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Humans are hardwired to see the good in movie villains, a new study finds

Despite all of their evils and wrong doings, everyone secretly loves a villain, and now scientists have found out why.

From Voldemort to The Joker to Ursula in the Little Mermaid, a new study has found that humans are hardwired to see the good in even the most awful of characters.

The research, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that no matter how flawed, power hungry or egotistical movie villains are, most of us are still attracted to their dark side as we believe they must have some sort of redeeming quality.

‘In other words’, lead author of the study Valerie Umscheid explained, ‘people believe there is a mismatch between a villain’s outward behaviors and their inner, true self, and this is a bigger gap for villains than for heroes.’

From Voldemort (pictured) to the Joker to Ursula in the Little Mermaid, scientists have found that there is something within human’s hardwire that helps them see the good even in the most awful of characters

A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that despite villains' anti-social flaws, many believed they had an inner-good. Pictured: Ursula from the original Little Mermaid

A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that despite villains’ anti-social flaws, many believed they had an inner-good. Pictured: Ursula from the original Little Mermaid 

People who like movie villains are more likely to be villainous themselves 

A recent study from Aarhus University found those who prefer fictional villains to heroes are more likely to be villainous themselves.

The research found that those who prefer villains such as Cruella de Vil and Darth Vader, are more likely to display ‘dark triad’ personality traits.

This includes traits such as Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy tendencies, based off more than 1,000 people from North America who were given the survey. 

In the study, the researchers surveyed 434 children aged four to 12, and 277 adults in order to see how people process antisocial, and sometimes terrible, acts made by evil characters.

It looked at how children and adults’ judgement changed when presented with familiar and novel fictional heroes.

Villain case studies used in the study included Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Captain Hook from Peter Pan. 

Meanwhile, their heroes included Woody from Pixar’s Toy Story, and Marvel’s Spiderman.

The first part of the study was designed to test whether children viewed villains as being capable of having prosocial attitudes toward others, specifically like-minded individuals. 

The researchers put the villains in situations where they could behave either prosocially or callously towards a fellow villain, or toward their own pet. 

‘The consideration of whether children view villains as having a “soft spot” for such kindred spirits is important in exploring the limits of children’s negative behavioral predictions about antisocial characters,’ the researchers explained in the study, published in Cognition. 

The second and third parts of the study assessed the participants’ beliefs about the true selves of villains, which reflected the differences in how they project their villainous character to the world and how they feel on the inside. 

The university study surveyed 434 children aged four to 12, and 277 adults in order to see how people process antisocial, and sometimes terrible, acts made by evil characters. Pictured: Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Night

The university study surveyed 434 children aged four to 12, and 277 adults in order to see how people process antisocial, and sometimes terrible, acts made by evil characters. Pictured: Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Night 

During the study, children and adults were provided case studies, one which included looking at Pixar's Tory Story hero Woody. Pictured: Woody with Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story

During the study, children and adults were provided case studies, one which included looking at Pixar’s Tory Story hero Woody. Pictured: Woody with Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 

The results revealed that, overall, both children and adults believed that villains’ true selves were ‘overwhelmingly evil and much more negative than heroes’.

However, researchers also detected an asymmetry in the views, as villains were much more likely than heroes to have a true self that differed to their outer personna.

Ms Umscheid added: ‘Both children and adults believed characters like Ursula had some inner goodness, despite the bad/immoral actions they regularly engage in.’

Previously a study from Aarhus University, however, found those who prefer fictional villains to heroes are more likely to be villainous themselves.

The research found that those who prefer villains such as Cruella de Vil and Darth Vader, are more likely to display ‘dark triad’ personality traits.

The study also examined whether or not children thought the villains could have good qualities or have socially positive qualities when addressing like-minded villains. Pictured: Disney's Peter Pan and Captain Hook

The study also examined whether or not children thought the villains could have good qualities or have socially positive qualities when addressing like-minded villains. Pictured: Disney’s Peter Pan and Captain Hook 

A previous study by Aarhus University found that those who preferred villains to heroes in films, were more likely to display villainous tendencies themselves. Pictured: Darth Fader in Star Wars Episode III

A previous study by Aarhus University found that those who preferred villains to heroes in films, were more likely to display villainous tendencies themselves. Pictured: Darth Fader in Star Wars Episode III

This includes traits such as Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy tendencies, based off more than 1,000 people from North America who were given the survey.

Researchers wrote: ‘Some individuals may come to engage positively with villainous characters because they are like them, that is, because they share the villains’ immoral outlook to some degree.

‘Narcissism describes a grandiose and entitled interpersonal style whereby one feels superior to others and craves validation (‘ego-reinforcement’),’ the researchers write.

‘Machiavellianism describes a manipulative interpersonal style characterized by duplicity, cynicism, and selfish ambition.

‘Psychopathy describes low self-control and a callous interpersonal style aimed at immediate gratification.’

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Super-villains are a force for GOOD: Baddies in movies help to set our moral compass and help us spot evil in real life

WHAT IS THE ‘DARK TRIAD’? 

The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism

The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism

The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

When all three traits are found in a single person, it implies a malevolent personality.

All three dark triad traits are conceptually distinct, but have been shown to have an overlap.

Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.

Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others. It is also often linked to a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.

Psychopathy is characterised by continuing antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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