Men that are higher in psychopathic traits appear to be better at pretending in order to be more attractive to women, according to a recent study. The team found that in traits such as Honesty, Emotionality, and Agreeableness, men with more psychopathic personalities were better at mimicking those prosocial traits if they knew it was to score with women, suggesting what you see is not always what you get.
The research suggests these psychopathic traits may increase their willingness to bend their personality to attract a partner, despite not scoring highly on prosocial traits.
Psychopathy is a collective term for a number of antisocial personality traits, including impulsivity, irresponsibility, shallow emotions, lack of empathy, and persistent violation of social norms. They aren’t cartoonish villains like Hannibal Lecter and every person with psychopathic traits isn’t a serial killer – in fact, the traits can tend to help people into business success. However, people that exhibit these traits can become very good at hiding them, or else they risk ostracization.
This ability to blend into their social surroundings can make or break how they form relationships with others, with some finding immense success in social situations despite having trouble forming bonds. Those that are good at it will often turn to mimicry, in which the person with psychopathic traits will mimic people that are better in social situations to further their interests. They may appear more friendly, open, and honest, which all significantly increase their chances of finding a partner.
But to what extent do they mimic these traits? A team from Carleton University took 164 heterosexual college men and asked them to complete a HEXACO (Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, and Agreeableness) questionnaire, which measures personality traits, and then a test for psychopathic traits. They then watched a woman’s dating video and were subsequently asked to fill out another HEXACO, but this time they were instructed to appeal to the woman in the video, who was very clear about the type of man she liked.
All men showed some sort of adaption in their personality traits to try and woo the woman in the video, changing their HEXACO answers to appear more attractive to her - even those in relationships. However, those that scored higher on the psychopathy test demonstrated greater changes in their honesty, emotionality, and agreeableness. The difference was small but significant, suggesting psychopathic traits are correlated with mimicry.
As with all self-reported studies, collecting data this way does leave the study open to biases, and the hypothetical nature of the dating scenario may also not translate to how the students would actually approach it in a real situation. It does, though, give a starting point for future research into psychopathy and mimicry.
The study was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.