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Psychopathic Sims: Testing the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis in a Video Game

Abstract

We investigated the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis of psychopathy in a sample of 205 undergraduate students. Participants played The Sims 3 video game with four pre-made same-sex roommate characters whose personalities were selected to represent a cheater, a hawk, a cooperator, and a dove. Interactions between game characters were coded for charm, friendliness, and provoked/unprovoked aggression (“mean” and “fight” behaviors). Overall, people with psychopathic traits used more hawk behaviors (mean and fight behaviors), irrespective of character, but they did not use more of the cheater-related behaviors (“friendly,” “funny,” and “complimenting” behaviors). With respect to specific characters, participants with psychopathic traits used primarily hawk behaviors with the cheater and dove and cheater behaviors with the hawk (in keeping with predictions). Overall, there was some support for the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis. As well, people higher on psychopathic traits appear to engage in different behaviors depending upon the target of their behavior. Overall, the study also lends support to the use of video game paradigms for investigating behavior.

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Funding

This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (#435-2017-0426) to Angela Book (P.I.) and Beth Visser (co-applicant).

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Correspondence to B. A. Visser.

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This study was approved by Institutional Research Ethics Boards, and all students provided informed consent prior to beginning their study participation.

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Visser, B.A., Batinic, M., Worth, N. et al. Psychopathic Sims: Testing the Cheater-Hawk Hypothesis in a Video Game. Evolutionary Psychological Science 6, 229–240 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-020-00231-3

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Aggression
  • Sims
  • Video game
  • Cheater-Hawk