There is a relatively common belief that women are attracted to psychopaths.
But is it true, or not?
Are psychopaths more successful at seducing women?
This post will answer this question.
Intro: The Psychopathy Aspiration
Some men believe psychopathy provides a sexual advantage.
Or at least, that’s what I realized during my research to write the “Analysis of The Red Pill“.
On that Reddit community, some men discuss how dark triad traits allow men to sleep with a lot of women.
They are not totally wrong.
And dark triad traits can also work to attract men, who mistake the recklessness trait for the main ingredient that will lead the tribe to victory.
Sometimes, men want to be like psychopaths. These tend to be men who are not doing great in life and crave power and “vengeance”.
Like Machiavelli suggested to Princes, they think that instilling fear in the people around will give them the respect and acknowledgement they want.
The mass murderer Nikolas Cruz asked on Quora how he could “pretend to be a psychopath” (apparently his answer was to kill a lot of people :S).
But for this topic, let’s focus on the sexual side.
Ultimately, most men are interested in what gets them laid.
So let’s see if psychopathy really gets you laid.
The Attractive Traits of Psychopaths
As for many things in life and as for most things human, there is some truth in general statements.
And Psychopaths do have some traits that can enhance their effectiveness with women.
Some of the highest functioning psychopaths can even get good at seducing and have women maintain their lifestyle of do-nothing and spend money. However, it’s usually partners who are less attractive and lower sexual market value (David Buss, 2018), and it’s almost never high-quality women who bankroll their debauchery.
Here are some of their attractive traits:
- Going for what they want
- Fearless, confident-looking approaches in the initial stages of seduction
- Gib and charm (at least superficially)
- Effective game-playing, for example:
- Initial overload of whirlwind romance called “love bombing”, followed by emotional unavailability that leaves the victim desperate and need
- Power and dominance over women
#1. The Fearlessness Advantage
A bold entrance can make the difference between a “slow burn”, boring seduction, and a whirlwind one that sweeps women off their feet.
Here is an example of a famous psychopath in movie history: Joe Pesci.
The psychopathic trait that worked for Joe Pesci here is fearlessness.
See it for yourself:
You bet that risky approach will backfire a lot of times and lend you into some troubles over a lifetime.
But psychopaths are not worried about future troubles, and that risk-seeking approach does help them increase their notch-count.
#2. The “Edgy” Appeal: When Risk Intersects With Excitement
The “edgy” and dangerous side of psychopaths appeals to women.
Especially to a certain subset of women high on extraversion and, themselves, high in excitement-seeking (Brown, 2009).
At the extreme end of course are the serial-killers groupies.
The vacuously-intense stare of the psychopaths, for example, can stoke fear and excitement, which heightens and/or is confused with “butterflies love” and sexual excitement.
Adelyn Birch, author of “30 Covert Manipulation Tatctics” says that the psychopath stare is scary and unattractive from a stranger, but it makes women weak at the knees when the two are already close and gazing at each other in an intimate setting (the expression “weak at the knees” is my own, she writes more formally).
#3. The Power and Dominance Advantage
The most important trait that makes psychopaths effective in seduction is the power, dominance and confidence they can convey.
Psychopathy, as much as sociopathy, is all about seeking power and control and maneuvering the people around as on a chess board.
And women like powerful men.
Psychopaths are attractive because men who approach women from a position of power, dominance, confidence and leadership are all attractive, whether it comes from a position of positive leadership or from a destructive one.
Indeed, women are also initially attracted to non-psychopathic power-hungry men for the same reason they attracted psychopaths. And, as well, they are also attracted to otherwise moral and ethical leaders: these men all show power and dominance over them.
We saw that with Obama, where his power-position as the president allowed him to make this woman go all giggly just with his presence:
The man who behaved more psychopath-like was Mike, the girl’s boyfriend.
But Obama could have easily taken his girlfriend as an empath, because of the power, position and authority he had.
#4. The “No Prisoner Approach” (Initial) Advatange
The psychopath destructive approach might even have the edge in the beginning of seduction because he is willing to do whatever it takes and to take shortcuts.
And it’s always easier to bring home the reward if it’s “dead or alive” instead of “alive only”.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that the psychopathic destructive approach loses out in the long run as the true colors of their character starts dawning on women.
That’s why psychopaths target easier, more isolated targets and mostly hold onto lower quality women.
Brown, author of “Women Who Love Psychopaths“, never says so, but her sample size does not seem to contain many women who would normally have lots of of dating options.
The Psychopaths’ Myths
Of course, the statement that “women love psychopaths” is a huge generalization.
People who jump to that conclusion are falling prey of sample bias.
#1. The Serial Killer Myth
They see a famous serial killer and a few women who want to fuck them, and from “some women are attracted to some psychopaths”, they generalize to the whole population with the wrong conclusions that “women are attracted to psychopaths”.
(..) every time a new violent criminal like Nikolas Cruz the guy who shot up the school in Florida, or Chris Watts the guy who killed his pregnant wife and their two daughters, and these are just some examples of guys who are violent and murderous criminals, as soon as they get convicted almost immediately they get female fan clubs.
Sure, some women are attracted to serial killers.
Some lust the thrill and excitement that go with the fear, and some others feel (mistakenly) that the serial killer makes them safer.
However, we shouldn’t overblow this phenomenon.
There is a subset of women who are attracted to almost any man who’s famous and attractive. There is a fan club for almost any non-ugly, famous man.
Rollo there also displays the typical poor understanding of the psychopathy phenomenon that leads to the wrong generalization of psychopaths’ attractiveness.
To begin with, as psychopathy researcher Kent Kiehl explains, mass murderers are committed by men suffering from psychosis, not psychopathy (Kiehl, 2014).
Second, even if we only consider serial killers only, not all psychopaths are serial killers.
And not all women go wild over them. Not nearly as the number of women who go crazy over your average pop singer talking about heartbreaks anyway.
And, finally, women tend to be attracted to attractive psychopaths, not to any psychopath. And, of course, not all psychopaths are attractive.
Many psychopaths indeed have NO gib and charm, are ugly or completely socially retarded.
As a matter of fact, the more violent they are are, the less likely it is they are socially intelligent and successful with people. The smart ones tend to do less violent crimes and more white-collar crimes (see “Snakes in Suits“).
And, of course, there are also psychopaths who are total losers.
Dr. Hare, a leading expert on psychopathy, explains that some psychopaths go on a killing spree because they had no success with people and women whatsoever and feel rejected and “wronged” by society (ie.: the definition of a loser).
This is a bit like we’ve seen for the different roles of lover or provider that men take in seduction: the role does matter, but it’s quality matters more than the role (see: lovers VS providers).
In this case, it’s more about individual psychopath and his level of game, skills and attractiveness, than psychopathy as a disorder.
Psychopaths who don’t know what they’re doing are rapists and only get laid through hookers.
So, even here, quality makes a bigger difference than “psychopath” or “non-psychopath”.
The Myth of Cold-Blooded Meanness
Another myth is that psychopaths are attractive because of their amorality.
It’s not a total myth.
Some women might be perversely attracted to a lack of morals.
But it’s not the majority of women, and the proof is in the fact that most psychopaths do not seduce women by displaying their cold-heartedness.
That would backfire many more times than it would work.
Psychopaths’ seduction techniques involves feigning kindness.
Says Geoffrey Miller in “The Mating Mind“:
Very few psychopaths flaunt their lack of sympathy like Hannibal Lecter, because very few of them are glamorous, urbane geniuses.
Mostly, they are just ordinary creeps who beat their girlfriends, stab guys in bars for no reason, get caught (…).
Most psychopaths instead feign kindness and, often, go to the extreme and into what’s been referred to as the technique of “love bombing”.
Love bombing consists of ardent pursuit, fast-pacing the relationship towards more and more commitment, professing unending love and writing, calling and texting more than any normal man would.
Miller says that females’ appreciationg for kindness might have evolved to avoid psycopaths and psychopath-like men:
If sexual preferences evolved to avoid anything, they should have evolved to avoid psychopaths.
During human evolution there may have been a three-way arms race: females developed better tests for male sympathy, male psychopaths developed better ways to fake sympathy, and male non-psychopaths developed sympathy-displays that were harder and harder to fake. Just as fitness indicators evolved to advertise freedom from harmful mutations, perhaps sympathy indicators evolved to advertise freedom from psychopathy.
Women who failed to recognize psychopaths faced bigger challenges in raising their children compared to more empathic parents.
Challenges not big enough to completely root out psychopathy from humans’ gene pools, but enough to make psychopathy the exception and not the rule.
The Psychopaths’ Disadvantage
Psychopathy can provide some mating advantages, as we saw.
But it also comes with some heavy ballast that keeps the psychopath from enjoying the runaway success that the top tier men enjoy.
And while most people do understand the psychopath advantages, few do understand the drawbacks of psychopathy.
The sampling bias we saw above is one of the reasons why there is a certain misunderstanding around the sexual success of psychopaths.
The second reason stems from a misunderstanding of evolutionary psychology.
The Psychopath Myth
Rollo Tomassi says in the same interview as above:
“(dark triad triad) were survival traits in the past.
Those were the guys who got things done. Those were the guys who took care of their own. Those were the guys who were volatile enough to be fun in bed. Those were the guys who had the capacity to kill off a rival, to defend the woman with his life.
This is a major failure of understanding psychopathy.
To begin, psychopathy is a frequency-dependent strategy (Mealey, 1995). That means that psychopaths depend on a larger society of collaborators, and cannot function effectively on their own.
Second, the idea that psychopaths can be heroes is a common one, but that doesn’t make it correct.
It’s a popular, romanticized view of the “bad guy who’s actually good”.
You know, the guy everyone thinks he’s bad, but that he truly has a heart of gold and defends people with his life?
Yeah, that’s good for a Hollywood script, but it’s wrong 99 times out of 100.
I have addressed that fallacy in “do good and evil overlap” but, in short, here it is: psychopaths lack empathy and are extremely selfish. They would not defend anyone with their lives.
And they don’t really get things done, either: psychopaths can’t stick to things. They are volatile enough that they rarely manage to reach the top of any organization.
Still, it’s true that in the short run they can manage some impressive feat of sexual seduction, social seduction, or organizational climbing.
Some men respect psychopaths and some women are attracted to psychopaths because they are stronger than fearful and lower quality men.
A woman’s genetic inheritance might indeed be better off mating with a psychopath than a weak man with little to no status.
But that is not the same as saying that psychopaths make the top pick.
Let see better:
Psychopath VS high Quality Empaths
Psychopaths don’t look nearly as good by comparison when pitted against equally strong, empathic leaders.
Top quality women tend to pair up with the top quality men who are near the top of the social hierarchy. And, albeit there are a few notable exceptions, the men at the top of social hierarchies tend to be “normal” empaths much more frequently than they are psychopaths.
Many psychopaths spend too much time pissing off people (or in prison) to build the social support that leaders use to get to the top of social hierarchies.
This is true today as it was true in our hunter-gatherer days.
In the ancient world in which we evolved non-psychopaths were most likely not the most successful men of the tribe.
That is why, from an evolutionary point of view, moral leadership is more likely to trump and defeat the “psychopath” amoral approach to power and social dominance.
Writes Geoffrey F. Miller, an American evolutionary psychologist:
One could imagine a primate species in which females happened to develop a sexual preference for psychopaths, and males could obligingly evolve into violent bullies.
But groups playing that psychopathic equilibrium would go extinct in competition with efficient, peaceful groups playing the good-leadership equilibrium.
Thus, group selection is likely to favor non-pscyhopathic leadership as much as intra-group selection and social dynamics are likely to favor non-psychopathic individuals.
Geoffrey Miller by the way is one of those researchers who hates political correctness as much as I do.
When he writes that he is not trying to promote ethical leadership VS “bad behavior” and nudging his readers towards the former.
He is simply analyzing the status quo.
And bringing psychology and science -game theory, to be precise- to explain what worked in human evolution.
Psychopathy can provide advantages in mating and dominance hierarchies under some circumstances and in the short term.
A good looking, high-functioning psychopath will get laid more than an equally good looking but average man.
However, that’s the whole point. The psychopath advantages are most obvious when pitted against average or lower quality, fearful men rather than with a high-quality, strong and empathic leader.
A psychopath strategy was particularly bad in small tribes and fares relatively better in larger societies, albeit it’s still not the best strategy available.
It works better in the short term and more poorly in the long run.
In relationships, psychopaths then use a host of different techniques to keep their partners under their thumb, but that’s a topic for a different article.