Narcissism and psychopathy don’t sound like the most appealing traits. At least, you probably wouldn’t want to name people with literally antisocial traits as your friends. But, it seems when it comes to short-term heterosexual encounters, both men and women with these traits seem to be more successful, according to recent research.
When you think you’re attractive, some people might actually think you must be right
Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland found that narcissism and psychopathy were positively correlated with the number of sexual partners, as well as other sociosexual dynamics like self-perceived attractiveness and mate value.
According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and sexual selection, mate value represents the the sum of traits that are perceived as desirable by a potential sexual partner because they indicate reproductive success. For women, mate value can mean different things depending on whether they’re looking for a long-term monogamous partner or a short-term fling.
For instance, women looking for a long-term partner may value a mate with higher status and a greater ability to acquire resources, as well as qualities that are conducive to a meaningful relationship, such as empathy, loyalty, and other traits the increase the reproductive success of offspring. Some of the same qualities are also important to women when they select a mate for a casual fling or one night stand, but there is more weight attributed to characteristics that reflect “good genes”, such as physical attractiveness, intelligence, masculinity, and dominance.
Using experimental manipulation, in 2001, Joanna Scheib from the University of California, Davis, found that some women were willing to trade off a man’s good character for his greater physical attractiveness for extra-pair mateships (i.e. an affair while married).
Now, researchers in Finland suggest that some unsavory character traits may actually help some men have more casual sex.
The researchers recruited 210 healthy men and women from the university’s campus, who had to respond to questionnaires that assessed their mate value, self-perceptions of attractiveness, and Dark Triad traits. In psychology, the Dark Triad comprises the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
According to the results, both men and women who scored high for narcissism and psychopathy, but not Machievellianism, had greater number of sexual partners. In both sexes, only narcissism was positively correlated to self-perceived attractiveness and mate value, although one might want to take a narcissist’s self-reported notch count with a grain of salt.
Narcissism alone predicted higher self-perceived attractiveness and mate value in both men and women. However, it’s not clear if people with narcissistic traits have other qualities that make them attractive or their self-confidence due to the higher self-perceived attractiveness is making them more appealing to potential mates. In their study, at least, the authors believe evidence points to the latter, with one’s inflated view of their individual attractiveness contributing significantly to their reproductive success.
Narcissists and psychopaths are very skilled at carrying and presenting themselves in a way that immediately impresses other people, which makes them more attractive. And physical attractiveness is often automatically associated with a host of other positive traits – a phenomenon known as “the halo effect.” What this means is that when we perceive someone as physically attractive, many times we automatically assume they are kinder, smarter, and more confident. This makes their appeal all the harder to resist.
But while most other previous studies that found a positive correlation between Dark Triad traits and reproductive success centered on men, the present study found that women with these traits also enjoy more sexual partners. More research is required to determine whether women, and to what degree, benefit from being narcissistic in this context.
Those more humble among us might feel a bit disconcerted by these findings. However, each person has their gifts and flaws. Although they may be more proficient at acquiring short-term mates, the appeal of narcissists tends to decline over time, which introduces a host of personal problems to such people. Oftentimes, they are not able to maintain meaningful relationships, which provokes distress. That’s unless they also have psychopathic traits, in which case they probably don’t care that much.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.