Psychopaths are more likely to act as "parasitic" fathers should they have children, a study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science has found.
Psychopaths are loosely defined as people with egocentric and antisocial personalities, showing little empathy for others. Because of this, you would expect that they would have little interest in having and rearing children. Evidence for this has been found in numerous studies, bearing out the idea that psychopathic men prioritize mating over parental investment.
"Some have argued that the unique configuration of psychopathic traits has been evolutionarily selected as an alternative reproductive strategy in men that sacrifices longer-term social and individual benefits in favor of more immediate benefits," the team wrote in their paper.
Exploring this further, the team surveyed 255 young adult men to look at how psychopathic traits relate to men's relationship status, parental status, efforts put into parenting and mating, and their attitude towards children and other areas of life which require investment.
Participants answered questions to assess psychopathic traits. They also answered questions about their own relationship and parental status and how much time they spent on activities such as parenting, and their attitudes towards it. Questions were also asked of other areas of their life, such as the time they spent looking after themselves and working towards goals such as promotions.
Participants were also shown images depicting three areas of life that require investment – mating, parenting, and somatic (working on yourself and your reproductive potential, be that in terms of exercise or gaining promotions for example).
For the "mating" area, participants were shown images of women who were rated attractive and asked to "rate how likely you would be to hypothetically hook-up with this person if you were single". For parenting, they were shown images of "cute infants" and asked to "rate how likely you would be to hypothetically adopt this infant”. They were asked to rate how appealing somatic activities (such as making money or exercising) were to them.
The results were somewhat surprising, in that it was found that people with psychopathic traits were more likely to be parents.
"Our results agree with previous research but extend them by showing that while they engage in lower somatic behavior, men higher in psychopathic traits do not appear to have aversive reactions towards infant stimuli and are more likely to be parents themselves," they write in the study.
However, the fact that the participants with higher levels of psychopathic traits were not averse to children, and were more likely to be parents, did not mean that they were investing in parenting once they had had offspring. They spent less time investing in parenting than people lower in psychopathic traits – spending less time with and energy on their children – and had more negative attitudes towards parenting and its rewards.
“Perhaps psychopathic men know that disliking children might not help them attract more mates, so they view stimuli associated with children at least neutrally,” study co-author Kristopher Brazil told PsyPost. “Or perhaps they are self-deceived: thinking they like children and would like to have them, and thus do find them as appealing as other men, but when they become fathers, they just don’t have it in them to provide parental care.”
Men higher in psychopathic traits were also found to be more invested in mating, and less likely to invest time and effort into improving themselves, holding negative attitudes towards it.
"We argue that these patterns are consistent with a parasitic parenting strategy," the authors added in the study, "that focuses on mating while depending on others to invest in their children."