These are the types of people that are attracted to psychopaths

According to a study published in April, it was found that psychopaths tend to be attracted to others who have psychopathic tendencies.

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

There has been a lot of fuss this week about the trailer for a new film called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. It is about the life of psychopathic serial killer Ted Bundy who was convicted of one kidnapping and three murders before getting death by electrocution. It stars Zac Efron as Bundy, an actor known for his extreme handsomeness as well as talent, which has given way to some complaints by the internet.

One article on Mashable was simply titled, “Can we please stop casting hot actors as psychopaths?” referencing Efron’s casting as well as Penn Badgley on the new Netflix (formerly Lifetime) hit series You which is about a very kind, charming and handsome book store owner, Joe Goldberg, who happens to murder (and lock in a cage that houses priceless books) anyone who gets in the way of his relationship with his true love, Guinevere.

Now, thinking an actor is handsome or beautiful is one thing but the fact that both of these characters are ruthless serial killers that are psychopaths could mean something more about your own mental health according to research. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality in April, it was found that psychopaths tend to be attracted to others who have psychopathic tendencies. The study titled “Do Psychopathic Birds of a Feather Flock Together?” used 696 men and women of many different backgrounds and ethnicities. They were given a list of DSM-5 personality disorders and they found that many of the participants did like Factor 1 psychopathic traits including lack of empathy and manipulation.

When they were asked about rating these in terms of romantic attraction they rated these traits lower. However, with the participants that showed more psychopathic tendencies, they rated those characteristically psychopathic traits higher when it came to romantic partners.

“Our findings suggest that although absolute preferences for psychopathic traits are low on average, individuals with marked psychopathic features and [personality disorders] features more generally are more inclined than others to endorse a romantic preference for psychopathic individuals, at least in the abstract,” the researchers wrote. In other words, psychopaths are attracted to other psychopaths.

Are psychopaths dreamy?

Now Badgley’s character is one of fiction which may explain why so many fans have admitted they are sexually attracted to Joe despite knowing about all his very gruesome shortcomings. Badgley had a take on why people would be attracted to such a disturbing person.

“I don’t see him as a portrayal of a real person, I see him as a representation of the part of us that identifies with him. The part of us that is a troll; that part of us that is victim blaming; the part of us that is privileged and blind. We’re meant to identify with him,” he said in a recent interview.

But, with Bundy, it is a bit different as this was a real person, also known for his handsome looks and charming personality as well as confessing to the murder of 30 women (but the actual number is unknown.)  

“The most exciting thing for me was being able to sort of lend that Ted Bundy charisma to the part,” Efron told E! News. “I hope that’s what comes across the most … The most interesting and exciting thing for me to contribute to the movie was Ted had this thing about him, this facade, his charm, and the way that he worked with people.

“A lot of people in prison loved him. Cops that knew him seemed to think he was an OK guy. It wasn’t until after he fully admitted to everything that most of the world really believed that Ted was even capable of these things. He pulled the wool over our eyes.”

But in addition to the fandom for Efron, there is also a Netflix docuseries, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, that has been sparking a lot of interest from young girls on the aesthetic appeal of the real-life Bundy. There were so many Tweets about Bundy’s “hotness” Netflix actually released the following:

But a lot of it clearly just comes down to charm and looks, which means you probably aren’t a psychopath yourself. Criminologist Dr. Melissa Hamilton from the University of Surrey School of Law told SheKnows.com: “If they are handsome, they likely have learned to use that beauty to their advantage in further being able to attract, seduce and control women. Ted Bundy is a clear example of this. Beautiful men who have always received positive and trusting attention may become more self-confident, which is itself another factor that attracts women’s confidence.”

There also is the notion of disbelief that people have with very attractive people. They almost can’t fathom that someone so attractive could be capable of such heinous crimes. Our brain has trouble processing such contrasting depictions of one person. It can’t make sense of it.

The study also found that in its subset of undergraduate women, they tended to show a preference for the psychopathic qualities which could really come down to age and experience:

“Given their young age, undergraduates tend to have fewer relationship experiences than do older adults, and thus probably have a more limited history of adverse experiences associated with dating people with pronounced psychopathic traits, such as experiencing infidelity … intimate partner violence … or emotional unavailability … Although females may express a preference for psychopathic males in principle, such enthusiasm may dwindle or even disappear following either a direct or vicarious negative romantic experience. Moreover, the undergraduate dating culture may possess unique characteristics (e..g, close-knit social networks, Greek life, increased prevalence of alcohol and drug use) that may not generalize to dating outside of college, and as such attraction to psychopathic males may decrease with time … “

Interestingly though, the study found that men tend to be more attracted to women with psychopathic qualities and not vice versa even though the mania is around these handsome male serial killers.

The study also found that it wasn’t just the subjects who had more psychopathic characteristics that also found psychopaths attractive. Those with histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, schizotypal, passive-aggressive, self-defeating, antisocial, paranoid, borderline, avoidant, dependent, and sadistic personality traits also were attracted to psychopaths.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.