Can Bad Be Good? The Attraction of a Darker Self



To avoid threats to the self, people shun comparisons with similar—yet immoral, mentally unstable, or otherwise negatively viewed—others. Despite this prevalent perspective, we consider a contrarian question: Can people be attracted to darker versions of themselves? We propose that with self-threat assuaged, similarity signals self-relevance, which draws people toward those who are similar to them despite negative characteristics. To test this general idea, we explored a prevalent context that may offer a safe haven from self-threat: stories. Using a large-scale proprietary data set from a company with over 232,000 registered users, we demonstrated that people have a preference for villains—unambiguously negative individuals—who are similar to themselves, which suggests that people are attracted to such comparisons in everyday life. Five subsequent lab experiments (N = 1,685) demonstrated when and why similarity results in attraction toward—rather than repulsion from—negative others.
Date made available2020
PublisherSAGE Journals

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