Ever wonder how James Bond manages to effortlessly seduce multiple women, single-handedly remove dictatorships, triumph at every game of poker – all while holding a martini in one hand and the keys to an Aston Martin in the other? The answer, apparently, lies in personality psychology. The urbane Bond is a fictional character of course, but there are plenty of men who possess the ‘James Bond psyche’, including a large portion of the prison population. Studies by University of Western Sydney psychologist Dr. Peter Jonason and his colleagues found that Agent 007 possesses a set of personality characteristics known as the “dark triad”: narcissism (being self-obsessed and manipulative), psychopathy (impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous), and Machiavellian tendencies (deceitful and exploitative). Though you might think these characteristics sound unpleasant, “dark triad” individuals have such high self-esteem and lack of empathy that they are able to to maneuver into relationships and take advantage of others despite the risk of social rejection and reprisal. A study of 35,000 participants worldwide showed that the “dark triad” personality type exists in every culture in the world, including traditional societies.
The combination of daring, risk-taking behavior has another upside: it is very alluring to many women in the short-term and from an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense. Successful risk-taking is universally appreciated as a sign of good genes so Dark Triad men tend to have an active sex life and father more offspring. In fact they have the disagreeable habit of stealing other men’s wives and girlfriends for flings. As a result, they have NOT been “weeded out” by natural selection because they reproduce before it’s discovered what bastards they really are. Let’s face it: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism are not qualities found on your average Match.com profile. Interestingly, the research also shows that the women who are most attracted to Dark Triad men are those with low self-esteem, although whether Bond women would fall into this category is debatable.
The good news for nice guys according to Jonason’s research is that if given a choice, women will actually favor a brave humanitarian over an opportunistic risk-taker. Dr. Jonason and colleagues found that the allure of Dark Triad men quickly fades – they score low on altruism and this doesn’t do them any favors when it comes to sustaining long-term relationships. So nice guys do win out in the end, although the ability to bring down a dictatorship or two might not do them any harm.