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Publication Detail
Is it good to be bad? An evolutionary analysis of the adaptive potential of psychopathic traits
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Ene I, Wong KK-Y, Salali GD
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    Evolutionary Human Sciences
  • Status:
  • Keywords:
    psychopathy, evolutionary medicine, gene-environment interactions, fitness, adaptive calibration model
Although psychopathy is widely conceptualised as a mental disorder, some researchers question the maladaptive nature of psychopathy, and argue that it might be advantageous from an evolutionary point of view. According to this view, psychopathy can be seen as an evolutionary adaptative strategy that relies on deception and manipulation to gain short-term reproductive benefits. Psychopathy is also identified as a fast life strategy in response to early life stress and an adaptation to harsh environments. This paper investigates the evidence that psychopathic traits are adaptive, while also addressing the limitations of current evolutionary models of psychopathy based on frequency-dependent selection and life history theory. We review recent studies on the fitness correlates of psychopathy and find that psychopathic traits present potential adaptive trade-offs between fertility and mortality, and offspring quantity and quality. On a proximate level, individual differences in stress reactivity and environmental risk factors in early development predispose to psychopathy through gene–environment interactions. We propose that environmental, developmental, social and cultural factors can mediate the relationship between psychopathic traits and fitness and therefore should be considered to make accurate predictions on the adaptive potential of psychopathy. We end by outlining gaps in the literature and making recommendations for future evolutionary research on psychopathy.
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