The dark triad (aka DT) is a combination of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, with some evidence suggesting that sadism may be distinct from psychopathy, thereby forming a dark tetrad. Some studies have claimed that women preferentially sexually select dark triad men as short-term sexual partners and rate these men are more attractive. Further research have also shown this is not fully explained by dark triad men being more extroverted, confident, or physically attractive.
Although many have portrayed dark triad traits as being associated with a male-centric sexual strategy, a recent high-profile study has suggested that men exhibit a stronger relative preference for certain dark triad traits (borderline/secondary psychopathy) than women. In this study, women generally preferred men with such traits less, controlling for physical attractiveness. This finding implies that men are less averse to such traits than women when making mate choices, which may be explained by them caring less about personality traits in general (compared to physical attractiveness), at least in the context of hypothetical mating decisions. Certain Dark Triad traits (psychopathy and narcissism) are also associated with greater promiscuity in both sexes (slightly stronger effects for men). There is also limited evidence that suggests psychopathy and narcissism are associated with greater physical attractiveness among women, which would be another factor that would make them more attractive to men.
The contrast in the results of studies may be because, while women may not prefer overtly psychopathic men, these men often have a higher level of superficial charm and thus a heightened ability to deceive others regarding their interpersonal characteristics. The dark triad also seems to reflect a short-term mating sexual strategy that may be associated with distinct behavioral adaptions in both sexes. So men may prefer certain dark triad traits while women may prefer others. It is important to note that saying women, on average, do not prefer "nice" qualities in dating is different than saying most prefer outright psychopathy (which some might).
It could also be that female preferences do not drive most psychopathic men's greater sexual success, as these men may be more likely to mate with women who are as psychopathic as themselves. There is also evidence that psychopathy in men weakly predicts lower relationship satisfaction in their female partners, which may lead to a higher risk of relationship dissolution. Ergo, it is clear that psychopathy is characterized by adaptions that increase short-term relationships and decrease one's ability to have fulfilling, committed, long-term relationships, directly promoting sexual promiscuity among individuals of both sexes.
The dirty dozen
The "Dirty Dozen" is a scoring tool for quickly quantifying if one has Dark Triad traits. It is a condensed version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Mach-IV, and Psychopathy Scale-III.
- I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
- I tend to lack remorse.
- I tend to want others to admire me.
- I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.
- I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
- I tend to be callous or insensitive.
- I have used flattery to get my way.
- I tend to seek prestige or status.
- I tend to be cynical.
- I tend to exploit others toward my own end.
- I tend to expect special favors from others.
- I want others to pay attention to me.
The three traits
Putting one's own needs before others' wants. Projecting a high self-image. Vanity. Entitlement. Excessive self-love.
Deceitfulness, cynicism and the tendency to see people as mere 'pawns' to be manipulated for your own benefit. Power at almost any cost.
Callous affect. Not caring about what society thinks of you and only thinking about what will benefit yourself. Not being able to feel empathy. Compulsive lying and total disregard for authority and morality. High arousal threshold, requiring high levels of stimulation (i.e. excessive drug use, compulsive gambling, casual sex). Violent and anti-social behavior.
Not a byproduct of extroversion
In a study, women were presented with male characters of varying degrees of Dark Triad personality. Physicality was held constant. Men with Dark Triad traits were dramatically more attractive to women compared to control characters who lacked these traits (with 99.9% statistical certainty). Furthermore, the attractiveness of these Dark Traits was not explained by other characteristics like extroversion.
Psychopathic men are particularly sexually successful
Brazil & Forth conducted a naturalistic experiment where women were instructed to view a short interaction between a series of women and men (N = 46) who were matched on attractiveness (as judged by third-party raters).
Controlling for physical attractiveness, women generally judged the men higher in psychopathy (as measured by psychometric tests) as more attractive. The researchers concluded through their research taht this was due to the psychopaths tricking women, calling them
"sexual sneakers” or “mimics” who appear attractive and desirable by mate choice standards yet have underlying dispositions that indicate a deceptive and loosely committed orientation.
—Kristopher J. Brazil & Adelle E. Forth
Additionally, in a second follow-up study, women were instructed to imagine that they were leaving the men voice messages, asking for a date. It was found that women's voiced pitch was higher (seen by the authors to represent a somewhat objective measure of women's attraction to the males), in response to greater levels of certain facets of psychopathy in the males.
Cluster-B personality disorders lead to 3.5x as many sexual partners and more offspring
Guitiérrez et al. (2013) conducted a study in order to determine if the various personality disorder clusters - Type A (Schizoid, Odd), Type B (Narcissistic, Anti-social) and Type C (Avoidant, OCD) - were solely detrimental in terms of life outcomes for the individuals with these personality disorders (PDs), or if they instead presented those who bear these conditions with various potentially adaptive benefits, such as greater sexual and social opportunities.
A sample of psychiatric outpatients were presented with a questionnaire designed to measure the presence and intensity of the ten personality disorders, and a further questionnaire was also administered, that was designed to broadly measure various life outcomes such as number of sexual partners, employment, income, and health.
While finding that in general, PDs were resulting in more negative life outcomes broadly, there were some potentially evolutionary adaptive benefits that seemed to accrue to bearers of these disorders.
Namely, those individuals high in type-B personality cluster traits (Narcissism, Anti-Social, Borderline, Histrionic) of both sexes has 3.5x as many mates as low B subjects, with five times as many short-term mates and twice as many long term mates. It was also found that those higher in cluster B had 39% more offspring then those lower in cluster B traits.
Thus it can be surmised that these personality traits, with all their concomitant negative outcomes; both for the bearers of these disorders and their potential victims, are most likely being significantly sexually selected for in various modern societies.
Narcissistic men are more desired by women seeking marriage
Haslam & Montrose (2015) conducted a survey of 146 British females asking them to rate their agreement with a series of statements intended to measure their attraction to narcissism in a potential male partner. The statements were based on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) a psychological test designed to measure the level of "sub-clinical narcissism" in an individual. They found:
- Women wishing to get married were more attracted to the narcissistic male personality (mean rank = 77.82) than those not desiring marriage (mean rank = 59.81). Most women desired marriage in this sample.
- Highly promiscuous women (women with more than 21 partners) were significantly more attracted to the narcissistic male personality. This may be evidence for assortative mating for dark triad traits, though it contradicts the claim that more sexually experienced women would be more avoidant towards narcissistic men due to greater experience with the averse aspects that said traits can have on relationship stability. It could simply be explained by such women being more erotophilic (responsive to sexual cues) in general.
- These findings were despite evidence that suggests narcissistic mates are more likely to be unfaithful, and narcissism is associated with a lack of relational commitment.
Undergraduate women are attracted to psychopaths in IRL settings
Brazil & Forth conducted a naturalistic experiment where women were instructed to view a short interaction between a series of women and men (N = 46) who were matched on attractiveness (as judged by third-party raters). Controlling for physical attractiveness, the undergraduate women in the study generally judged the men higher in psychopathy (as measured by psychometric tests) as more attractive.
In a second follow-up study, women were instructed to imagine that they were leaving the men voice messages, asking for a date. It was found that women's voiced pitch was higher (seen by the authors to represent a somewhat objective measure of women's attraction to the males), in response to greater levels of certain facets of psychopathy in the males, but lower in others such as antisociability.
The researchers concluded that the evidence showed the psychopaths were behaving like "sneaker males", and feigning non-psychopathic characteristics, although it wasn't clear exactly which ones.
The evidence suggests that in the landscape of individuals looking for romantic relationships, there may be sexual “sneakers” or “mimics” who appear attractive and desirable by mate choice standards yet have underlying dispositions that indicate a deceptive and loosely committed orientation.
Essentially, these men often exhibit a glib charm (in line with movie portrayals of psychopaths) that explains the women's attraction to psychopathic men. There was some evidence for this in the study, but the fact that the women that left the voice messages were most attracted to the men who most strongly exhibit the callous facets of psychopathy (lack of remorse or empathy) suggests that they may be unconsciously also attracted to underlying genetic traits of psychopathic men, perhaps being explained by Fisherian runaway selection for traits that will aid potential sons born of encounters of psychopathic men in attaining casual sexual relationships themselves (indirect genetic benefits). It could also be that these men appear more confident, bold, or dominant to the women. However, the women were also averse to the anti-social facets of psychopathy, even on an implicit level, suggesting that most women do not like particularly violent and aggressive men, at least in first acquaintance settings.
It is frequently claimed that Dark Triad men are more attractive to women, not out of an overt female preference for "bad boys", but because they have a higher level of superficial charm and thus high ability to deceive others regarding their interpersonal characteristics: V. Mehta notes:
Carter and his colleagues offer two possible explanations. First, sexual selection might be at work. This would mean that women are responding to signals of “male quality” when it comes to reproduction. And with respect to short-term mating, women may be drawn to ‘bad boys’, who demonstrate confidence, stubbornness, and risk-taking tendencies. Second, sexual conflict may be at play. The investigators state that “Women may be responding to DT men’s ability to ‘sell themselves’; a useful tactic in a co-evolutionary ‘arms race’ in which men convince women to pursue the former’s preferred sexual strategy.” They note that like a “used-car dealer,” Dark Triad men may be effective charmers and manipulators, furthering their success at short-term mating. The authors are also careful to note that though women rated the DT character as comparatively more attractive, it does not necessarily mean that they would have sex with them.
Another possible explanation regarding certain women's attraction towards the Dark Triad traits is the claim that there exists "assortative mating" for these traits. Like with many other human traits e.g. race, physical attractiveness, income, education etc., there indeed exists some evidence that women with higher levels of Dark Triad traits are more strongly drawn to men that are also higher in these traits: "We found assortative preferences for all Dark Triad traits in long-term mating, and assortative preferences for Machiavellianism and psychopathy in short-term mating. Our study is the first one to suggest that the sexual success of high Dark Triad males may be driven by assortative mate choice by women with the same characteristics." However, somewhat contrary to this hypothesis, Plomin & Dreary (2015), only found evidence of a weak (0.10) assortative mating correlation for psychopathology, which is much weaker than that found between married couples for intelligence (0.40).
Another study that examined the effects of the Dark Triad traits on the self-reported relationship satisfaction of 100 young heterosexual couples found:
- Women higher or lower in psychopathy reported more satisfaction with partners who had similar levels of psychopathy to themselves.
- Those high in Machiavellianism (particularly women) reported more dissatisfaction in their relationships when their partner was also similarly high in Machiavellianism.
- Narcissists reported higher levels of satisfaction when their partners were also high in narcissism.
Finally, another explanation (favored particularly by blackpillers solely focused on LMS theory, particularly lookism) is that women are attracted to Dark Triad men because it is a Zahavian Signal of high male mate quality, i.e. Dark Triad men are more likely to have traits that enable them to act in a callous, manipulative and narcissistic manner and still be accepted by prospective female partners, because them acting in this way and not being "put in their place" by society, must mean they have high objective mate value, particularly good looks.
There also exists some evidence that narcissism in particular is related to "greater phenotypic quality" in both males and females, for instance, a more masculinized phenotype and lower facial and overall fluctuating asymmetry, that may potentially also account for the women's greater attraction to these men in general. Narcissistic men and women are (not surprisingly) also more likely to engage in self-adornment related behaviors e.g. wearing expensive clothing, jewelry, engage in high levels of grooming, and (in women) dressing in a more revealing manner, that also serve to enhance their physical appearance and thus mate value, in general.
Since kindergarten, Frank was a problem. He bullied smaller pupils, disobeyed school rules, and was often truant. He quit school during the 11th grade, then traveled the continent using money he borrowed from friends (but never repaid). He also had many short-term jobs, fraudulently collected welfare, and dealt drugs. He had many heterosexual relationships, fathering at least one child by the time he was 16. He was first incarcerated at 15 for stealing a car, and by 18, he had a criminal record that included violent offenses, theft and possession of stolen goods, and drug trafficking.
When he was 19, Frank was arrested for the brutal rape of an acquaintance. The victim barely survived severe internal injuries, but Frank always maintained that the sex was mutually consenting. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. After many years in a maximum security institution, Frank was transferred to a less secure hospital. While there, he persuaded a nurse that he was innocent and misunderstood. Believing Frank was in love with her, she helped him escape by unlocking the door and hiding him in the trunk of her car. Frank stayed the weekend with her, then left while she was out buying groceries; she never heard from him again. After being apprehended, Frank was returned to the maximum security facility but, within a few years, he was again transferred to a less secure hospital. During his stay there, he sexually assaulted three fellow female patients and a staff member.
While on a pass, he viciously raped a young woman in the local community. Again, he was returned to maximum security. Since then he has written a two-volume autobiography featuring a portrait of himself on the cover. He reads all of our published research from which he tries to use out-of-context quotations to convince the Review Board to release him again. Recently, a nurse on his unit lost her job after Frank convinced her to smuggle testosterone tablets to him.
- Jonason P. K., Li N. P., Webster G. W., Schmitt D. P. (2009). "The Dark Triad: Facilitating short-term mating in men." European Journal of Personality. 23: 5–18. doi:10.1002/per.698.
- Jonason P. K., Valentine K. A., Li N. P., Harbeson C. L. (2011). "Mate-selection and the Dark Triad: Facilitating a short-term mating strategy and creating a volatile environment." Personality and Individual Differences. 51 (6): 759–63. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.025.
- Jonason P. K., Li N. P., Buss D. M. (2010). "The costs and benefits of the Dark Triad: Implications for mate poaching and mate retention tactics." Personality and Individual Differences. 48 (4): 373–78. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.003.
- doi:10.1016/j.paid.2020.10996 Blanchard, A. E., Dunn, T. J., & Sumich, A. (2020). Testing the hot-crazy matrix: Borderline personality traits in attractive women and wealthy low attractive men are relatively favored by the opposite sex. Personality and Individual Differences, 109964.
- Cartera GL, Campbell AC, Muncer S. The Dark Triad personality: Attractiveness to women. Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 56, January 2014, Pages 57-61. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886913012245
- Holtzman, Nicholas, S., "People With Dark Personalities Tend to Create a Physically Attractive Veneer" Social Psychological and Personality Science, October 4, 2012, doi: 10.1177/1948550612461284
- https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/SD3/ Online version of the 'SD3' designed to measure the levels of the 'dark triad' traits in an individual produced by Delroy L. Paulhus and Daniel Jones, provided for educational purposes.
- https://www.idrlabs.com/dark-triad/test.php Alternate online Dark Triad test.
- https://osf.io/evs7z/ Online physiognomy database consisting of a series of facial morphs of individuals of both sexes, that are either high or low in regards to the various Dark Triad traits, based on both self-reported and peer-reported levels of the individual's Dark Triad traits.
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