In my search of somewhat credible psychology articles (you’d be surprised how much clickbait there is) – actually, you probably wouldn’t – I found an article that related to our ongoing conversation in Psychology of Personality. The article’s (http://www.spring.org.uk/2015/12/these-dark-personality-traits-are-irresistibly-attractive.php) main premise is that impulsiveness and neuroticism are both correlated to sexual success. In comparison with the original article (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513815001075), it seems like a snippet of information, out of place. That is probably why the rest of the blog post focuses on the main findings of the study, which were strong correlations showing that compulsive males were more sexually successful.
To start, we have the facts. The author of the blog post is Dr. Jeremy Dean, who is a psychologist, and an author of PsyBlog and HealthiestBlog.com. And his latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking habits: How to make changes that stick”. [This is paraphrased, but almost word-for-word from the blog. Should I cite this?] In terms of the research article, “The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (Vall et al., 2015).”
Now, I want to focus on the snippet of information that was used to generate the click-bait title, and for my intents and purposes, ignore the rest.
To clarify: I’m honing in on the idea that other less desired personality traits, like neuroticism, can be seen as attractive, if personality is affected by natural selection, and lastly, the reasons these traits are not winnowed out by evolution.
Neuroticism is defined by Wikipedia as follows: “Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology characterized by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, envy, guilt, and depressed mood.” Neuroticism is included in most personality inventories.
Narcissism is an inflated self-conception, with self-centered needs, where one seeks admiration, and to be satisfied through others.
Psychopathy can be identified by: lack of emotions and guilt, being manipulative and shallow, having a superficial charm, being impulsive, and having an unrealistically heightened self-image.
Machiavellianism is being emotionally ‘cool’ and detached, and one is more likely to manipulate and deceive others.
The three often come together, and when they do, it is called ‘The Dark Triad’.
Sadly, I don’t have access to the course PowerPoints for Psychology of Personality, so I cannot give exact correlations. In terms of attractiveness, each of these traits score high in some aspects that one or both sexes find attractive. Narcissistic people can be extremely confident, people scoring high in Machiavellianism or Psychopathy can both be manipulative, be confident, and have a superficial charm. This enables people with these traits to give off an attractive first impression.
When combined, as ‘The Dark Triad’, they show a powerful .5 correlation to short-term mating behaviors, including sociosexuality (willingness to engage in sexual activity without emotional ties), number of sex partners, and seeking a short-term mate. In contrast, it is also related to lower self-control and lack of consideration of future consequences.
It is important here to consider how evolution works. Evolution is slow acting and without intent. The only mechanism is the individual’s fitness to reproduce, and the fitness of the offspring. Therefore, given enough time, many strategies disappear, and generally the ones most successful become the most common. In terms of personality, all it can do is increase the motivation of a creature to engage in behaviors that in the past were associated with higher rates of reproduction. To give the theory that evolution affects personality some credit, hundreds of studies that we inspected in Behavioral Genetics show that there is a heritable component of varying effect to all major personality traits. Moreover, stable individual differences have been shown to have important consequences for evolutionary relevant outcomes.
To extrapolate on the topic, I want to include findings from an article by Nettle, from 2006. Firstly, somewhat in contrast to the last statement, evolution can act on personality so to promote traits that enhance survival. For example, being high in neuroticism, one can be more likely to interpret an unknown stimuli as a threat, and be able to spot a threat quicker due to high alertness. On a personal anecdote, one can see the benefits of anxiety and similar behaviors in an intimate setting as that of hunter-gatherer groups. Relating to The Dark Triad, and perhaps drawing a connection to Game Theory, I want to propose a theory as to why these traits have been so far successful. Negative frequency-dependent selection is when the fitness of a phenotype becomes less successful as it becomes more prevalent. If most people are honest and high in morals and ethics, someone who does not have a concept of the emotions of others will be able to deceive their way to reproductive fitness. Now, there are two reasons I think this wouldn’t work any other way. Firstly, as it becomes more prevalent, people grow more weary, have their guard up, and will be able to identify the traits with greater ease. Secondly, it is a short-term mating with negative correlations to long-term relationships.
I could probably have stronger evidence for my theory, but it’s a theory in progress. In relation to the blog post and article, I wholeheartedly agree that “normal-range personality variation has adaptive functions rather than being random noise around a behavioral optimum” (Bergmüller and Taborsky, 2010, Buss, 2009, Kight et al., 2013, Réale et al., 2010, Sih et al., 2004 and Wolf and Weissing, 2010) and that some of those functions are to make one more attractive.