Men with psychopathic traits are more desirable to women, Canadian researchers say

The results have startling implications about the evolution of psychopathy in humans.

Men with psychopathic traits are more desirable to women, Canadian researchers say
Image source: Lions Gate Films
  • 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."

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science

Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
  • Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast