Study reveals how narcissism and psychopathy impact tolerance of infidelity and myths about rape

Narcissism and psychopathy are linked to infidelity and rape myths, according to a study published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The new psychological research suggests that people who are self-centered and lack empathy are more accepting of infidelity and more likely to believe in victim-blaming rape myths.

“We were curious about the potential existence of a sexual script that embodies a disregard for the sexual experience of others,” explained study author Malachi Willis of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“To provide evidence for such a disposition toward sexuality, we examined how two sexual attitudes (i.e., infidelity tolerance and rape myth acceptance) and two personality constructs (i.e., psychopathy and narcissism) interacted. Each of these variables are characterized by a disregard for others.”

The researchers surveyed 308 undergraduate students regarding their attitudes towards infidelity and rape victims. The participants also completed the Psychopathic Personality Inventory and Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

Willis and his colleagues found that the acceptance of infidelity was linked to the acceptance of rape myths. Students who agreed with statements such as “Being unfaithful never hurt anyone” were also likely to agree with statements such as “Women who have had prior sexual relationships should not complain about rape.”

“Negative attitudes toward rape victims are related to more tolerance of infidelity in a person’s own sexual relationship,” Willis explained.

The researcher also found that psychopathy and narcissism played a role. The link between acceptance of infidelity and acceptance of rape myths was magnified among participants who scored higher in psychopathy and narcissism.

“Psychopathy and narcissism exist on continua; anybody can have higher or lower levels of these traits,” Willis told PsyPost. “Higher levels of psychopathy and narcissism may manifest in a constellation of negative sexual attitudes. Specifically, people who are self-centered and who have a sense of entitlement are most likely to endorse both tolerance of infidelity and myths about rape.”

However, the research does have some limitations.

“People may be hesitant to be truthful regarding sexual transgressions like rape and infidelity,” Willis said. “The same is true for personality traits associated with psychopathy and narcissism. This social desirability bias may partially explain why the associations presented in this study refer to varying levels of disagreement with infidelity and rape myths, rather than a more diverse continuum from agreement to disagreement.”

“We attempted to explain the association between infidelity tolerance and rape myth acceptance using personality traits that embody self-centeredness or a disregard for others. However, future studies might consider whether adherence to traditional gender roles might also underlie this relationship. Regarding sexuality, traditional gender roles indicate that women are the gatekeepers of sex and men the initiators.”

“People who believe that women are the gatekeepers of sex may be more likely to blame rape victims, thinking that the victims should have resisted their assailant; similarly, people who believe that men are the initiators of sex might be more understanding of men’s extramarital sexual experiences,” Willis continued. “Therefore, research still needs to address whether these gender stereotypes account for the association between infidelity tolerance and rape myth acceptance.”

“Another caveat is that tolerance of infidelity will likely only be considered a negative sexual attitude as long as a society condemns extramarital sexual relationships. While people in the United States have become more permissive of premarital sex, the same has not yet been true for extramarital sex.”

The study, “Are infidelity tolerance and rape myth acceptance related constructs? An association moderated by psychopathy and narcissism“, was also co-authored by Alex Birthrong, Jake S. King, Rosemery O. Nelson-Gray, and Robert D. Latzman.