Dr. Angela Book
Brock University

Psychopathy and Fear Enjoyment: Rethinking the Low Fear Hypothesis

The psychopathy literature abounds with studies showing a fear deficit in relation to psychopathy. Alternatively, the fear enjoyment hypothesis holds that those who score high on psychopathy measures may actually enjoy fear rather than simply having a deficit. For this to be the case, people with psychopathic traits would need to see fearful stimuli as a) less negative (consistent with fear deficits), but also as b) more positive (consistent with fear enjoyment). We conducted 3 studies to examine the relationship between psychopathic traits and fear enjoyment. In study 1, we found that people with psychopathic traits rated fearful stimuli as both less negative and more positive. As well, in giving open ended definitions of what fear means to them, they used significantly more positive language. Because the stimuli in Study 1 were not from a first-person perspective, we utilized first person stimuli in Study 2. More specifically, participants watched game play from an exciting game (STEEP) and a game from the horror genre (SLENDER:The Arrival). The latter game includes a jump-scare at the end and was meant to induce a fear response. As expected, people with higher levels of psychopathic traits rated the fearful stimuli as less negative and as more positive. Further, at the point of the jump scare in the fear stimuli, physical reactions were coded and people who started in response to the jump scare had significantly lower psychopathy scores than those who did not jump. In study 3, we examined whether fear enjoyment extends to judging others’ emotions. We found that people with psychopathic traits have a slight positivity bias when assigning valence to fearful faces. To summarize, psychopathy appears to be associated with the enjoyment of fear rather than a fear deficit, per se.