Were you secretly disappointed when Voldemort died? Did you think that Moriarty was the best part of Sherlock Holmes or Loki the best part of the Avengers? No need to suppress these feelings because you are not alone. New research published in the journal, Psychological Science, has exposed that we have an affinity for villainous characters that show similarities to ourselves.
Social psychology has long supported that humans strive to obtain and maintain a positive self-view. Therefore, people tend to cancel any comparison with “similar—yet immoral, mentally unstable, or otherwise negatively viewed—others.” This defense mechanism activates before any damage can be done to their self-perception. It seems that our brains take a “what we don’t know can’t hurt us” approach. Despite this foundational knowledge of self-concept, the study asked: is it possible for people to be attracted to a darker version of themselves? Less formally put, is there ever a situation where these darker correlations are not met with a slammed-door-to-the-face? The research discovered a key to unlock this door: fiction. Participants were willing to entertain personality comparisons with darker beings when those darker beings were imaginary characters. The clear distinction between reality and the evil personalities’ confinement to a book or television screen serves as a “safe-haven from self-threat”.
The second dimension to this phenomenon is: people like those that are similar to themselves. Having found that humans are willing to seek out negative commonalities with villains—that is, strictly within this protective bubble of fantasy—they may consequently form an affinity for the evil ones they relate to. The report provides the example, “people who see themselves as tricky and chaotic may feel especially drawn to the character of The Joker… while a person who shares Lord Voldemort’s intellect and ambition may feel more drawn to that character”.
While these findings hold lots of potential in the field of psychology, the research is still premature. It is noted that further psychological evaluation is needed to better grasp what will and will not draw people to villains, and to see if these findings can be replicated. On the upside from being told you share qualities with villains, I doubt you favored the Stranger Things Demogorgon, so at least you can walk away knowing that you don’t have anything in common with a three-legged monster!