Which personality traits are associated with physical attractiveness? Recent findings suggest that people high in some dark personality traits, such as narcissism and psychopathy, can be physically attractive. But what makes them attractive? Studies have confounded the more enduring qualities that impact attractiveness (i.e., unadorned attractiveness) and the effects of easily manipulated qualities such as clothing (i.e., effective adornment).
Consistent with findings that dark personalities actively create positive first impressions, we found that the composite of the Dark Triad—Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy—correlates with effective adornment. This effect was also evident for psychopathy measured alone. This study provides the first experimental evidence that dark personalities construct appearances that act as social lures—possibly facilitating their cunning social strategies.
Physical attractiveness is important in many life domains but it is especially important in relationship-initiation contexts where first impressions are especially relevant. People with socially aversive tendencies, such as people high in narcissism such as , arrogance; and psychopathy (e.g., recklessness; tend to physically attract people during impression formation. One other trait that is commonly grouped with narcissism and psychopathy, which is called Machiavellianism such sly or cunning intelligence , provides a possible third (yet untested) correlate of physical attractiveness. Together, these three traits are called the Dark Triad of personality.
Is the attractiveness due to something enduring about the appearance of people high in the Dark Triad or is it due to something more fleeting that people high in the Dark Triad strategically manipulate on a daily basis?
Without experimentally manipulating personal appearance, answering this question is virtually impossible. I could find only one study on personality that appropriately distinguished between the enduring and the fleeting aspects of attractiveness, and the study solely explored the relationship between attractiveness and well-being. However One likely reason for this gap in the literature is that this research requires meticulously peeling away narcissists facade.
Another component of attractiveness is the more fleeting effective adornment, the degree to which one exhibits adorned attractiveness above and beyond that which can be expected given the degree to which one exhibits unadorned attractive- ness. If effective adornment is associated with certain personality traits, the results suggest that individuals with those traits may consciously or unconsciously strategically manipulate their appearance to become more physically attractive. For example, people who are interested in establishing new relationships, which is often the case for people high in the Dark Triad may be more inclined to adorn themselves in ways that are attractive to other people. It is interesting because people can manipulate it on a daily basis (e.g., when preparing for the day), and because cultural factors such as style can influence it.
Because their long-term prospects in relationships tend not to be very good, narcissists become the masters of the good first impression. They know how to manipulate their own self-presentation so that they seem desirable and attractive. It’s possible that, like Narcissus, their disordered personality traits stem from their high intrinsic levels of physical attractiveness. However, it’s also possible that because of their narcissistic tendencies, they spend a great deal of time, money, and effort on making themselves look as attractive as they possibly can.
Narcissists may also be appealing, at least in the short term, because they are so “socially bold.” They exude that air of self-confidence and assurance which others find so attractive. People who are convinced of their own greatness often, at least at first, convince us.
Having established that narcissists are seen as more desirable sexual partners than friends. The thing is, narcissism is a complicated construct that includes aspects that can be alternatively adaptive (such as self-sufficiency, individualism, self-regard, confidence, a desire to lead, and ambition) and potentially destructive (such as arrogance, entitlement, vanity, lack of empathy, and a tendency towards interpersonal exploitation and manipulation), with these facets often co-existing in the same person.
When it comes to mate selection, the more adaptive aspects of narcissism are often seen as desirable characteristics. Think about searching for potential romantic partners online or going on a date. Who’s the better catch when it comes to cultural standards of attractiveness in men for example? One who can take the lead in suggesting a destination for a first date or one that sits back and defers? A man who can carry a conversation and tell a good joke or one that seems nervous and shy? One who takes care of himself by dressing well and exercising regularly or someone with a spindly frame whose clothes look like they could use a wash and an iron? A man who calls you back to suggest a second date with just the right amount of confident interest or the one who calls back too soon and too often?
In long-term mate selection, we often fall into the trap of searching for perfection, which ultimately reflects our own narcissistic needs. It would seem that a better strategy might be to realize that the search for perfection is doomed to fail and to instead try to find someone who will be compatible in the long run, based on both good qualities and the quirks and flaws that make us human.
But while that might sound good, it can be easier said than done. These days, it might be hard to avoid falling for someone with too much narcissism because narcissism is all around us and still growing.
Your thoughts: what what is about your narcissist that made you fall for them? What illusion did they protect onto you?