The Dark Triad is a combination of three personality traits: narcissism (heightened sense of self-importance), Machiavellianism (manipulativeness), and psychopathy (low empathy). Many mainstream studies have shown that women generally prefer men with dark triad traits, and studies have also shown this is not fully explained by men high in the Dark Triad being more extroverted, confident, or physically attractive in general.
Alternative explanations for women's greater attraction to Dark Triad men and these men's generally higher level of sexual success include Dark Triads men's greater willingness to engage in sexual coercion, their more effective self-presentation, and their general tendency towards deceiving and manipulating women, and their greater ability to do so compared to other men. This deception often appears to take the form of Dark Triad men lying about their willingness to invest in prospective female partners and exaggerating their level of social status and resources; recent research does provide mixed support for this 'exploitation' hypothesis.
- 1 Psychological measurment of the Dark Triad
- 2 The three traits
- 3 Evidence of women's greater attraction towards men high in the Dark Triad
- 4 Evidence of Dark Triad men being more sexually successful
- 5 Alternate explanations
- 6 Case study of a psychopath's relationships with women
- 7 References
- 8 External link
- 9 See Also
Psychological measurment of the Dark Triad
The "Dirty Dozen" is a scoring tool for quickly quantifying if one has Dark Triad traits. It is a condensed version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Mach-IV, and Psychopathy Scale-III. The test is scored based on one's answers to the following items, with more positive responses indicating a greater level of Dark Triad traits:
- I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
- I tend to lack remorse.
- I tend to want others to admire me.
- I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.
- I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
- I tend to be callous or insensitive.
- I have used flattery to get my way.
- I tend to seek prestige or status.
- I tend to be cynical.
- I tend to exploit others toward my own end.
- I tend to expect special favors from others.
- I want others to pay attention to me.
The three traits
Several mainstream academic, peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that women are sexually attracted to men who exhibit Dark Triad traits, likely because of women's evolutionary history. In practice these traits essentially allude to the following behavioral traits which help an alpha male stand out from his beta brethren:
Putting one's own needs before others' wants. Projecting a high self-image. Vanity. Entitlement. Excessive self-love.
Deceitfulness, cynicism and the tendency to see people as mere 'pawns' to be manipulated for your own benefit. Power at almost any cost.
Callous affect and low empathy. Not caring about what society thinks of you and only thinking about what will benefit yourself. Not being able to feel empathy. Compulsive lying and total disregard for authority and morality. High arousal threshold, requiring high levels of stimulation (i.e. excessive drug use, compulsive gambling, casual sex). Violent and anti-social behavior.
Male psychopaths tend to be aggressive and criminal, behavior that is seen at least 10-15 more often in males than in females. Female psychopaths rather manipulate, flirt and exhibit self-injury which is often diagnosed as histrionic and borderline personality disorder. Histrionic disorder, on the other hand, is comparably rare among men.
Evidence of women's greater attraction towards men high in the Dark Triad
Not a byproduct of extroversion
In a study women were presented with male characters of varying degrees of Dark Triad personality. Physicality was held constant. Men with Dark Triad traits were dramatically more attractive to women compared to control characters who lacked these traits (with 99.9% statistical certainty). Furthermore, the attractiveness of these Dark Traits was not explained by other characteristics like extroversion.
Thus it seems apparent that while personality does matter to women, it does not matter in the ways they claim. Contrary to popular claims that women want a "nice, caring guy," in actual fact, they are most sexually attracted and aroused by narcissistic, manipulative, and psychopathic men.
This likely has a basis in evolutionary biology, as Dark Triad traits may have helped provide a competitive edge to men in difficult times, for example, by allowing a man to kill others for resources. Another possible explanation is that violent, manipulative or narcissistic behavior is an honest signal of exceptionally good erotic capital (i.e good looks) high social status or financial capital, as such a person who possesses these traits can 'get away' with behaving in such a manner.
Women desiring marriage and commitment are more attracted to narcissistic men
Haslam & Montrose (2015) conducted a survey of 146 British females asking them to rate their agreement with a series of statements intended to measure their attraction to narcissism in a potential male partner. The statements were based on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) a psychological test designed to measure the level of "sub-clinical narcissism" in an individual. The researchers found:
- Women wishing to get married were more attracted to the narcissistic male personality (mean rank = 77.82) than those not desiring marriage(mean rank = 59.81).
- Women with a higher number of sexual partners were significantly more attracted to the narcissistic male personality.
- All of this is despite it being previously demonstrated that narcissistic mates are more likely to be unfaithful and narcissism is associated with a lack of relational commitment.
Women are attracted to psychopathic men
Brazil & Forth conducted a naturalistic experiment where women were instructed to view a short interaction between a series of women and men (N = 46) who were matched on attractiveness (as judged by third-party raters). Controlling for physical attractiveness, women generally judged the men higher in psychopathy (as measured by psychometric tests) as more attractive. Additionally, in a second follow-up study, women were instructed to imagine that they were leaving the men voice messages, asking for a date. It was found that women's voiced pitch was higher (seen by the authors to represent a somewhat objective measure of women's attraction to the males), in response to greater levels of certain facets of psychopathy in the males.
Evidence of Dark Triad men being more sexually successful
Cluster-B personality disorders lead to 3.5x as many sexual partners and more offspring
Guitiérrez et al. (2013) conducted a study in order to determine if the various personality disorder clusters - Type A (Schizoid, Odd), Type B (Narcissistic, Anti-social) and Type C (Avoidant, OCD) - were solely detrimental in terms of life outcomes for the individuals with these personality disorders (PDs), or if they instead presented those who bear these conditions with various potentially adaptive benefits, such as greater sexual and social opportunities.
A sample of psychiatric outpatients were presented with a questionnaire designed to measure the presence and intensity of the ten personality disorders, and a further questionnaire was also administered, that was designed to broadly measure various life outcomes such as number of sexual partners, employment, income, and health.
While finding that in general, PDs were resulting in more negative life outcomes broadly, there were some potentially evolutionary adaptive benefits that seemed to accrue to bearers of these disorders.
Namely, those individuals high in type-B personality cluster traits (Narcissism, Anti-Social, Borderline, Histrionic) of both sexes has 3.5x as many mates as low B subjects, with five times as many short-term mates and twice as many long term mates. It was also found that those higher in cluster B had 39% more offspring then those lower in cluster B traits.
Thus it can be surmised that these personality traits, with all their concomitant negative outcomes; both for the bearers of these disorders and their potential victims, are most likely being significantly sexually selected for in various modern societies.
It is frequently claimed that Dark Triad men are more attractive to women, not out of an overt female preference for "bad boys", but because their superficial charm allows them to deceive others in regards to their interpersonal characteristics: V. Mehta notes:
Carter and his colleagues offer two possible explanations. First, sexual selection might be at work. This would mean that women are responding to signals of "male quality" when it comes to reproduction. And with respect to short-term mating, women may be drawn to 'bad boys,' who demonstrate confidence, stubbornness, and risk-taking tendencies. Second, sexual conflict may be at play. The investigators state that "Women may be responding to DT men's ability to 'sell themselves'; a useful tactic in a co-evolutionary 'arms race' in which men convince women to pursue the former's preferred sexual strategy." They note that like a "used-car dealer," Dark Triad men may be effective charmers and manipulators, furthering their success at short-term mating. The authors are also careful to note that though women rated the DT character as comparatively more attractive, it does not necessarily mean that they would have sex with them.
Dark triad men also have a higher overall level of mating effort due to their higher self-esteem and lack of impulse control. Those higher in certain aspects of the Dark Triad tend to focus on short-term mating over more committed relationships. The Dark Triad is generally associated with a fast life history strategy, which represents biological tendency to focus physiological resources and conscious effort on short term mating, and generally eschewing longer-term, more committed relationships. This heavy focus on short-term mating would be expected to result in a much higher lifetime sexual partner count for such men. However, there is also evidence linking specific leadership related facets of the Dark Triad (such as narcissistic exhibitionism, leadership, and psychopathic fearless dominance) to a slower life history strategy, with this research implying that the main facets of the Dark Triad that can be linked to a faster life history speed are a willingness to engage in short term mating, aggressive behavior, and manipulativeness.
A faster life history speed and the Dark Triad itself are also robustly associated with the willingness to employ sexual coercion.  Thus, men high in the Dark Triad are more likely to subvert female mate choice by engaging in rape or other forms of sexual coercion. It has been shown that a tendency to engage in domestic violence typically results in high levels of in-pair copulation and that women who are the victims of a successful rape regularly report engaging in further acts of sexual intercourse with their rapist subsequent to the act. This implies a natural female tendency to submit to male coercion, with the late prominent ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt arguing that this represents an ancestral, deeply rooted adaption that makes women desire a man to overcome their natural reluctance and display a willingness to coerce her into sex, in a fashion similar to what one sees with many animal species. Thus Dark Triads men's willingness to be sexually coercive and violent may result in them generally attaining greater sexual access to women, somewhat independent of female choice.
Another possible explanation regarding certain women's attraction towards the Dark Triad traits is the claim that there exists "assortative mating" for these traits. Like with many other human traits e.g., race, physical attractiveness, income, education, etc., there exists some evidence that women with higher levels of Dark Triad traits are more strongly drawn to men that are also higher in these traits: "We found assortative preferences for all Dark Triad traits in long-term mating, and assortative preferences for Machiavellianism and psychopathy in short-term mating. Our study is the first one to suggest that the sexual success of high Dark Triad males may be driven by assortative mate choice by women with the same characteristics."  However, somewhat contrary to this hypothesis, Plomin & Dreary (2015), only found evidence of a weak (0.10) assortative mating correlation for psychopathology, which is much weaker than that observed between married couples for intelligence (0.40).
Another study that examined the effects of the Dark Triad traits on the self-reported relationship satisfaction of 100 young heterosexual couples found:
- Women higher or lower in psychopathy reported more satisfaction with partners who had similar levels of psychopathy to themselves.
- Those high in Machiavellianism (particularly women) reported more dissatisfaction in their relationships when their partner was also similarly high in Machiavellianism.
- Narcissists reported higher levels of satisfaction when their partners were also high in narcissism.
Finally, another explanation (favored particularly by blackpillers solely focused on LMS theory, particularly lookism) is that women are attracted to Dark Triad men because it is a Zahavian Signal of high male mate quality, i.e., Dark Triad men are more likely to have traits that enable them to act in a callous, manipulative and narcissistic manner and still be accepted by prospective female partners. They are argued to receive 'permission' by society to act in this way, without negative consequences, due to their high objective mate value, particularly their good looks.
There also exists some evidence that narcissism, in particular, is related to "greater phenotypic quality" in both males and females, for instance, a more masculinized phenotype and lower facial and overall fluctuating asymmetry, that may potentially also account for the women's greater attraction to these men in general.
Narcissistic men and women are (not surprisingly) also more likely to engage in self-adornment related behaviors e.g., wearing expensive clothing, jewelry, engage in high levels of grooming, and (in women) dressing in a more revealing manner. The more effective self-presentation of narcissists would undoubtedly be expected to enhance their physical appearance and thus mate value, in general.
Case study of a psychopath's relationships with women
Since kindergarten, Frank was a problem. He bullied smaller pupils, disobeyed school rules, and was often truant. He quit school during the 11th grade, then traveled the continent using money he borrowed from friends (but never repaid). He also had many short-term jobs, fraudulently collected welfare, and dealt drugs. He had many heterosexual relationships, fathering at least one child by the time he was 16. He was first incarcerated at 15 for stealing a car, and by 18, he had a criminal record that included violent offenses, theft and possession of stolen goods, and drug trafficking.
When he was 19, Frank was arrested for the brutal rape of an acquaintance. The victim barely survived severe internal injuries, but Frank always maintained that the sex was mutually consenting. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. After many years in a maximum security institution, Frank was transferred to a less secure hospital. While there, he persuaded a nurse that he was innocent and misunderstood. Believing Frank was in love with her, she helped him escape by unlocking the door and hiding him in the trunk of her car. Frank stayed the weekend with her, then left while she was out buying groceries; she never heard from him again. After being apprehended, Frank was returned to the maximum security facility but, within a few years, he was again transferred to a less secure hospital. During his stay there, he sexually assaulted three fellow female patients and a staff member.
While on a pass, he viciously raped a young woman in the local community. Again, he was returned to maximum security. Since then he has written a two-volume autobiography featuring a portrait of himself on the cover. He reads all of our published research from which he tries to use out-of-context quotations to convince the Review Board to release him again. Recently, a nurse on his unit lost her job after Frank convinced her to smuggle testosterone tablets to him.
Frank was most likely able to manipulate so many people during his life, due to a combination of a trustworthy face, as well as high physical and vocal attractiveness.
- Jonason P. K., Li N. P., Webster G. W., Schmitt D. P. (2009). "The Dark Triad: Facilitating short-term mating in men." European Journal of Personality. 23: 5–18. doi:10.1002/per.698.
- Jonason P. K., Valentine K. A., Li N. P., Harbeson C. L. (2011). "Mate-selection and the Dark Triad: Facilitating a short-term mating strategy and creating a volatile environment". Personality and Individual Differences. 51 (6): 759–63. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.025.
- Jonason P. K., Li N. P., Buss D. M. (2010). "The costs and benefits of the Dark Triad: Implications for mate poaching and mate retention tactics". Personality and Individual Differences. 48 (4): 373–78. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.003.
- Jonason P. K., Koenig B., Tost J. (2010). "Living a fast life: The Dark Triad and Life History Theory". Human Nature. 21 (4): 428–42. doi:10.1007/s12110-010-9102-4.
- Carter, Gregory Louis, Anne C. Campbell, Steven Muncer, "The Dark Triad personality: Attractiveness to women", Elsevier/ScienceDirect, 12 June 2013
- Grewel, Daisy, "Psychology Uncovers Sex Appeal of Dark Personalities", Scientific American, 27 November 2012
- "Are Narcissists Sexy? Zeroing in on the Effect of Narcissism on Short-Term Mate Appeal", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2013 vol. 39 no. 7 870-882, doi: 10.1177/0146167213483580
- Back, Schmuckle, and Egloff, "Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance.", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010 Jan;98(1):132-45. doi: 10.1037/a0016338
- Cartera GL, Campbell AC, Muncer S. The Dark Triad personality: Attractiveness to women. Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 56, January 2014, Pages 57-61. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886913012245
- Holtzman, Nicholas, S., "People With Dark Personalities Tend to Create a Physically Attractive Veneer" Social Psychological and Personality Science, October 4, 2012, doi: 10.1177/1948550612461284
- https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/SD3/ Online version of the 'SD3' designed to measure the levels of the 'Dark Triad' traits in an individual produced by Delroy L. Paulhus and Daniel Jones, provided for educational purposes.
- https://www.idrlabs.com/dark-triad/test.php Alternate online Dark Triad test.
- https://osf.io/evs7z/ Online physiognomy database consisting of a series of facial morphs of individuals of both sexes, that are either high or low in regards to the various Dark Triad traits, based on both self-reported and peer-reported levels of the individual's Dark Triad traits.