Paternal bonding and the dark triad may underlie the phenomenon of sexy selfies
Can sexy selfies be traced back to “daddy issues” and dark triad traits? New research suggests “yes.” Inspired by the growing popularity of sexy selfies and cosmetic surgery, Connor, Spark, and Kaya (2019) developed a scale to measure the desire for sexual attention and looked at its relationship with parental bonding and the three dark triad traits: Machiavellianism (manipulativeness), narcissism (excessive self-love), and psychopathy (antisocial behavior, exemplified by a blatant disregard for other
They made five main predictions:
1) Excessive dependence on parents should predict the need for sexual attention, as individuals should seek to replicate, as adults, the level of attention that they received from their parents as children
2) Based on prior studies, for women, “low quality fathering” should predict sexual attention-seeking as a means to compensate for the attention they lacked growing up (p. 2)
3) Machiavellianism should predict sexual attention-seeking, as sexual attention can be used strategically to manipulate others
4) Narcissism should predict sexual attention-seeking, as sexual attention may serve to validate one’s self-worth
5) Psychopathy should predict the need for sexual attention, as sexual attention provides an “inherent thrill” (p. 2)
To test their hypotheses, the researchers developed an 8 item measure of the need for sexual attention, including items such as (for women), “It is fun to get a lot of attention from men”, “I have a strong desire for males to find me attractive”, and “One of the reasons I like to stay in good physical shape is so that guys find me desirable” (p. 3). Two-hundred Australians, who were representative of the Australian adult population with regards to age, completed measures of the need for sexual attention, parental bonding, and the dark triad traits.
Then, the researchers tested the hypothesized relationships. For women, indeed, excessive dependence on their fathers (measured through items such as, “my father did not want me to grow up”; p.2) predicted the need for sexual attention. Contrary to their hypothesis, however, poor paternal care (measured through items such as, “my father spoke to me with a warm and friendly voice”, reverse-coded; p.2) was unrelated. Furthermore, for women, while all of the dark triad traits predicted sexual attention-seeking, Machiavellianism, or the tendency to manipulate others, was the most important.
Meanwhile, only some of the hypotheses were confirmed for men. Among men, only narcissism and psychopathy were predictors of the need for sexual attention. Parental bonding did not matter, nor did Machiavellianism. Therefore, sexual attention might be used more strategically by women than by men. The authors further suggest that compared to women, men may be more likely to seek sexual attention for the end goal of having sex rather than for the other hypothesized reasons. However, they note that they did not measure or account for other important variables that may affect sexual attention-seeking, such as a person’s sex drive.
Taken together, these results add to the growing research on the importance of parental relationships and the dark triad traits to intimate relationships and sexual behavior.