Posted by: Rob | June 20, 2008

The Dark Triad

I came across this bit of spew by Philip Jackman of the Globe and Mail entitled “Why bad boys get girls”. It seems that there has been some more “useful” (and I use the term loosely) research on yet another topic of burning importance.

It seems that some psychological research has been conducted by Peter Jonason at New Mexico State University into why it seems that “bad” boys get the girls. Apparently, there are some negative personality quirks that, when aligned just right, make for a driven, promiscuous male of irresponsible nature. It’s something called the “dark triad”.

Sheesh! Give me a break. According to this research, the characteristics are “the narcissist’s sense of entitlement, the non-clinical psychopath’s high impulsivity and thrill-seeking nature, and the manipulative skills of Machiavellianism.”

Too much of any one of these characteristics makes one a social reject, but just enough and, I guess, a guy becomes the perfect swordmaster.

I encourage you to read the article in full, but to paraphrase I think that the psychology of these “bad” boys can be summed up in the statement that they are total dicks. And what the article doesn’t talk about is the kind of women drawn to these sorts of assholes. I’ve known guys like this and usually the woman that hang on them are shallow, superficial and have low or no self-esteem. (I don’t know why the women are like that – perhaps their fathers had the “dark triad” perfect storm). Guys like this that I’ve known of are usually not the kind of guys you want to have as friends or even be associated with; they tend to give the gender a bad name.

The last thing about this article that pissed me off was the tongue in cheek naming of this “condition” the James Bond complex. The article even featured a still from the most recent James Bond flick.

I don’t think James Bond is a “bad” boy in the sense of the personality flaws that make up the dark triad and it would seem that someone hasn’t done their research. Firstly, Bond – a fictional character – is a secret agent. In the romanticized movie version, of course the secret agent will do what it takes to get the job done. Secondly, in contrast to the crack Jackman makes to close his lame article: “After all, how likely is James Bond to get married and settle down in a 9-to-5 civil-service job?”, I guess he didn’t know that Bond is a widower. He was married and his wife died.

Perhaps it is Bond’s grief stricken widowhood that makes him take crazy chances with his life, such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners, rather than any “dark triad”.



  1. Another explanation, one put forward by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson in their book Demonic Males is that these are the most successful males at breeding. Women are looking for a powerful male, equivalent of a silverback gorilla. Wrangham and Peterson compare chimpanzee society and human society with bonobo society. One of the things that separates bonobos from chimpanzees and humans is that bonobo females can feed their young without the assistance of powerful males, and this changes the gender balance of the society. Well, that and that bonobos will have sex with anyone and everyone. They pretty much use it to say hello and goodbye. They are the only animal other than man that does not show outward signs of estrus. I often think it is too bad we didn’t evolve from the bonobo branch of the family instead of the chimpanzee branch.

  2. silverstar: I don’t doubt the whole “women are looking for a powerful male” thing. What I didn’t call out specifically from the article is that these “dark triad” types are unreliable. They may seem “powerful” but they are motivated to serve only themselves and are not interested in sustaining longer term relationships (which is something I think women also seek – long term, stable, committed relationships).

    I found the whole article troubling because it seemed that the author was pitching this “dark triad” as a something to be desired/promoted, even lauded. And I disagree with that approach. I think it’s advocating bad behaviour.

    All we can hope is that the breeding success of these guys gets lower and lower and these traits are evolved out. Sadly, that’s likely not going to be the case, though, given the nature of western culture. Oddly, it’s these aspects of behaviour that are also being picked up and mimicked by other cultures like the Asian cultures.

  3. I’ve generally been attracted to nice men my whole life, and I, too, don’t know why anyone would put up with jerks. Low self-esteem, and the societal expectations that even a bad man is better than no man are two ideas that come to mind. Such men can be fun for a dalliance if you don’t take them too seriously, but woe to the woman who thinks she’s in love with one.

  4. TGLB,

    I think what I find most frustrating about this whole thing is that it speaks to the fact that the majority of the human race has not done much to advance from basic animal behaviour despite having the gift of sentience.

    I think that with sentience comes some responsibility and a general ability to exert some sort of control over behavioural impulses.

    Now, I’m not saying that our intimate relationships should not include physical aspects; quite the contrary, the physical is a welcome facet that adds overall to the relationship.

    I guess what bugs me most is this whole game of conquest with these kinds of guys and the irresponsibility that goes with that type of sexual behaviour. From the spread of STD’s to the wanton causing of pregnancy with no intent to provide all forms of support to rearing the children resulting from their dalliances (nice word, btw).

    I found a follow up via Interesting comments from this article:

    “Jonason and his colleagues subjected 200 college students to personality tests designed to rank them for each of the dark triad traits. They also asked about their attitudes to sexual relationships and about their sex lives, including how many partners they’d had and whether they were seeking brief affairs.”

    Gotta love this one, really. Young male college students. Do you believe they are really going to tell the truth about their sexploits? Or are they prone to embellish, just a little?

    “This observation seems to hold across cultures. David Schmitt of Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, presented preliminary results at the same meeting from a survey of more than 35,000 people in 57 countries. He found a similar link between the dark triad and reproductive success in men. “It is universal across cultures for high dark triad scorers to be more active in short-term mating,” Schmitt says. “They are more likely to try and poach other people’s partners for a brief affair.” “

    Yeah, these guys are the “cowbirds” of the human world. Dipping their dicks, knocking up women and then basically leaving their offspring for somebody else to raise.

    If and when our world goes “Lord of the Flies” again, I daresay these jerks will find themselves on the outside.

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