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The Social Salience of Students’ Sub-Clinical Psychopathic Personality


We investigated the ability of undergraduate students to detect psychopathic personality traits in their new peers, after engaging in limited, naturalistic contact. Research has demonstrated that personality traits can be socially recognised in others. However, this research has not yet explored the recognition of psychopathic personality traits in newly encountered peers. This is important as some of these traits, such as manipulation, can have important social consequences in forming friendships. At the same time, manipulative tendencies only work best when not seen as such. To study the salience of psychopathic personality traits, undergraduate students (N = 101) took part in a round robin judgment paradigm during their orientation period of university. We found that participants were able to detect the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure’s traits of Boldness and Disinhibition but not Meanness in their groups, using typical social judgments. However, Meanness was the only trait that notably related to judges reporting that they would not make friends with targets who showed more psychopathic personality traits. These results highlight the importance of psychopathic personality traits when students form first impressions and intentions to make friends. Future research should consider the influence of ‘hidden’ meanness even in sub-clinical populations.

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Fig. 1


  1. Typically, in interpersonal perception research the person being rated is referred to as a ‘target’ and the person rating the target is referred to as a ‘judge’.

  2. Undergraduate students in the UK generally live in University owned accommodation (halls) or privately rented (shared) housing.

  3. 46.10% had spoken to each-other for the first time that week; 1.80% reported living with their target; and 2.00% reported speaking to the other person before university. 5.90% did not report.

  4. The number of targets being judged did not change the value of accuracy by itself (all correlations between the eight accuracy values and number of targets judged were all smaller than r < .15). We do accept that varying numbers of judges affects variation in the r value calculations. To retain as much data as possible for analysis we keep all judges in this analysis.


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Correspondence to Liam Satchell.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional Science Faculty Ethics Committee and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Satchell, L., Pearson, D. The Social Salience of Students’ Sub-Clinical Psychopathic Personality. Curr Psychol 39, 229–237 (2020).

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  • Psychopathic personality
  • Person judgment
  • Round Robin
  • Undergraduate student
  • Friendmaking