Ig Noble winner Minna Lyons: Interview

Sergio A. Silverio is a Third Year student who has settled into Liverpool life well over the course of his degree.  Whilst spending time both here and in our partner University in Padua, Italy, he has developed a keen interest in the Psychology of Women, taking an Evolutionary approach to investigating the Psychopathologies which they can experience.  After completing an Internship within the Department of Psychological Sciences, Sergio has secured Research Assistant positions in the Schools of Psychology, both at home and abroad, covering areas such as Risk Propensity, Timing in Widowhood, Altruistic Behaviours and Breastfeeding Anxieties.

His work this year is focussing even further into his interests with a Dissertation concentrated on Feminine Identity and Gender Equality and his Third Year Project with Dr. Minna Lyons is looking into Environment as a possible mediator for Psychopathic Mate Selection.  Now a Course Representative for the C800 in Psychology, Sergio also represents at a Faculty level with a special responsibility for Academic Quality and Standards and assists with incoming Study Abroad students and First Years in Minna’s Academic Advisor group – so if you are in The Eleanor Rathbone Building, you will most probably bump into him!

Dr. Minna Lyons is an Evolutionary Behavioural Scientist, within our School of Psychology, who, whilst focussing her research on The Dark Triad of Personality (Psychopathy, Narcissism and Machiavellianism), publishes work drawing on the research areas across all fields of our department.  Dr. Lyons has truely embraced every aspect of life at our University so far and is quickly becoming a well-known name between students and staff who she engages with due to her masses of research interests, her studies and guest lectures, her supervision and everything else she seems to have taken on in her first academic year here in the School.

Having forged strong relationships with the Clinical, the Forensic, and the Perception teams at the University of Liverpool since her arrival earlier this year, Minna has published a vast amount of papers in a range of academic journals and whilst maintaining her working connections with colleagues across the Globe, has recently been in receipt of an Ig Nobel Prize, for her contributions to the paper entitled: “Creatures of the night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad traits”.  It is my pleasure to introduce my Supervisor and now my interviewee, the wealth of knowledge that is, the award winning: Dr. Minna Lyons.

1)  How did you get into researching The Dark Triad?

It was an accident! I did my PhD research on looking at evolutionary theories for altruism, which got me interested in other side of the coin- people who are low in altruism, but still seem to be doing quite well. I was initially interested in investigating whether people can recognise exploitive individuals (which would be quite adaptive I think), but I’ve expanded this research into looking at what strategies exploitive people use in achieving success…

2) What is the most interesting finding you have read from Dark Triad research?

Some of the most interesting stuff that I’ve learned is sex differences in Dark Triad, and how these affect behaviour. For example, we have found that primary psychopathy (being callous and unemotional) can be quite a good social tool, but mainly for men. Secondary psychopathy (being an impulsive risk-taker) seems to lead to worse social success for men. In women, the story is completely different…It is fascinating to see how research is unravelling the sex differences in psychopathy.

3) The study mentions the “darker” aspects of the Dark Triad – do you think there is anything that can be done to control the amount of this being expressed in society?

Hmmmmm, interesting question…This needs further investigation…For example, there is a clear “narcissistic epidemic” indicating that as a whole, people (especially young people) are becoming more narcissistic than previous generations. Although there is some research suggesting that Dark Triad traits are partially situational too (i.e., they can be changed according to circumstances), more research on this is definitely needed.

4) Are you an early riser or a night owl?

Early riser, since a child. Although I tend to be both when life gets busy!

5) Is emotional callousness as seen in Psychopathy really always such a bad thing?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite good, especially in some occupations! For example, if you are a brain surgeon, excessive emotional expression and empathy might get on the way when performing your job.

6) Are those who function better at night, always seen to be psychopathic?

Our study was a correlational study across a few hundred participants with relatively small effect sizes…So no, it doesn’t mean that if yo are alert at night, you are automatically high in psychopathy! Would be interesting to see what the causal relationships are…Does staying up late make people impulsive risk takers? Or do impulsive risk-takers have the propensity to stay up late? There’s a study for someone there…

7) Do you think society could survive without high Dark Triad scoring members?

Well, evolution is interested in the survival of individual genes rather than in the survival of groups (if you don’t believe in the group-selection theory, that is). Society would probably survive…But high Dark Triad traits are likely to be of advantage during certain times, for example, when there is inter-group conflict. Research has found that even in chimpanzees, some individuals exhibit psychopathic tendencies, and these could be useful in fighting against other groups!

8) What would be the main reason, you would suggest, that evolution has developed these traits in some people?

There are different theories,,,One of them is called a Life History Theory. It explains that in insecure environments, it can be useful to adopt a “fast” strategy aimed at immediate extraction of resources from the evironment. You might life fast, if you are more likely to die young!

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