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Subclinical Primary Psychopathy, but Not Physical Formidability or Attractiveness, Predicts Conversational Dominance in a Zero-Acquaintance Situation


The determinants of conversational dominance are not well understood. We used videotaped triadic interactions among unacquainted same-sex American college students to test predictions drawn from the theoretical distinction between dominance and prestige as modes of human status competition. Specifically, we investigated the effects of physical formidability, facial attractiveness, social status, and self-reported subclinical psychopathy on quantitative (proportion of words produced), participatory (interruptions produced and sustained), and sequential (topic control) dominance. No measure of physical formidability or attractiveness was associated with any form of conversational dominance, suggesting that the characteristics of our study population or experimental frame may have moderated their role in dominance dynamics. Primary psychopathy was positively associated with quantitative dominance and (marginally) overall triad talkativeness, and negatively associated (in men) with affect word use, whereas secondary psychopathy was unrelated to conversational dominance. The two psychopathy factors had significant opposing effects on quantitative dominance in a multivariate model. These latter findings suggest that glibness in primary psychopathy may function to elicit exploitable information from others in a relationally mobile society.

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