Why we fall for the charms of psychopaths and narcissists

Many of us have been wondering about the appeal of those morose characters in the Twilight series of movies. For that matter, I’ve often wondered what is the allure behind vampires? Not only have the mythology of vampires been behind the success of the Twilight films, they seem to have endured as cultural artefacts since time immemorial. Long before Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart became household names, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels in the 1970s were already big enough bestsellers to warrant the casting of no less than Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the 1994 movie reprisal Interview with the Vampire.

For that matter popular old characters like Batman and Superman also eventually had to be re-branded as dark brooding flawed heroes to appeal to today’s audience. Personally I prefer it that way. Before man-boys like Adam Sandler and sensitive new-age guys (SNAGs) like that Ross character in Friends (played by David Schwimmer) entered the scene, licensed to kill misogynist James Bond was pretty much the archetype of male hotness.

Come to think of it, one needs to be a pretty self-absorbed prick to be the sort of dark flawed bad-boy characters that sell movie tickets and rake in ratings nowadays. Think Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) of Mad Men. He may be an asshole but he get gets all the chicks. Interestingly enough I came across this article in Scientific American that explains the psychology behind the sex appeal of dark personalities. According to the article, we are all naturally drawn to narcissists and psychopaths. It goes on to explain why mean girls are often the most popular kids in school and why vampires come across as so cool…

People perceived the narcissists as more likeable and found that they had flashier appearances, more confident body language, and more attractive facial expressions. Together with Holtzman and Strube’s findings, this suggests that narcissists are more skilled at carrying and presenting themselves in a way that immediately impresses others.

Well, that explains a bit, doesn’t it? At one time or another in our lives, we’ve all likely fallen for and even been fatally-attracted to dark horses who walked around as if there were a dark cloud constantly hanging over their heads. To these jerks, the only topic of conversation worth having revolves around their concerns and their personal issues. And we, the fools, would find in ourselves some sort of irrational sense of duty to serve as this person’s comforter — and in some cases, their punching bag. Some of us lucky ones manage to extricate ourselves from such destructive relationships before any permanent damage is done. But other losers aren’t as fortunate.

The trouble with some people is that they fail to differentiate between the gloss of movie personas and the practicality of real character in the people we meet in real life. The article continues…

This is yet another reason why it may be important to take your time in forming judgments when you get to know someone. The initial appeal of the narcissist or psychopath may be hard to resist. Physical attractiveness is often automatically associated with a host of other positive traits – a phenomenon known as “the halo effect.” When we perceive someone as physically attractive, we automatically assume they are also kinder, smarter, and more confident. Therefore, creating a physically attractive veneer is a highly effective way of creating an advantageous first impression. Combining physical attractiveness with confidence and humor is even more effective, and it appears that people with exploitive personalities are more successful at this as well.

And so that all but rains on the parade of the “modern” and so-called “liberated” girl-power advocates who trumpet the mating advantages of being, shall we say, a bit more responsive to the advances of some of the more aggressive and alluring guys out there. Perhaps being a bit blonde gets you more of the fun. But I believe that they should issue licenses before one can be considered legally blonde. To be one requires emotional savviness — an ability to differentiate between guys who are merely out for a bit of fun and those who are in it for the long haul. I am not saying that we should avoid those hot dark characters out there. I am saying that if one does decide to hook up with these sorts, they should learn to manage their expectations and give themselves enough time to assess their partner’s character before they unilaterally move from fun mode to serious mode.

There is no sight to behold more poignant than that of the girl who finds her readiness to “take the relationship to the next level” met by unpleasant surprise by her partner, or the girl who comes to her senses only after she’s had the better part of her life invested in a man who treats her bad.

Boils down yet again to knowing how to think, to never being complacent, and to avoiding being in full embrace of what is popular and glossy. That said, there is nothing wrong with occassional vacations from thinking, alertness, and critical analysis as long as we keep reminded of the keys to a happy life — balance, moderation, and sobriety.

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8 Comments on “Why we fall for the charms of psychopaths and narcissists”

  1. When I was a kid Superman was my hero until he quit his paper job and started working for the UN. ” I am not going to be just American hero, but the World hero” the longer he been around the weaker he’s gotten. He used to be able to lift up cars and building…now he has problem climbing the stairs. He used to be able to fly in outer space, now he needs a space suit and rocket ship and a bunch of super hero to go with him; Wonder woman, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and three Green Lanterns.

  2. Loved your article!
    I was interested from beginning to end.

    BTW, I constantly walk around with a cloud hanging over my head. I’m still hoping someone notices and comes to my comfort.

  3. I wonder if this also explains the “good girl loves bad boy” conundrum. I’ll reveal, one of my sisters (active in church and all that) married a total asshole. He borrows lots of money and never pays it back, wants to start fights with people who criticize him, looks for illegal rackets and doesn’t provide for their 4 children. What I wonder is, why does my sister still stick to him? He’s already driven her in debt, makes the lenders he ditches go after her, and still she feels dedicated to be with him. Only that we kicked the guy of the house long ago, and she lives at our house with her 4 children, who recognize me as their sort of “dad.”

    Crazy situation, and I’m sure my sister isn’t the only one like this.

  4. I disagree.

    People who live the life according to the teachings of Christ are the ones who are cool. Born Again Christians attract people so strongly that we to counsel them on how to politely turn down dates (especially when it coincides on the Sabbath). An independent Christian study also found that Born Again Christian Couples are the happiest couples compared to all religious groups (atheists ranked the least happy people).

    This is why I beg to differ. Narcissists and Psychopaths walk a path so different from that of Christ and I find it silly to even entertain the idea that people will actually find them attractive or charming.

    God Bless.

    1. Hold on a second, weren’t you outed by Ilda for having dual accounts and being a total four-lettered potty-mouth in here?

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