Psychopathy and the Induction of Desire: Formulating and Testing an Evolutionary Hypothesis

Abstract

The problems psychopathic individuals impose on society and in their interpersonal relationships can be held in stark contrast to reports of their appeal and sexual success in some of those relationships. In the current paper, we seek to contextualize this enigma by focusing on the interpersonal dynamics of psychopathic individuals in romantic encounters. We first formulate a plausible evolutionary function, the sexual exploitation hypothesis, that proposes psychopathy exhibits “special design” features for subverting female mate choice, facilitating the induction of favorable impressions and desire in prospective intimate relationships. We then test the hypothesis in two studies with university samples. Study 1 had young men assessed on psychopathy, social intelligence, and sociosexuality engage in a filmed dating interaction. Study 2 had young women view a subsample of the videos, rate them on desirability, and leave voice messages. Results show psychopathy was related to sociosexuality, specific factors of social intelligence, and generating higher desirability ratings from women after controlling for men’s physical attractiveness. Analyses involving comparisons of two men showed women’s ratings increased in favor of the more psychopathic man. Women’s voice pitch also changed, but only in response to different facets of psychopathy. The results provide preliminary support for the sexual exploitation hypothesis and suggest that more dynamic assessment of putative desirability in psychopathy may be required to capture its plausible special design features in prospective dating encounters.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This idea is supported in the work by Ellis (2005), who argued that men’s mating strategies may vary from the extremes of serious investment in mate-provisioning tactics to severe deceptive tactics.

  2. 2.

    There may be an additional factor of having an effect on some women but not others (e.g., Watts et al. 2019).

  3. 3.

    Winsorized procedure was giving the outlier a score of (M ± SD * 3) to bring the rank-ordered case within range for that variable (i.e., SOI-Behavior).

  4. 4.

    To address the unequal sample sizes, we also randomly selected 13 of the 33 men who reported having sex and compared them to the 13 reporting not having sex using an independent samples t test. This additional analysis also showed equal variances (F = .31, p = .58) and psychopathy was higher in those having sex (M = 164.15, SD = 25.82) compared to those not having sex (M = 142.08, SD = 19.84), t(24) = 2.45, p = .02, 95% CI [3.44, 40.71].

  5. 5.

    The sexual exploitation hypothesis assumes psychopathy functions to exploit female mate choice in dating encounters. Thus, a participant was excluded since they indicated their sexual orientation as gay.

  6. 6.

    We also calculated the alpha coefficients for each of the five participants that had the highest number of study 2 participants rate their videos (ns 8–12). These alpha coefficients ranged from .42 to .88. This suggests the alpha reliability for men receiving most responses from study 2 participants was in the acceptable range.

  7. 7.

    Mean pitch (Hz) difference = Mean pitch (Hz) of first message − mean pitch (Hz) of second message.

  8. 8.

    Interpersonal traits, β = .20, 95% CI [− .057, .440], p = .130, and lifestyle traits, β = − .13, 95% CI [− .382, .141], p = .363, were not statistically significant independent predictors.

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The authors thank Chantelle Dias and Paz Fortier for their invaluable and supportive contributions in completing this manuscript.

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Brazil, K.J., Forth, A.E. Psychopathy and the Induction of Desire: Formulating and Testing an Evolutionary Hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychological Science 6, 64–81 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-019-00213-0

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Intimate relationships
  • Evolutionary function
  • Dating
  • Female mate choice
  • Voice pitch