Psychopaths are more eager to sacrifice someone to save a larger group, a recent study suggests
At last, a practical use for your inner Patrick Bateman.
People with psychopathic tendencies — including callousness and impulsivity — could harness their powers for good, according to a recent study from the UK’s University of Plymouth. When it came to sacrificing someone to save a larger group, respondents with strong psychopathic traits committed to use greater physical force than did their non-psychopathic counterparts, the study found.
The 40 study participants — 34 women and six men aged 18 to 31 — filled out questionnaires to measure their self-reported psychopathic traits, personality characteristics and how they claimed they’d respond to various moral dilemmas. They also engaged in virtual-reality experiments using a robotic device that measured their force and speed.
In one scenario, respondents weighed whether to stab an injured soldier to death to prevent him from being tortured and killed. Bringing him along, on the other hand, would get the entire group of soldiers captured.
Participants were likelier to sacrifice people when confronted with the virtual-reality quandary, compared to answering questionnaires about how they would act, the research published in the journal Scientific Reports found. “We observed greater utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas when they were presented as physically and visually salient simulations,” the authors wrote.
And people with psychopathic tendencies carried out the simulated acts of utilitarianism with greater physical power.
“This research highlights our proneness to moral inconsistency; what we say and what we do can be very different,” study co-author Kathryn Francis, a current postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Reading, said in a statement. “For the first time, we demonstrate how personality traits can influence the physical power of our moral actions.”
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