According to a new study in the Journal of Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, there’s a scientific reason why we gravitate to villains; in short, we are drawn to what we can’t understand, even if it repulses us. The research, conducted by Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen at Aarhus University in Denmark, suggests that our love of evil villains is rooted in evolutionary psychology.
Humans like to explore and therefore love a mystery – and what bigger mystery is there than an iconic bad guy? People are scared of the unknown, but there is a certain attraction that draws us towards it. Ex. Many people are scared of ghosts and aliens, yet there is a fascination for them.
We are drawn to villains because we want to know more. The hero character’s motives are always signposted for us, but what motivates the villain to try and destroy the Earth? Why all those negative intentions? If we did know everything about them however, that fear and mystery would be alleviated.
Fear of villains isn’t the only thing that drives us however. We all have a certain amount of disdain for these characters, so says Kjeldgaard-Christiansen. During the early days of human civilisation, humans living in small groups needed to get rid of those people who refused to be a team player (the villains). Having people working against the group’s aims would only elicit emotional responses like fear, disgust, and anger. Thousands of years later it’s these emotional responses that make evil something we love to hate.
Popular culture has morphed these ideas over time, creating evil villains that are ugly and deformed. Kjeldgaard-Christiansen believes that their apparent ugliness prompts the fear and disgust response that’s been with us since the dawn of man, a physical primer for moral repulsion. Darth Vader, Lord Voldemort, Leatherface, Gollum, Freddy Krueger, the list goes on…
But what about the bad guy that you develop a soft spot for?
Just because villains are ugly, it doesn’t mean we can’t empathize with them. Nobody is perfect, and it’s these imperfections that allow us to sometimes see these villains in a favorable light. They can do things that we never could, and it’s this fantasy that makes us attracted to them.
So we are drawn towards villains because of an evolutionary response we’ve grown to rely on – don’t be ashamed about it, it’s human nature.