been perpetrated by people with a long record of similar crimes.  Raine puts the genetic component at least 50% of the variable “I go to jail for committing violent crime.
  2. Cognitive ability.  Lower levels of intelligence are a marker of violence, perhaps because people with higher IQ have a better capacity to manage their instinctual drives – anger, sexual desire, etc.  Brie Diamond and colleagues (2012) conducted a study where they separated prisoners by their measured intelligence into three levels – low, medium and high.  They found that the levels of violence varied according to the IQ groups, with the highest IQ group showing the least violent behaviour, the lowest IQ group the highest violence.  Deniz Ones and colleagues (2007) found a .35 correlation between measured IQ and the rates of negative behaviours amongst employees.  Smarter employees are safer on balance.  This does not mean that an unintelligent employee is necessarily dangerous, but it does mean that if you start screening for IQ you are likely to find rates of violence decrease across your workforce.  It is easy to measure IQ with online assessments.
  3. Trait anger.  Anger comes in two forms – state and trait.  State anger is what we feel when someone annoys us.  This goes up and down depending on what happens on a day to day basis.  Trait anger is an enduring characteristic where the person is on balance more angry than most other people.  Another way to look at it is that this is a person’s baseline for anger – to what degree does this person have a short fuse?  Trait anger is a predictor of violence – higher trait anger means higher violence.  There are a plethora of studies on this point, eg Hepworth and Towler (2004).  This is measurable with our online personality measures.
  4. Self-control.  People with higher self-control tend to commit violence less than those with low self-control.  Makes sense, but did you know that it can also be easily measured?  The personality characteristic of “Prudence” is a measure of this – people with high prudence are better able to manage their actions in a considered fashion, and therefore tend to act impulsively less often – therefore less “living out” of anger and other strong emotions.

I will post another blog entry on this topic next week – there are a number of other important markers, but if you are interested in finding out more about how you can measure these characteristics, click here.


Andrew Marty
Managing Director
SACS Consulting


  • Brie Diamond*, Robert G. Morris, and J.C. Barnes. Individual and Group IQ Predict Inmate Violence. Intelligence. 40 (2012): 115-112
  • Cognitive ability predicts objectively measured counterproductive work behaviors. Dilchert, Stephan; Ones, Deniz S.; Davis, Robert D.; Rostow, Cary D. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 92(3), May 2007, 616-627
  • Hepworth, W., and Towler, A. (2004) The effects of individual differences and charismatic leadership on workplace aggression. Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology, 9, 176-185.
  • Raine, A, 2013, The anatomy of violence
Andrew Marty
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