If you’ve had bad partners in your past, you’re not alone. But, no matter how awful they seemed and what language you or others used to describe them, there’s a good chance that they weren’t actually psychopathic. Because dating a psychopath is a pretty rare occurrence — psychopaths only make up about one percent of the population.
So how do you know if you’ve encountered a psychopath? A new study published in the Journal of Personality shows that there are people out there who are attracted to psychopaths, and they actually tend to be pretty high on the psychopathy scale as well.
Because the term “psycho” gets thrown around a lot in an insensitive and incorrect way, it’s important to understand what a psychopath actually is. Psychopathy is a personality disorder that’s “chronic, inflexible, typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood, and continues throughout one’s lifetime,” Dr. Danielle Forshee tells Bustle.
Although psychopathy can manifest in many different ways and with various intensities, there are some key traits that are often seen. “Psychopaths can be very disregarding and in violation of the rights of others,” Forshee says. “They can be aggressive physically, reckless, have a lack of remorse, be very impulsive, and can be very deceitful. They fail to conform to social norms with respect to the law. They usually destroy property, steal, they harass others, and are manipulative.” Doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal partner, does it?
According to the study, psychopaths were more likely to be attracted to other psychopaths. The researchers asked 696 participants to picture an attractive man or woman and gave them a list of 70 personality traits to choose from when imagining this person. While traits associated with psychopathy — manipulativeness, impulsiveness, a lack of responsibility — were not popular among participants generally, there was a slight catch. Those who scored higher on psychopathic traits, were more likely to be attracted to psychopathic traits in a partner. Interestingly, men were more likely to be attracted to psychopathic traits than women. Of course, this was in theory — they weren’t tracking people’s actual relationships, just the traits they considered desirable — but it’s an interesting insight into who is attracted to psychopaths.
You might read this and breathe a sigh of relief — if psychopaths are attracted to each other, then maybe they’re just leaving the rest of us alone, right? Well, the authors actually had a much more interesting — and slightly sinister — take. They suggested that this attraction between psychopaths could be why psychopathic traits have been able to continue to exist in the human population, rather than dying out. So, essentially, it means more psychopaths out there in general, for everyone to deal with.
Being attracted to someone who’s less-than-perfect or who ends up being a bad match isn’t uncommon, but attraction to an actual psychopath, and seeing traits like manipulativeness and deceit as appealing, is something much bigger. If you find yourself attracted to these types of behaviors, it may be time to look a little deeper.