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Could Your Neighborhood Attract Psychopaths?

Residential preference depends on a broad range of personality considerations.

Key points

  • Psychopathy is inversely associated with nature connectedness and associated with a partiality for inner-city living.
  • Dark personalities demonstrate a robust preference for living in the city as opposed to in the suburbs or a rural area.
  • City-living may be viewed as more appealing to people who desire to live “fast-paced, exploitative, and parasitic lifestyles.”
Andre B. Adur/Shutterstock
Source: Andre B. Adur/Shutterstock

When we move into a new neighborhood, we consider more than the space we are about to call home. We research the residential area, investigating everything from schools to supermarkets. We examine both the property and the population, which often involves checking sexual predator websites. But what you won’t see through your research, whether live or online, are the dark personalities who live in your area, on your block, or on the same floor of your apartment building. According to research, some factors make it more likely that people with dark personalities will choose to live in your area.

Nature or Nightlife

If they are lucky enough to choose, people opt to live in areas where they are most comfortable. Some love open space, and others love city living. And while for most people, the choice is driven by prosocial proclivities, dark personalities think differently.

Fido et al. (2020) examined the connection between nature and dark personality.[i] They describe dark personalities in connection with what is commonly referred to as the dark triad: psychopathy—involving a callous disregard for other people, narcissism—usually manifest in self-centeredness and vanity, and Machiavellianism—which involves a personality characterized by traits such as cynicism and manipulation. They describe these distinct yet overlapping personality traits as representing a mixture of aversive, antagonistic personalities that can translate into hostile, aggressive, or disagreeable behavior.

Fido et al. note that nature connectedness, a psychological construct representing the extent of a person’s relationship with the natural world, is linked with improved mental well-being. It is also associated with personality traits such as agreeableness, cognitive and affective empathy, and traits on the opposite side of the spectrum, including callousness.

Fido et al. adopt a research-based definition of nature connectedness as “an identity marker that an individual is a part of the larger natural world, and the natural world is a part of oneself,” noting that it has been linked with positive outcomes, including less anxiety, and enhanced happiness, vitality, resilience, and satisfaction with life. They also note that being connected with the natural world and society helps alleviate negative functioning both affectively and cognitively. The result is often manifest in “nature connectedness-related pro-social behavior,” as well as an enhanced capacity for empathy, agreeableness, and the ability to have perspective.

Darkness in the City

Fido et al. note that prior research, although not measuring nature connectedness directly, examined the link between dark triad traits and living preference, finding what they described as a robust preference for living in the city instead of the suburbs or rural areas. This was particularly pronounced for traits associated with psychopathy. This preference was explained by noting that city-living may be viewed as more appealing to people who desire to live “fast-paced, exploitative, and parasitic lifestyles.” They also note this aligns with research tying dark personality to sexual promiscuity because the preference for short-term mating is increased within areas of greater population density. They also note that areas with higher population density may facilitate the behavior of people with psychopathic traits who wish to extort or manipulate others with less chance of exposure or getting caught.

In their own research, Fido et al. found, among other things, psychopathy to be inversely associated with nature connectedness and associated with a partiality for inner-city living, although without a match for residential history. This might reflect that although we do not choose the neighborhood in which we grow up, we often have that option as adults.

Fido et al. found that as measured through self-report, nature connectedness was negatively linked with psychopathic, Machiavellian, and sadistic traits, but not traits of a narcissistic personality. Interestingly, although people who preferred inner-city rather than suburban or rural living achieved higher scores on narcissistic traits, nature connectedness was not associated with narcissism. They suggest this might indicate that consistent with prior research, living in more densely populated areas would afford greater opportunity for external validation.

Obviously, residential preference depends on various factors and involves a broad range of personality considerations. But when other red flags are present, perhaps the choice of zip code is more revealing than we think.

Facebook image: Andre B. Adur/Shutterstock


[i] Fido, D., A. Rees, P. Clarke, D. Petronzi, and M. Richardson. “Examining the Connection between Nature Connectedness and Dark Personality.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 72 (December 2020). doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101499.