A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences examined the role that adaptive psychopathic traits may play in the lives of those who score high on measures of psychopathy. The findings indicate that individuals with higher levels of traits such as social dominance, fearlessness, low-stress reactivity, and extroversion tend to report higher levels of well-being. This research may lead to therapeutic interventions that increase adaptive psychopathic traits to moderate the effect of the less desirable consequences of psychopathy.
Psychopathy encompasses a range of traits associated with both antisocial and interpersonal-affective features. Even though psychopathy is typically linked to exploitative or violent behaviors, recent research suggests that some individuals who exhibit these traits do not engage in criminal or violent activities. There is an ongoing debate about whether specific potentially adaptive characteristics should be incorporated into the definition of psychopathy.
Despite the negative connotations associated with the term, it is unclear whether highly psychopathic individuals experience lower levels of happiness and well-being. Early studies indicated that the presence of psychopathic traits was negatively correlated with life satisfaction, positive affect, and overall well-being.
Recent research has revealed that some highly psychopathic individuals possess unusually high adaptive traits, leading to the hypothesis that those with high levels of psychopathic and adaptive traits would display the greatest levels of well-being, such as lasting happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Following them would be individuals with high levels of adaptive traits and moderate levels of psychopathic traits, and those with lower levels of adaptive traits regardless of their psychopathic trait level.
In order to test this hypothesis, researchers Guillaume Durand and Jill Lobbestael recruited 2,209 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa. Participants completed measures of psychopathic traits, adaptive psychopathic traits, fluctuating and durable happiness, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem.
Analyzing the collected data, the research team found that most participants had only moderate levels of either psychopathic traits or adaptive traits. Interestingly, the group with the highest psychopathic traits also had the highest level of adaptive traits, which could help reduce the external expression of psychopathic behaviors.
Those with high levels of psychopathic traits agree with statements such as “Feeling sorry for others is a sign of weakness,” “Sometimes I lie simply because I enjoy it,” and “When I’m upset, I often act without thinking.” Those with high levels of adaptive psychopathic traits, on the other hand, agree with statements such as “People often follow my lead,” “I rarely worry,” and “I can effortlessly mingle with any group.”
The study supports previous research on gender differences in psychopathy, where males have a higher proportion of psychopathic traits. However, the study suggests that the psychopathic personality operates similarly in both genders, despite differences in scores.
Additionally, the data revealed that those who demonstrate more adaptive traits tend to have higher levels of long-lasting happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and lower levels of fluctuating happiness. On the other hand, people with lower levels of adaptive traits tend to have lower levels of well-being, regardless of their psychopathic traits.
The study suggests that low well-being may not be solely attributed to high levels of psychopathic traits but rather a lack of adaptive traits commonly found in people with high psychopathic traits. Thus, high levels of psychopathic traits do not necessarily lead to adverse outcomes as long as they are balanced with similar levels of adaptive traits.
The current study has some limitations that need to be taken into consideration. Firstly, the study solely explored favorable results and did not address the unfavorable facets of psychopathy. It is uncertain how individuals with elevated adaptive and psychopathic traits would manifest negative attributes. Secondly, the sample group was very uniform, consisting primarily of young female university students who provided self-reported information. Lastly, the study’s approach was cross-sectional and focused on average differences.
This research investigated the connection between adaptive and psychopathic traits and their impact on well-being. Results showed that those with high levels of adaptive traits had higher levels of well-being, regardless of their psychopathic trait level. The research team concluded, “Our results highlight the importance of measuring adaptive traits and psychopathic traits independently from one another due to the impact of adaptive traits on the relationship between well-being and psychopathic traits. Future studies should focus on negative characteristics and outcomes to determine if adaptive traits can also protect highly psychopathic individuals from negative outcomes commonly observed in highly psychopathic individuals.”
The study, “The relationship between psychopathic personality, well-being, and adaptive traits in undergraduates“, was authored by Guillaume Durand and Jill Lobbestael.