The idea that people with dark personalities are generally more attractive sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? It is somewhat similar to the widespread belief that serial killers and psychopaths share many traits, including a superior intelligence. For various reasons, the link sometimes exists but is far from a causal inference. Many serial killers don’t qualify as psychopaths, and, of course, many psychopaths who aren’t serial killers, or even criminal. Also, psychopaths and serial killers have been found to have an intelligence spread that is similar to the general population. There are psychopathic murderers with exceptional IQs such as Ted Bundy (136) and Jeffrey Dahmer (145), and those with subaverage scores, including Aileen Wuornos (81) and Gary Ridgway (82). But, this is a topic for another time, and I am digressing.
What the Research Tells Us
Despite the immediate thought that narcissism can’t be reliably connected with attractiveness, research suggests otherwise. Although physical attractiveness is in the eyes of the beholder and is measured and projected by the self and others, these views are not entirely independent. Not surprisingly, a study done by Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube in 2012 among college students in Washington D.C. found that dark personalities—those with psychopathic and/or narcissistic features—tend to adorn themselves more effectively. As a result, they often actively create positive first impressions.
Dark Personalities Use Appearances as Social Lures
Psychopaths and narcissists are known for their fondness to manipulate and exploit others for their own benefit. Both, narcissists perhaps more so than psychopaths, use prosocial tactics to gain power in the form of approval and dominance. They hide their real personalities and intentions behind a mask that includes constructing appearances to act as social lures.
The Dark Triad traits, which consist of Machiavellian, psychopathic, and narcissistic features, are concerned with coming across as credible and convincing. Outwardly, they ooze self-confidence, and they use clothing, fashion, and style to support this image. It increases their self-esteem and they derive satisfaction from the attention that it creates.
Attractiveness is Aimed at Short-Term Gains
As a result, they are better able to establish and maintain business and romantic affiliations that they often exploit for short-term gains. With their carefully tailored appearance, they entice and seduce others to do what they want. But, as the study also points out, there is a distinction between “unadorned attractiveness” and a well-adorned appearance. While there is evidence that the latter is utilized by dark personalities as part of a concerted strategy to achieve their selfish goals, dark personalities don’t exhibit higher levels of “natural” physical attractiveness on average.
However, there is evidence that they tend to have a noticeable physical signature, often by making personal appearance modifications. It helps them stand out and elevates their profile. Such a distinction is desirable to draw attention, which is often equated to fame and fortune in the mind of the dark personality.