New psychology research suggests that most people do not view psychopathic personality traits as particularly desirable in a romantic partner. But the study also provides evidence that psychopaths are more attracted to other psychopaths.
“To a large extent, our findings support a ‘like attracts like’ hypothesis for psychopathic traits,” wrote the authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Personality.
“Until recently there has been scant systematic evidence bearing on the question of whether people are especially attracted to psychopathic individuals, and if so, which personality traits may account for such attraction,” they said.
In the study, 696 participants were asked to imagine a good-looking young man or woman, and then construct his or her personality from a list of 70 traits.
The researchers found that the participants preferred Factor 1 psychopathic traits (such as superficial charm, manipulativeness, and lack of empathy) over Factor 2 traits (such as impulsiveness and irresponsibility). But, overall, romantic interest in psychopathic traits was low on average.
However, participants who themselves scored higher on a measure of psychopathy tended to prefer higher levels of psychopathic traits in their ideal romantic partner.
In addition, male participants tended to express more interest in traits related to psychopathy and other personality disorders than female participants.
The study includes some limitations. It is unclear, for example, if people’s choices in a hypothetical dating scenario reflect their actual dating choices in real-life situations.
“Our findings suggest that although absolute preferences for psychopathic traits are low on average, individuals with marked psychopathic features and [personality disorders] features more generally are more inclined than others to endorse a romantic preference for psychopathic individuals, at least in the abstract,” the researchers said.
The study, “Do Psychopathic Birds of a Feather Flock Together? Psychopathic Personality Traits and Romantic Preferences“, was authored by Ashley L. Watts, Jessica C. Rohr, Katherine L. McCauley, Sarah Francis Smith, Kristin Landfield Howe, and Scott O. Lilienfeld.