Men with psychopathic traits tend to create favorable impressions on women, according to a new study published in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The findings indicate that psychopathy may include features that make men appear as more attractive romantic partners despite having a reduced interest in committed relationships.
“Psychopathy as a way of describing some people — mostly men — who have specific personality and behavioral tendencies has led to some enigmatic and quite frankly alarming findings from prisons, many of which had sexual and romantic consequences,” said study author Kristopher Brazil (@brazkris), a PhD candidate at Brock University.
“For instance, clinicians and psychologists working in prison settings have long known that inmates with more psychopathic features tenaciously try (i.e., are preoccupied with sex) and often succeed (i.e., must offer some attractive qualities, even if faked) at seducing prison staff, including clinical staff supposedly equipped with the tools to not be subverted by manipulation and charm that psychopathic men deploy.”
“Yet these individuals were some of the most violent and disruptive individuals in the institutions they were housed. The enigma of presenting such a positive image of themselves successfully despite their negative effect on others is what strongly influenced our ideas for this study,” Brazil told PsyPost.
“Understanding how psychopathic individuals may be doing this was important (i.e., how manifesting the traits unfolded in a social context), but we were also interested in understanding why psychopathy may even exist.”
“This is where the evolutionary component came in, it allowed us to ask questions about the very existence of psychopathic traits—i.e., might they exist precisely because they enable men to have this kind of positive effect in initiating sexual and romantic relationships?” Brazil said.
“Ultimately, the existing non-evolutionary theories of psychopathy did not provide a good explanation for how and why psychopathy may have these effects, so we were interested in furthering our understanding of psychopathy using an evolutionary lens that can make sense of these effects.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 46 young men from a Canadian university and had them engage in a video-recorded dating scenario with a female research assistant for about 2 minutes. The assistant started the conversation by asking the participant what he liked to do on a first date or what he thought was important in a relationship.
Afterward, the male participants completed assessments of psychopathy, social intelligence, and sociosexuality. The researchers then had 108 young women view the dating videos and rate each man on general attractiveness, sexual attractiveness, and confidence. Another group of 11 participants rated the men’s physical attractiveness.
Brazil and his colleagues found that psychopathy was positively related to both men’s social intelligence and favorable attitudes towards casual sex. They also found that women’s ratings tended to be more favorable to men with more psychopathic traits — even after controlling for physical attractiveness ratings.
“Psychopathic men have a personality style that makes them appear attractive to women in dating encounters. This may be because they are extra confident or feel at ease or know exactly what to say to get the attention of women,” Brazil told PsyPost.
“More research needs to be done on this, but whatever the reason, our research shows that psychopathic traits certainly don’t seem ‘disordered’ like dominant clinical approaches assume. There is something in this personality style that may provide individual benefits (not that they don’t also have costs), which makes us think it is not a disorder.”
Bolstering this argument, previous research has also indicated that manipulative and deceitful personality traits can help psychopathic individuals achieve reproductive success in unpleasant environments — though the long-term consequences are complex.
“Lastly, psychopathic individuals may use their charm and exciting personality to elicit trust and desire, but their ultimate goal seems to be selfish pleasure. The old cliché of getting to know someone well may be one maxim to live by to protect oneself from getting into a relationship with a psychopathic individual,” Brazil explained.
The study provides news insights into psychopathy and relationships. But future research should examine more diverse samples to confirm these findings.
“While studies from different groups of individuals (such as college students, members from the community, psychiatric patients, prison inmates) show psychopathy has similar effects across these different groups, we would like to repeat a similar study on men in prisons, or men in the community,” Brazil said.
“The line between being in one or another of these groups can sometimes be blurred, especially with psychopathic individuals, but examining the ability to appear attractive in men from prisons is a necessary test for the hypothesis we developed in this study, since these men may be the most enigmatic.”
Though psychopathic traits might help to attract partners, they also come with serious trade-offs.
“Another important caveat to consider is that even though psychopathy may have these benefits of attracting others, there are enormous costs and risks to being psychopathic that helps clarify why not more people are psychopathic,” Brazil explained.
“For instance, by virtue of being psychopathic, one never really fits in long-term in a social group. Connections to others are tenuous and rarely will someone have your back when it really matters.”
“Not only do they cheat on their partners, they also get cheated on a lot too. These costs should make it clear that the potential benefits of ‘investing’ in psychopathic traits as a young man will come with some negative consequences as well,” Brazil said.
“We really need to better understand the factors that influence boys starting to ‘invest in’ or develop a psychopathic personality, all the while keeping in mind the evolutionary component to understand why certain developmental factors are influential.”
“For instance, boys may be surveying their social groups to see how women are treated, if they are respected and admired or seen as objects. Boys may also be surveying their same-sex groups to see if they can trust other guys as close friends, which may reduce the likelihood of developing psychopathy,” Brazil added.
“Uncovering some of these developmental and early signs that might predict psychopathy is a necessary next step in this research.”
The study, “Psychopathy and the Induction of Desire: Formulating and Testing an Evolutionary Hypothesis“, was authored by Kristopher J. Brazil and Adelle E. Forth.