This is yet another reason why it may be important to take your time in forming judgments when you get to know someone. The initial appeal of the narcissist or psychopath may be hard to resist. Physical attractiveness is often automatically associated with a host of other positive traits – a phenomenon known as “the halo effect.” When we perceive someone as physically attractive, we automatically assume they are also kinder, smarter, and more confident. Therefore, creating a physically attractive veneer is a highly effective way of creating an advantageous first impression. Combining physical attractiveness with confidence and humor is even more effective, and it appears that people with exploitive personalities are more successful at this as well.
The more humble among us can take heart in knowing that despite these initial advantages, narcissists’ popularity tends to decline over time. The process may take several weeks, perhaps because people with dark personality traits are skilled at keeping their unsavory side hidden. However, since the hallmark of these personality traits is interpersonal exploitation, it is only a matter of time before those closest to them get wise to their ways and start to avoid them. When it comes to long-term relationships, either in fiction or reality, most people shy away from those with dark personality traits. Maybe that’s why in order to sustain our interest over multiple books or movies, that alluring vampire or villain needs to have a heart of gold.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.