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How to Detect Danger

You don't have to use a computer to detect a psychopath, but it would be handy if you could: That way, you'd know who to stay clear of. These dangerous and mysterious people seem completely normal--until they attack.

A new study shows that identifying psychopaths may involve recognizing certain patterns and words in their speech. It turns out that psychopaths are more likely than other criminals to use words that reveal a great degree of selfishness, detachment from their crimes and emotional flatness. These include words like "because," "since" or "so that"--all conjunctions that they use to "excuse" their actions. They are also more likely to use the past tense, suggesting a detachment from their crimes.

Psychopaths also use twice as many words relating to physical needs, such as food, sex or money, while non-psychopaths use more words about social needs, including family, religion and spirituality.

On the Smart Planet website, Tuan C. Nguyen quotes the researchers who did the study as saying, "These findings on speech begin to open the window into the mind of the psychopath, allowing us to infer that the psychopath's world view is fundamentally different from the rest of the human species."

Some people would say that there are plenty of psychopaths in the movie biz, but we'll leave that up for debate. But computer scientists HAVE discovered what makes movie lines memorable. Researchers who applied computer analysis to a database of movie scripts think they may have found the secret: memorable lines use familiar sentence structure but incorporate distinctive words or phrases.

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