New electromyographic research has found that individuals with more pronounced dark personality traits, primarily psychopathy and sadism, tend to have a mild startle response. In other words, these individuals are less easily startled. The study was published on Scientific reports.
The startle response is a natural and involuntary physiological response to a sudden and unexpected stimulus, characterized by a rapid, automatic, and exaggerated response. It often includes physical reactions such as jerking, jumping, heightened alertness, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. This response prepares the body to respond quickly to potential threats. It can vary in intensity depending on the individual and the nature of the stimulus.
In laboratory studies, the startle response is often measured by monitoring muscle movements around the eye’s orbit. In general, this response is enhanced when participants are experiencing negative emotions (e.g., disgust, fear, sadness). This is called potentially unpleasant startle.
Previous research has shown that people with post-traumatic stress disorder exhibit heightened startle responses in both safe and dangerous situations. In contrast, repeat offenders and those with severe psychopathic tendencies exhibit mild startle responses. Furthermore, the ability to cause unpleasant startle is less intense in individuals who are callous, have a shallow emotional range, and often manipulate or take advantage of others.
Study author Erin E. Buckels and her colleagues wanted to examine the link between the startle response and a group of personality traits called the Dark Tetrad. The Dark Tetrad includes four sinister personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. These personality traits make individuals susceptible to manipulative and harmful behaviors toward others.
Narcissism involves an excessive focus on oneself and a lack of empathy for others. Machiavellianism is characterized by a tendency to manipulate and use cunning to achieve personal goals. Psychopathy entails a lack of remorse and a tendency toward antisocial behavior, while sadism involves deriving pleasure from causing pain or suffering to others. These traits are often studied together due to their shared potential to cause harm and suffering to others.
In the first study, 160 college students underwent a variety of assessments, including assessments of anxiety, motivation, tolerance of uncertainty, self-reported startle tendency, and self-reported startle tendency. dark quadrant personality traits and subclinical sadism. The researchers also tested participants’ startle responses using electrodes placed on the body. eye orbicularis below the right eye and stimulate a response using sudden bursts of air and loud white noises.
A subsequent study evaluated the correlation between different measures of startle reactivity, such as general reactivity, self-reported reactivity, and aversive startle potentiation, against assessments of startle reactivity. way. Participants included 152 students and 92 individuals selected based on their highest scores on measures of sadism. They completed assessments of maladaptive traits, psychopathy, dark quadrant personality traits, sadism, and self-reported startle reactions.
The second study took a more complex approach to startle testing. To assess the extent to which the startle reflex is enhanced during sad emotions, participants viewed images classified into blocks of positive, neutral, and negative emotions, in addition to experiencing negative emotions. sudden loud noise.
The initial study’s findings showed that participants with more pronounced sadistic traits had weaker startle responses. Women, as well as those who cannot tolerate uncertainty and have stronger behavioral inhibition systems, have a more pronounced startle response. The findings of subsequent research replicated these results but also showed that individuals high in dark personality traits were more likely to have silent startle responses.
“We conclude that individuals with high levels of sadism have diminished startle reflexes and are relatively immune to the effects of negative environmental stimuli,” the study authors wrote. “These findings provide further insight into the biological signatures of Dark Tetrad traits and their unique aspects. Our findings may also have implications for fields beyond psychology, such as business and economics, in which managerial effectiveness (e.g., navigating workplace crises) and Financial decision making (e.g., loss aversion and risk tolerance) may depend on an individual’s personality. with negative social trends.”
This research makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of biological markers of dark traits. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. It is worth noting that most of the research participants were students. Although the second study included participants with very high levels of sadism, it remains unlikely that it included many individuals with truly high levels of this sadistic trait.
The study, Blunt startle response in everyday sadism and psychopathy, was authored by Erin E. Buckels, Douglas A. Williams, Paul D.Trapnell, Siavash Kermani Koosheh, Owen M. Javra, and Sasha C. Svenne.
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