Whether it's on television or in a movie, we seem to love the villain, like Voldemort, the archenemy of Harry Potter, or the Dark Lord Sauron in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. No matter how egotistical, power hungry or greedy the person is, many of us are still attracted to their dark side – perhaps in part because we suspect some may have a redeeming quality.
Adults everywhere have understood for centuries that evil and evil-doers populate the world. It is an unfortunate but inescapable current and historical fact that some people experience acts of deep cruelty first hand – abuse, wars, slavery, the Inquisition, the Holocaust and more. Recent research, however, suggests that children – at least advantaged, Western children – are remarkably slow to acknowledge evil deeds and evil-doers. Young children display a positivity bias that predisposes them to think well of people, even in the face of negative information.
A new University of Michigan study entitled “What makes Voldemort tick? Children's and adults’ reasoning about the nature of villains.” Has been published in the journal Cognition, led by psychology doctoral student Valerie Umscheid and colleagues. The study aimed at providing an in-depth exploration of children's reasoning about agents with serious anti-social personality (villains) and if/how this understanding changes with development.
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Both adults and children more often reported that villains were inwardly good than that heroes were inwardly bad, they reported. “In other words, 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,” said Umscheid. “Inside, villains are a little less evil than they outwardly seem, while heroes are fully good guys inside and out.”