By most accounts, Janice Teller is your average Penn student. A junior in the College studying Economics, she spends most weeknights finishing essays and problem sets and most other nights drinking and partying with her friends.
However, a few weeks ago Janice was one of many students outed by the Psychology department as a diagnosed sociopath. “Her results were just shy of Ted Bundy levels,” said the facilitator of the experiment, which was advertised as a personality test that students could take in exchange for $10. “Her test suggested that her disposition is consistently on par with that of someone who has just finished an Ayn Rand novel. It’s shocking.”
Despite widespread criticism of the Psychology department in wake of the test — including a lawsuit by the Wharton School claiming that the test “grossly misrepresented” their students — Janice did not mind the designation. I met her last Sunday outside of the Bridge Café and, as we strolled down Locust Walk, I asked her why she felt she had been labeled a sociopath.
“Well, I think it’s my work hard, play hard mentality to be honest,” she said as she Instagrammed a squirrel perched on top of a trash can and tagged it #Squirrelz #PennFall #HYFR. She continued, “That’s really what keeps me sane, you know? I mean this week was a struggle. Four midterms! Can you blame me for going a little crazy last night?” Without me asking, Janice proceeded to give me an account of her Saturday night: “I pregamed with some people from freshmen year. I’m not really friends with most of them anymore, but it’s good to stay in touch you know? Anyway, I was sort of buzzed when I left. Then we had this mixer with this kind of creepy frat, but we got a ton of cute pictures, so that was fine. Thank god OZ had a late night after that though, I was starting to get way too sober to enjoy myself.”
Janice continued for a few more minutes and I started to feel something missing in her narrative. I interrupted a vivid description of a wine stain her shirt had suffered and asked if she could describe any specific human interaction she had experienced during the night. Her face went blank for a few seconds before she told me how much she regretted the pizza slices she had eaten drunkenly at 2 am.
I was taken aback by the exchange and almost didn’t realize we had entered Van Pelt. As we walked down the stairs to the basement, Janice took her phone out and took a photo of the deserted row of desks. She uploaded it to her Facebook profile with the caption: “Got Rosenparty all to myself!” After dumping her Economics textbooks onto a table, she looked at me with deadened eyes, and said, “This is the ‘work hard’ part.”
I had expected the interview to continue here, but Janice seemed glued to her books. I asked her what she working on and she replied, “It’s stupid, but it has to be done.” I saw she was reading about monetary policy and asked if her teacher ever discussed current fiscal issues in class. She scowled and kept reading.
Two hours passed before she closed her books with a slam and looked up. She stared at me and muttered through her teeth, “I’m going to kill this midterm tomorrow.” Before I could respond, another girl — evidently in the same class — walked over to our desk and asked Janice how she felt for the Econ midterm. Janice’s face twisted into an expression of unease and she replied, “I’m so nervous, aren’t you? I’ve been looking at some of the practice exams and they all look so different from the stuff we did in class!” The other girl nodded sympathetically and I wondered if I was seeing things.
As the basement began to fill up, we did finally leave. Walking down the library stairs outside, Janice’s eyes suddenly lit up and she stretched her arms out and shrieked, “Chhhhrrrriisssstttieee! How’s it going? Oh my God, I still feel so hung-over don’t you?” The girls chatted about their night and I began to think that perhaps the psychological study had been too harsh. As Janice and I walked away I asked her if she and Christie were good friends. She answered with a proud smile, “Was I that convincing?”
A day spent with a sociopath leaves one restless. I had so many questions. How did Janice function every day? How much of social convention did she have to rehearse and perform? Had she ever killed a man? But what stuck with me was a vague fear. A fear heightened by a conversation I overheard between two guys arguing over who had been “more blackout last night” and further strengthened by a text from a friend that read “I’m going to be up all night doing work…FML!!!”. It was the distinct fear that perhaps Janice Teller was not the exception I had assumed her to be, but the rule.