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Do dark personalities prefer dark characters?

New publication by Recreational Fear Lab members Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen and Mathias Clasen

It seems easy to explain why audiences like fictional heroes who do good. But villainous characters can also be very popular—think only of Darth Vader, The Joker, and Jason Voorhees—and this seems harder to explain. Media researchers have supposed that the audiences come to like such characters because they manage to ignore the characters’ immorality. By contrast, if these characters were at least in part enjoyed for their very immorality, we might expect more immoral audience members more easily to be able to enjoy them. This is what we hypothesized and it is also what we found. Audience members with higher levels of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy felt that villainous characters were more likeable and identifiable than audience members with lower levels of these conventionally immoral traits. This finding suggests to us that personality matters for our fictional engagements, and that any adequate theory of “character liking” will have to reckon with this fact.


The other collaborators on the study were Anne Fiskaali, John A. Johnson, Henrik Høgh-Olesen, and Murray Smith. The study has been published in the journal Poetics and is available through this link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304422X2030259X. If you do not have access to the study, you can contact Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen for a pdf (his contact details appear in this website under “People”).