You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
Or maybe you’d rather have a Firewhisky with Voldemort? Perhaps sit down with a stiff glass of Ogden’s Old and have a nice chat about world domination?
Don’t worry. Probably you’re not the only one, and (probably) it doesn’t mean you’re being seduced by the dark side.
According to recent research from Northwestern University, it’s more likely you’re just flirting with the dark side — and your inner villain — and there’s a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation for it.
Rebecca Krause, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University and lead author on the paper, theorized that our attraction to story villains is a glimpse at our attraction to potentially darker versions of ourselves. We’d be repulsed by the real-word individuals who are similarly immoral or unstable, but because we’re talking about fictional characters here, there’s a sort of cognitive safety net that lets us identify with the villains while keeping our self-image intact.
When people feel safe, they are more interested in comparisons to negative characters that are similar to themselves in other respects.
To test the theory, Krause and fellow researchers analyzed information from CharacTour, an online character-focused platform featuring a personality quiz for users to find out their similarities to different fictional characters — villainous or not.
We’re talking a pretty broad range here — from like, The Joker and Darth Vader to Joey Tribbiani and Yoda.
At the time of the researchers’ analysis, CharacTour had more than 230,000 registered users. Using nonvillains as a baseline, the researchers tested whether people were attracted to or repulsed by similar villains. They found:
- People were drawn to nonvillian characters as their similarities increased; however,
- People were most drawn to villain characters who shared similarities with them.
Derek Rucker, the study’s coauthor and Krause’s advisor, admits they were a little surprised by the results:
Given the common finding that people are uncomfortable with and tend to avoid people who are similar to them and bad in some way, the fact that people actually prefer similar villains over dissimilar villains was surprising to us. Honestly, going into the research, we both were aware of the possibility that we might find the opposite.
The researchers note that the current data doesn’t identify the exact characteristics or behaviors to which participants were attracted, and that there needs to be more research to explore the psychological pull villains have, as well as whether people are drawn to these “similar villains” because they want to explore their own personal dark side.
Even so, Krause concludes:
Perhaps fiction provides a way to engage with the dark aspects of your personality without making you question whether you are a good person in general.
I can dig that.
So, my question to you was going to be, “How can we use our inner villain to our creative advantage?” Yet, after writing this post, I think it’s pretty obvious. We can let our inner villain put his (or her) mark on every kind of creation.
For example, our inner bad guys can help us believably write the antagonist in a story, or photograph the one creepy scene inn an otherwise pristine setting, or write the lrics to a song about something we’ve never actually done.
You get the idea — and you probably have your own.
So instead, I’d like to hear how YOU specifically have utilized your inner villain in your creations. Share with us below!