Can Bad Be Good? The Attraction of a Darker Self

Rebecca J. Krause*, Derek D. Rucker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-530
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Science
Volume31
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Keywords

  • characters
  • interpersonal attraction
  • open data
  • preregistered
  • self-relevance
  • similarity
  • stories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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