Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Study finds psychopaths appear more attractive

Fictitious male model Derek Zoolander once said, “There’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking.” He may want to think again.

A new study conducted by two Washington University professors found that personality traits like narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, or cunning and duplicity, are positively correlated with attractiveness.

Psychology lecturer Nicholas Holtzman and psychology professor Michael Strube had 111 student test subjects to take two separate photographs—the first photograph was taken as soon as the students walked in, but for the second, students were asked to remove their own clothes and accessories and change into gray sweatpants and a T-shirt. Girls were asked to remove their makeup and put up their hair.

The photographs were then shown to a group of strangers who ranked each subject on his or her level of attractiveness.

The student test subjects also took personality-trait surveys and provided the email addresses of a few of their friends, who were then asked questions about their friends’ personality. The researchers combined the peer and self-ratings to calculate a final personality score for each participant.

Holtzman and Strube speicifically focused on students scores in narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, combining the three into a “dark triad” score.

They found that students with high dark triad scores—ones whose personality tests revealed high degrees of narcissism—were rated as more attractive than their less psychopathic peers, at least in the photographs where the subjects wore their own clothes.

But the researchers found that the same correlation was not found between “dark triad” scores and the photographs in which the students wore sweatpants and a T-shirt, suggesting that it is not necessarily physical appearance that creates attractiveness, but rather one’s ability to dress oneself up and present oneself to others.

In other words, those with “dark triad” personalities seem to be better at appearing attractive, even if they are not necessarily physically attractive, when given the freedom to dress, style and accessorize themselves as they please.

Some students were not surprised by the study’s findings. Junior Madeleine Parker, who is in the business school, explained that the phenomenon is visible in everyday life.

“That’s why the business school is more attractive than the other schools,” Parker said.

Others were confused by the results.

“Why people find narcissism attractive is beyond me,” said sophomore Rachel Catanese. “It’s never fun to hear somebody always talk about themselves.”

comments

Log In

  • psych student says:

    Headline is incredibly false. Having a relatively higher score on narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism is NOT the same as being a clinically defined psychopath.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  • Scott says:

    Perhaps this correlation is being interpreted backwards. Perhaps people whose style of dress is deemed attractive, and therefore results in multiple romantic or sexual ‘achievements’, have as consequence developed a ‘narcissitically’ high self-esteem. Perhaps being fashion-conscious creates narcissism. I find this correlation to be unsurprising, and the conclusions spurious.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

3 Comments Add your comment
Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878