Alcohol is a bad drug that makes us do bad things (like eating a box of 48 chicken McNuggets by yourself in an Uber), but research shows that there’s one thing we can’t blame booze for: your ability to spot narcissists, Machiavellian types, and psychopaths.
A research team led by Dr. Gayle Brewer of the University of Liverpool looked at how alcohol consumption affects how women view men with the "dark triad" of personality traits—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Their findings? That booze doesn’t impair a woman's ability to spot a Machiavellian jerk or narcissistic asshole, even after researchers fed them vodka and lemonade.
Building on existing research that shows women tend to dislike the faces of men with high levels of dark triad traits, Brewer’s research team wanted to investigate whether alcohol impaired women’s judgment. Ninety-six women aged 18-26 were shown photographs of men whose faces had been manipulated to demonstrate high levels of dark triad traits. Unfortunately, there’s no specific facial feature associated with psychopaths or narcissists—researchers instead used morphing technology to approximate these characteristics.
“We’d take the face of someone with a high level of psychopathy, for example,” Brewer explains, “and we’d morph that onto a control face. So you’d morph the psychopathy face onto my photograph, for instance.”
It’s important to emphasize, Brewer tells me, that the research team weren’t using men who’ve been clinically diagnosed with psychopathy or narcissism. Rather, they used photographs of men who’d shown high levels of dark triad traits after completing a personality assessment (all of us have these characteristics to greater or lesser extents.)
Consistent with earlier research, her team found that women dislike the faces of men who score highly on dark triad traits. Fascinatingly, women were able to perceive and negatively respond to dark triad faces even after drinking alcohol. “When people are shown these faces, they’re seen as less attractive and more threatening,” Brewer confirms.
She speculates that an inbuilt, unconscious ability to perceive dark triad traits may confer women an evolutionary advantage. “From an evolutionary perspective, we may be able to pick up that someone is more threatening, less likely to be trusted, or that our psychological or physical safety is at risk,” Brewer explains, adding that she’d like to test this hypothesis on women who’ve had poor past relationship experiences. “It would be really interesting to see whether women who’ve been in threatening relationships are more sensitive to these faces.”
Of course, there’s one downside to all of this—you can’t blame the alcohol for your decision to sleep with your narcissistic friend. You’re just a shitty judge of character.