Asked to picture a psychopath, you might conjure up a horror movie character: someone prone to violence, serial murder even, coldly scrutinising you with unblinking eyes.

In fact, only a tiny proportion of psychopaths are killers: most psychopaths are involved in far more mundane criminality or callous exploitation of other people for their own ends, notes Professor Mark Dadds, of the UNSW School of Psychology.

Psychopaths are antisocial and emotionally cold and new evidence indicates that a core feature is that they lack a natural propensity to focus on the eyes of other people.

Our natural interest in the eyes of other people holds important clues to understanding the workings of both healthy and unhealthy minds, Dadds notes.

Eye contact is vital to normal human relations: from a parent's stern look to lovers gazing at each other, the eyes convey a vast range of emotional cues that help us get along with, and understand, each other.

"Our inherent interest in the eyes of other people lies at the origin of empathy, connectedness and attachment, and some of the earliest evolved parts of our brains are dedicated to driving our attention to the eyes of other people," says Dadds.

Read the full cover story on pages 10 - 12.

Also in the November/December issue, we ask whether it's already too late for a viable nuclear energy sector in Australia (page 15) and we explore the secret world of Sydney's drag queens (page 13).

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, Editor, 9385 1583