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Men with psychopathic traits are more desirable to women, Canadian researchers say
The results have startling implications about the evolution of psychopathy in humans.
- The researchers asked about 50 male university students to participate in a mock dating scenario.
- Men with more psychopathic traits were seen as significantly more desirable by women who watched videos of the encounters.
- Psychopathic traits may help men to mimic the qualities women are looking for, but it's a short-term strategy that comes at a cost.
Men with psychopathic traits seem to have an easier time attracting women, according to a new study that used an evolutionary psychology framework to examine the relationship between psychopathy and sexuality.
It might seem that psychopaths — individuals whom psychologists describe as parasitic, lacking goals, and incapable of feeling love or remorse — would be uniquely disadvantaged in creating good impressions on women. However, recent research indicates that men with psychopathic traits tend to have more sexual partners, are more likely to act on their sexual fantasies, are more open to short-term sexual affairs, and have sex at earlier ages.
"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," study author Kristopher Brazil told PsyPost.
The 'sexual exploitation hypothesis'
What it is about psychopathy that sometimes makes the personality disorder advantageous for attracting women? The study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology Science on September 2, suggests that some psychopathic traits help men mimic the qualities that women look for in a mate. This sexual exploitation hypothesis, as the researchers call it, could help explain why psychopathy evolved in humans.
"We wonder if in the landscape of individuals seeking a partner whether there are sexual and romantic 'sneakers' or 'mimics' who display not just a mask of sanity, but an appealing mask that deceptively displays attractive qualities desirable in the marketplace of relationships," the researchers wrote.
The researchers asked 46 male university students in Canada to participate in a video-recorded dating scenario with a female research assistant, who'd start the scenario by asking questions like "What do you like to do on a first date?" and "What do you think is most important in a relationship?"
These male participants also completed assessments that measured psychopathy, social intelligence, and sociosexuality. Then, the researchers asked 108 women to watch videos of the dating scenarios, and to score each man for general attractiveness, sexual attractiveness and confidence — measures that were averaged to determine a general desirability score.
The results showed that male participants who scored high in psychopathy were more likely to be seen as desirable by women, even when the researchers controlled for physical attractiveness. What's more, when women were asked to compare just two men of similar attractiveness, women tended to find the man with psychopathic traits more desirable. Men with psychopathic traits, it seems, are better able to "enact" desirable traits in these brief social encounters.
"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.
Desirability ratings from women were most strongly associated with psychopathic lifestyle traits, including disinhibition, lack of responsibility and having a sensation-seeking orientation. The researchers weren't certain why this association emerged, but they suggested:
". . . one possibility is that they make men seem more interesting, exciting, and fun to engage with in conversations. Men exhibiting these traits may be effectively signaling that they are exciting partners and women may be responding with a preference for those traits in a short-term dating context."
From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to attract women long enough to have sex is advantageous, even if it's cold and immoral. The results raise questions over whether psychopathy really is a "disorder." The researchers remark:
"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."
Psychopathy and the impossibility of intimacy
A key takeaway from the study is that psychopathic traits likely only help men on a short-term basis. Sure, some psychopaths will appear commitment-focused at the beginning of the relationship, often through a tactic called "love bombing," in which the psychopath showers his partner with flattery, sweet talk, and maintaining constant communication (think "Dirty John"). But eventually, after promises go unmet and the impossibility of intimacy becomes clear, the façade crumbles.
". . . 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," Brazil told PsyPost, adding that psychopathic people tend not only to cheat on partners, but also get cheated on. "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."
Though their research suggested "interesting" and "exciting" personalities were more attractive to women, the scientists, in the end, made it clear that their study does not justify or excuse psychopathic behavior.
"This research can be used to promote healthier relationships by prioritizing an understanding of the allure of psychopathy in forming relationships, and points to a need for elucidating the precursors and developmental pathway(s) that give rise to psychopathy in the first place."
- Psychopaths are attracted to other psychopaths - Big Think ›
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- Study sheds light on why some psychopaths are successful - Big Think ›
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is.
What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.