Bad news, literally everyone who has played The Sims: How you play the game may indicate if you have psychopathic traits.
OK, sometimes it is fun to let off a little steam by trapping your cleanliest of Sims in the house, removing the toilet and shower, and watching them lose their minds. Just ask anybody on Reddit.
However, the game can be used to learn about the behavior of psychopaths. In 2015, a study showed that people with higher levels of psychopathic traits tended to use more mean behaviors and fewer friendly interactions while playing The Sims 3.
In a new study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, researchers from Lakehead University, Canada used the same game to delve further into how people with psychopathic traits view and interact with others. The team was interested in studying the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis of psychopathy, which suggests that psychopathic traits may have evolved as a way of gaining resources through cheating behavior (exploiting the cooperation of others) and hawkish behavior (defined as using aggression to their own ends). They classify psychopathic traits as manipulativeness, deceptiveness, and lack of empathy or remorse as well as irresponsibility and antisocial and aggressive behaviors.
They also wanted to look at how people with psychopathic traits interacted with other personality types. To do so, they set up a household of Sims that all looked the same – bar hair and shirt color – but with different personality traits, which could be manipulated during character selection.
"The four characters were created with personality traits that would reflect the cheater (deceptive, sneaky, charming), hawk (aggressive, rude, mean), dove (submissive, nervous, shy), and cooperator (nice, trusting, cooperative)," the team wrote in their study.
Participants were asked to make a character to reflect themselves, who was then placed in the house with the other AI-controlled characters. The 205 participants were then asked to have their character interact with the other characters around them.
The interactions with all of the characters were recorded and quantified, while the participants were also asked to complete an assessment of psychopathic traits. As the team expected, people who displayed higher levels of psychopathic traits were more likely to show aggressive and unprovoked mean behaviors towards other characters, as well as have fewer "friendly, funny and charming" interactions. This was particularly true of male participants with higher levels of psychopathic traits.
Breaking down the results further, they found that psychopaths were more likely to engage in aggressive and mean behavior towards those characters who showed fewer signs of aggression behaviors.
"Our findings may suggest that psychopathic individuals view the absence of aggressive behaviors as an indicator of weakness and are prepared to exploit or aggress against individuals who show this kind of weakness," the researchers wrote.
One area that went against their expectations was that the people with higher levels of psychopathic traits tended not to show as many "cheater" behaviors as they were expecting, except with other aggressive characters (hawks). However, they put this down to the limitations of the research.
"A possible explanation for the lack of cheater behaviors was the lack of any inducement to cheat," the researchers noted. "Although players with psychopathic traits were antisocial in their interactions with other characters, there was no motivation for the characters to compliment or be friendly to other characters. This behavior might mimic the real-world behavior of psychopathic individuals, in that they will not engage in charm without some prospect of future benefit. Further research might incorporate a game or prize that might elicit cheater tactics."
If you're worried about someone in your life (maybe you, there is no judgment here) who is torturing Sims, however, lead author Beth Visser reassured Psy Post that you don't need to worry. "[T]here are perfectly lovely non-psychopathic people out there who made a childhood game of doing awful things to their Sims."