Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Demystifying Rape Myths: The Dark Tetrad and Masculine Norms

Exploring the link between personality, masculinity beliefs, and rape myths.

Key points

  • The Dark Tetrad of personality is closely linked to Rape Myth Acceptance (RMA).
  • Psychopathy stands out as a potent predictor of RMA, with masculine norms acting as potential mediators.
  • Masculinity norms, particularly the dominance over women and heterosexual presentation, uniquely predict RMA.
  • Revising harmful masculine norms and understanding dark personality traits could be crucial in combatting RMA.

People often believe things that aren’t true about sexual assault: i.e., that the victim was “asking for it,” and the offender wasn’t responsible for different reasons. Research into Rape Myth Acceptance (RMA) has linked these beliefs to sexually aggressive behavior and attitudes. So, it’s important to understand what causes RMA if you want to promote healthier social values and stop sexual assault. A recent study (2023) by David M. Tokar of Ohio’s Central State University looked at this problem and how conformity to masculine norms and the Dark Tetrad of personality affected RMA in a group of heterosexual men in the United States.

The Dark Tetrad and Acceptance of the Rape Myth

The Dark Tetrad is made up of four psychological traits that are linked to aggressive behavior and a lack of empathy: psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism. Tokar’s study found that these traits were strongly linked to believing rape myths. In particular, psychopathy stood out as a unique and positive predictor of RMA. This means that men with more psychopathic features are more likely to believe rape myths.

The study also found that conformity to the power-over-women norm acted as a mediator between psychopathy and RMA in a way that ranged from partly to fully. This shows that there may not be a direct link between psychopathy and RMA, but that the person’s acceptance of masculine norms that put men in charge of women may play a role.

The Role of Norms for Men

Masculinity norms, which are cultural ideals about how men should act, think, and look, were found to have a strong link to RMA. Conformity to two specific male norms—power over women and presenting oneself as heterosexual—was found to be an important and unique predictor of RMA. This means that rape myths are more likely to be believed by men who strongly follow these norms, like those who want to be in charge of women and look down on gay men.

The study also found that conforming to rules about power over women and violence was linked to psychopathy and sadism, respectively. This backs up the idea that following harmful masculine rules is linked to dark personality traits and attitudes that could lead to aggressive or harmful behavior.

Discussion and What This Means

Tokar’s study gives us important information about how masculine standards, the Dark Tetrad, and RMA all work together. The study shows how complex this problem is by showing that both conformity to certain masculine norms and psychopathy are important factors in RMA.

These results also have important implications for education campaigns to stop sexual violence. They show how important it is to fight against harmful male norms that some men support, like power over women and dislike of gay men. Interventions could try to spread healthier, fairer ideas of what it means to be a man, which could lead to lower rates of RMA.

Also, the results show how important it is to look at psychological traits, especially psychopathy, when trying to understand and stop RMA. Future research should keep looking into how personality, masculinity norms, and views about sexual violence all affect each other. This will help make prevention strategies more nuanced and effective and, possibly, help keep such assaults from happening.


Tokar, D. M. (2023). Conformity to masculine norms, the Dark Tetrad, and men’s rape myth acceptance. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication.

More from Romeo Vitelli Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Romeo Vitelli Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today