Sexy Science: The Weekly Scientist on Bad, Bad Men

With his gun-toting escapades and a habit of never waking up to the same woman more than once, James Bond turns out to be not just the antithesis of the pasty, sensible Englishman; he’s also everything evolutionists would expect not to have survived the brutal force of natural selection. Still, on he goes, downing his shaken-not-stirred martinis, riding his gadget-laden fast cars and bedding his uniformly attractive women. Bond is just a fictional character of course and certainly nothing to base an evolutionary hypothesis on, but look no further than reality TV and you will see where all the confusion is coming from. Point being: the bad boys are getting all the girls and somehow, they seem to get away with it.

Evidently, a man who can lead a life in such abandon must have a personality to match all that misbehaving. This is typically classified by the Dark Triad of personality traits, which refers to narcissism, psychopathy or Machiavellianism, in isolation, or in a neat little package complete with ticking time bomb. No good should come out of being a man with Dark Triad personality traits. Guys with a knack for making enemies rather than friends are bound to end up behind bars, exiled from society, or on somebody’s hit list.

Clearly, that is not always the case. Sometimes, being bad does pay off: two studies suggest that a little bit of evil tends to go down well with the ladies. Guys with Dark Triad personalities get to sleep with more women and will have been through more short-lasting relationships, compared to men who are far less asocial.

The first study, led by social psychologist Peter Jonason, found that more men, in comparison to women, tended to be prone to “short-term mating” habits if they had a Dark Triad personality. 224 undergraduate students (88 men, 136 women) were psychologically profiled and then quizzed about their sex life. Jonason discovered that participants who scored high on Dark Triad personality tests also tended to have the most sexual partners and the strongest desire for engaging in casual flings. The gender of the participant played a vital role, with the relationship between Dark Triad traits and short-term mating appearing less prevalent amongst the female contributors. On average, male contributors had 11.21 sexual partners whereas women only had 4.39.

The second study, by David Schmitt, looked at the association between short-term mating and the equally ominous-sounding Big Five of personality traits; these are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. The important thing to note is that these traits are strongly related to the Dark Triad, commonly to the point of overlap. Extraversion and openness virtually go hand in hand with narcissism and Machiavellianism. On the other hand, where there is lots of ruthlessness and self-adoration, there is little agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

Encompassing 46 nations across all world continents, Schmitt’s study concluded that the correlation between Dark Triad personalities and promiscuity persisted across various different cultures. Overall, people who were high on extroversion and openness, but very low on agreeableness and conscientiousness, engaged in more short-term mating, and vice versa. With Dark Triad personalities usually being very extroverted, this reaffirmed the findings of Jonason’s study.

Schmitt also discovered that this association was much stronger in men than in women. Bad girls have much less of a proclivity for wandering from bed to bed. Both biology and society are to blame for this inconsistency.

A man careless enough to impregnate multiple women is at a clear advantage, as long as he has the sense not to stay for all the nappy-changing. He will have passed on his nasty, Dark Triad genes without the bother and worries of parenthood, and hence can go on to spread his influence even further. This might be why Dark Triad personalities have not been picked out by natural selection; the short-term mating habits of these characters make it easier for them to stay in the gene pool.

For a woman, however, it gets much more complicated; quite simply, compared to men, women have not evolved as strong a desire for casual sex. First off, there is the biological investment of pregnancy, which is both energetically costly and time-consuming. Whereas in one year, a man can have sex with twenty women and bring about twenty pregnancies, a woman can sleep with twenty men but only complete one pregnancy. It is pretty obvious who gets to pass on the most genes. Then, there is parenthood, assuming that said woman does not choose to give the offspring up for adoption. The average parenting job lasts for about twenty-five years, so a single mother is not only bound to lose much sleep, but also a lot of time for making more babies.

Lastly, there is society. The notion of a woman engaging in as much if not more sexual activity than a man turns many of us into the ugliest sort of prude. Deeply instilled in us are concepts that are inherently unfair, but such is the strength of social dogma; we will have been fed these double-standars from an early age on. In the most patriarchal of cultures, women who don’t abide societal expectations even face being ostracized, if not executed.

But going back to the Dark Triad, what is it about those bad men that women can’t help but fall for? The attraction to men with Dark Triad personalities is not unusual; unlike Hybristophilia, or “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome”, this is not an unhealthy obsession with men who have committed heinous crimes. James Bond might have a licence to kill, but it isn’t the number of people that he has murdered that earns him the affection of his leggy, female sidekicks.

It all has to do with the confidence he exudes. As pointed out by Jonason and Schmitt, men with Dark Triad personalities are also very extroverted. They are less likely to lack self-esteem and much better on the first-date basis, where anxiety and neuroticism are rarely forgiven. Narcissism equips them perfectly for making that good first impression, but they aren’t as suitable for the long haul. Men with Dark Triad personalities are also very likely to be unfaithful, which can contribute to the breakdown of their relationships, and that is assuming that they even allow themselves to get into a relationship in the first place. Their mating strategy, based entirely on exteriority and deception, tends to devolve into an endless string of one-night-stands and few stable romances.

There is some justice in the world after all. In a follow-up study in 2010, Jonason discovered that people with high scores on Dark Triad tests are also oftentimes the victims of infidelity. Since many of these guys are investing their time into trying to poach somebody’s else’s mate, their own partner is left on the sidelines where they can just as easily be swept away. This is a strong disadvantage, particularly when such infidelity leads to pregnancy; in a way, a man more interested in other women than his own partner can very easily be one-upped by other guys. Dark Triad men might get to sleep with many women, but they rarely ever manage to keep any of them.

Eric John

Editor’s Note: The roses have wilted; the chocolates have been eaten. The month of February is finally coming to an end and so is our love-theme. We aren’t closing up shop just yet, however. Issue 209, which is coming out next-week-ish, will have an entire science section dedicated to one last bit of cynical sniping about love; please stay on the lookout for it. For now, The Weekly Scientist is blowing out the scented candles and getting on with much important things: eating more chocolate.

8 Comments on this post.
  • Tom Jacobs
    24 February 2011 at 00:41
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    I’ve just posted a piece on the California-based, research-oriented website Miller-McCune which reports on a different study of casual sex, and comes to a very different conclusion:

    Would you have casual sex with a stranger? How about a close platonic friend?

    How about with Johnny Depp?

    Getting more interested, ladies? If so, you’re adding to the evidence that some widely accepted beliefs regarding men, women and short-term sexual encounters may be significantly off-base.

    In a newly published paper describing a series of studies, University of Michigan psychologist Terri Conley asserts that “when women are presented with proposers who are equivalent in terms of safety and sexual prowess, they will be equally likely as men to engage in casual sex.”

    Her research suggests women, like men, are motivated by pleasure-seeking when they enter the sexual arena. It’s just that women are less likely to be satisfied by a short-term encounter, and they know it.

    For the rest of the story, go to:

  • Осмотр автомобиля перед покупкой
    25 February 2011 at 01:17
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    Thank you very much for that magnificent article

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