Why do bad boys always get the girl? Or, to put it another way, why do women find it so hard to resist ruthless, deceitful narcissists? Look no further than James Bond, whose character is composed of three distinctly nasty traits -- the dark triad, as this particular psychosis is referred to in psychological literature.
Kevin Dutton, the author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, tells Big Think:
James Bond is ruthless, he’s fearless, he’s extremely focused, he’s mentally tough. He’s, of course, absolutely without conscience and remorse. He’s also one of the biggest philanders that’s ever worked for the British secret service.
What's the Big Idea?
While James Bond is a fictional character, he also makes for an exemplary psychological case study. After all, there are plenty of Hamlets, Jane Austen sisters and Charlotte Brontë mothers among us. So the question psychologists ask in this case is what are the various personality traits and behaviors that enable those with the Bond psyche to enter into relationships with others and exploit them?
Dutton points to a 2010 paper by the psychologist Peter Jonason titled “Who is James Bond? The Dark Triad as an Agentic Social Style." Jonason argued that men with “a specific triumvirate of personality traits -- the stratospheric self esteem of narcissism; the fearlessness, ruthlessness, impulsivity, and thrill-seeking of psychopathy; and the deceitfulness and exploitativeness of Machiavellianism -- can actually do pretty well for themselves out there in the echelons of society."
Jonason's studies show that high levels of openness, self-esteem and extraversion, combined with low levels of conscientiousness and anxiety enable James Bond types to "persist in the face of potential social rejection and retaliation."
So one might suppose this ruthlessness would constitute a handicap for Bond when dealing with members of the opposite sex. Not so, Dutton says. In fact, Bondian psychopaths are "more likely to have a greater number of sexual partners and a stronger inclination toward casual, short-term relationships than men who are low on such traits," Dutton says. This turns out to be evolutionarily advantageous, according to Dutton, because it expedites "a dual-process alpha-male mating strategy aimed at maximizing reproductive strategy" that consists of this:
1. Impregnate as many females as possible.
2. Hit the road before anyone calls you daddy.
James Bond craves novelty: a new Bond girl to seduce, a new villain to kill. The desire for novelty works both ways. This is exactly the kind of personality type that Dutton says "sets female pulses racing."
What's the Significance?
If you're looking for relationship advice here, it goes like this: date James Bond, marry Mr. Right. And yet, while James Bond may not be the man to settle down with, he has a lot to offer society. That is to say, if he exhibits non-psychotic levels of dark triad traits, a James Bond type can be a "functioning psychopath," according to Dutton.
Dutton points to the following quotation, often attributed to Winston Churchill, paraphrasing a letter that George Orwell wrote to Rudyard Kipling:
"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
It is not a coincidence that Churchill was fond of this saying. Dutton points out that great leaders have a lot in common with psychopaths, in that they are not afraid of making unpopular decisions. Many professions are also strongly associated with psychopathy. Surgeons, for instance, need to do the dirty work of cutting up bodies with calm, emotional detachment. Another example is the Special Forces. Dutton tells Big Think:
I’ve interviewed a lot of Special Forces soldiers and in Special Forces you can’t afford to dwell on the fact that you’ve pulled the trigger and killed someone. If you do, then the next bullet could be going through your head. So you have to be very emotionally detached in kind of professions like that.
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