How you play the SIMS could reveal if you’re a psychopath: People with psychopathic traits are more likely to show aggressive and mean behaviours towards other characters

  • Researchers from Canada asked 205 people to create an avatar in the The Sims 3
  • They then interacted in-game with four AI characters with varied personalities 
  • Players with more psychopathic traits were more aggressive and less friendly
  • This was especially true among the male participants in the study, the team said

When playing The Sims 3, people with psychopathic traits are more likely to show aggressive and mean behaviour towards other characters, a study has found.

The popular life simulation video game allows players to create — and also assume control over — virtual characters, their houses and neighbourhoods.

Experts from Canada asked 205 people to create a ‘sim’ avatar to represent them in interactions with four AI-controlled characters, each with a different personality.

The team found that those players who were also found to have more psychopathic traits were more aggressive and less friendly towards the non-player characters.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by traits including deceit, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, aggression and a lack of empathy or remorse.

The team examined psychopathy through the lens of the ‘Cheater-Hawk’ hypothesis, which suggests that cheating and aggressive traits evolved to better gain resources.

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When playing The Sims 3, people with psychopathic traits are more likely to show aggressive and mean behaviour towards other characters, a study has found. Pictured, The Sims 3

Experts from Canada asked 205 people to create a ‘sim’ avatar to represent them in interactions with four AI-controlled characters, each with a different personality. The team found that those players who were also found to have more psychopathic traits were more aggressive and less friendly towards the non-player characters (stock image)

In their study, psychologist Beth Visser of Lakehead University, Ontario, and colleagues created a virtual household with four sims that were outwardly identical in all respects apart from hair and shirt colour, but each had different personalities.

‘The four characters were created with personality traits that would reflect the cheater (deceptive, sneaky, charming), hawk (aggressive, rude, mean), dove (submissive, nervous, shy), and co-operator (nice, trusting, cooperative),’ they wrote.

‘More specifically, from among the 64 possible traits provided by the game, we chose three traits for each character that seemed to best represent these qualities.’

As The Sims 3 allows each character to have five personality traits, the team gave each two other traits — ‘frugal’ and ‘light sleeper’ — which would have minimal impact on game play.

For the experiment, each participant was invited to make their own character to reflect themselves before having this avatar interact with the four AI-controlled characters while the researchers monitored and analysed the game play.

The subjects were also assessed for psychopathic traits, looking for signs of manipulative relations, callous affects, erratic lifestyles and antisocial behaviours. 

As anticipated, the team found that those people who were found to display higher levels of psychopathic traits were also more likely to show aggressive and unprovoked mean behaviours towards other characters in the game. 

At the same time, these subjects were also found to have fewer interactions in-game which the researchers classified as being ‘friendly, funny and charming’ and involved complimenting the AI-controlled characters.

According to the researchers, both of these trends were particularly true in the case of male participants with more psychopathic traits — and that psychopaths were more likely to be mean to those characters who themselves weren’t aggressive.

‘Our findings may suggest that psychopathic individuals view the absence of aggressive behaviours as an indicator of weakness and are prepared to exploit or aggress against individuals who show this kind of weakness,’ the team explained.

‘Our findings may suggest that psychopathic individuals view the absence of aggressive behaviours as an indicator of weakness and are prepared to exploit or aggress against individuals who show this kind of weakness,’ the team explained. Pictured, a Sim home

The researchers did find, however, that those players with higher levels of psychopathic traits exhibited less so-called ‘cheater’ behaviours than expected, with the exception of during interactions with other aggressive, or ‘hawk’, characters.

‘A possible explanation for the lack of cheater behaviours was the lack of any inducement to cheat,’ the team wrote in their paper.

‘Although players with psychopathic traits were antisocial in their interactions with other characters, there was no motivation for the characters to compliment or be friendly to other characters.’

‘This behaviour might mimic the real-world behaviour of psychopathic individuals, in that they will not engage in charm without some prospect of future benefit.’

For those who enjoy torturing their Sims — by, for example, comically drowning them in a pool by removing the exit ladder, as pictured — the team have offered reassurance that such behaviour is not necessarily indicative of a personality disorder

‘Further research might incorporate a game or prize that might elicit cheater tactics.’

For those who enjoy torturing their Sims — by, for example, comically drowning them in a pool by removing the exit ladder — the team have offered reassurance that such behaviour is not necessarily indicative of a personality disorder.

‘There are perfectly lovely non-psychopathic people out there who made a childhood game of doing awful things to their Sims,’ Professor Visser told PsyPost.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

WOULD YOU KNOW HOW TO SPOT A PSYCHOPATH?

Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder.

Common signs include superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, the ability to manipulate others and a lack of remorse and empathy.

But despite the popular association, not all psychopaths become killers.

Experts claim people usually find psychopaths intriguing, but can’t put their finger on why. 

This is down to incongruous behaviour because psychopaths tend to do a lot of acting to deceive, or mimic normal reactions, sometimes changing their views and reactions quickly.

For example, Self-professed psychopath Jacob Wells said that upon meeting someone, he tries to become ‘the most interesting person they know’ and presumably adopts suitable interests and responses to do this.

His response also gives away another common trait – a grandiose notion of self-worth – in that he can be the most interesting person in the room.

Psychopaths occasionally tend to exhibit unconvincing emotional responses, with slip-ups including tone of voice or body language.

This may be because they are unable to understand emotions such as fear and love, but can mimic them.

Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder, but common signs include superficial charm and the ability to manipulate others. Despite the popular association, not all psychopaths become killers (stock image)

Generally psychopaths’ ’emotions’ are shallow and short-lived and there is a manipulative ulterior motive to showing them.

For example, Mr Wells said he offers to do favours and tells false secrets to people to gain their complete trust.

He also displays insincere charm – another trait associated with psychopaths.

He says: ‘I keep secrets, and tell them fake secrets to further gain their trust, and once they trust me enough, I ask for favours, reminding them of the favours I did them. I can get literally anything from them, which is incredibly useful.’

Psychopaths typically display an incredible ability to manipulate others and sometimes take pleasure in doing so. 

Psychopaths often have an air of superiority about them, perhaps shown by Mr Wells’ belief he can spot other psychopaths

Even expert Dr Hare, who came up with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) used as a diagnostic tool to determine where someone lies on the psychopathy spectrum, warns that anyone can be duped during a short interaction with a psychopath.

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