Psychologists used to speak of dark personalities in terms of three overarching traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. But emerging research is painting a more complicated picture. Here are three recent scientific findings that shed new light on our understanding of the dark personality.
#1: Goodbye Dark Triad, hello Dark Tetrad
According to psychologists, the Dark Triad describes people who exhibit the following three types of socially offensive personality traits:
- Narcissism refers to someone who is self-obsessed and believes that they are special, gifted, and superior to others.
- Machiavellianism refers to someone who is manipulative, tricky, and ingratiating.
- Psychopathy describes people who are dangerously risk-seeking and lack empathy for others.
A growing body of research suggests that a fourth dimension, called sadism, should be added to the list. According to new research published in the European Journal of Psychological Assessment, sadism “satisfies the criteria of “callousness or impaired empathy” while also adding a “unique element not covered by the Dark Triad members, namely, intrinsic pleasure in hurting others.”
How should sadism be measured? The researchers offer the following seven statements as a starting point. (People who show more agreement with the statements are more likely to exhibit the personality trait of sadism.)
1. Watching a fistfight excites me.
2. I really enjoy violent films and video games.
3. It’s funny when idiots fall flat on their face.
4. I enjoy watching violent sports.
5. Some people deserve to suffer.
6. Just for kicks, I’ve said mean things on social media.
7. I know how to hurt someone with words alone.
#2: Machiavellian personalities are not as smart as they think they are
A new paper refutes the idea that “Machiavellian personalities” — or those who have a penchant for being strategic, deceptive, and even manipulative to achieve their goals — are any smarter than other personality types.
“The Machiavellian individual is presumed to be a master social strategist,” say the researchers, led by William Hart. “However, research has generally failed to support this assumption.”
The researchers hypothesized that this disconnect might stem from an overly simplistic view of Machiavellianism. To take a closer look at the association between Machiavellianism and intelligence, the researchers split Machiavellianism into five parts, listed below:
- Antagonism. Antagonism refers to the callous, exploitative, selfish, and immodest tendencies found in people who exhibit Machiavellian personalities.
- Planfulness. Planfulnesss describes a careful, detail-oriented processing style. It is also found in people with Machiavellian personalities.
- Agency. Agentic individuals tend to express high ambition and power striving. Elevated levels of agency are one of the hallmarks of Machiavellianism.
- Tactics. Tactics are tendencies toward manipulation and exploitation that are exhibited by Machiavellian personalities.
- Cynical views. Cynical views refer to misanthropic notions regarding human behavior. They are also expressed by Machiavellian personalities.
The psychologists analyzed how each specific feature of Machiavellianism related to social-cognitive intelligence. They found that the “planfulness” feature of Machiavellianism was predictive of higher social-cognitive intelligence scores while the “antagonistic” and “tactics” dimensions of Machiavellianism were associated with lower scores.
In other words, the research offers a scientific explanation why Machiavellian personality types can be simultaneously more clever and more obtuse than their non-Machiavellian counterparts: their social-cognitive skills benefit from their careful, detail-oriented processing style but suffer from their callous, selfish, and immodest tendencies.
#3: Dating apps are a breeding ground for dark personalities
A team of researchers at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria found that people who use dating apps are more likely to possess dark personality traits like narcissism and Machiavellianism, and less likely to possess positive personality traits such as openness or agreeableness.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 555 German adults to participate in a 3-week tracking study. Some participants installed software on their phones that monitored their daily usage of three of Germany’s most popular dating apps while others self-reported their dating app usage. The researchers asked participants to complete two well-known personality scales: the Big Five and the Naughty Nine. The Big Five contains measures of neutral personality traits such as extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness while the Naughty Nine measures negative personality traits such as narcissism (e.g., “I tend to strive for prestige and status”), Machiavellianism (“I have used flattery to impose my will”), and psychopathy (“I tend not to care about the moral of my actions”).
The team found that the negative traits were much stronger predictors of online dating usage than the neutral and positive traits. Specifically, narcissism was the strongest predictor of whether someone used an online dating app while Machiavellianism was the strongest predictor of average daily usage. Among the neutral traits tested by the researchers, emotional stability was the only trait reliably associated with dating app usage, but in the reverse direction — less emotionally stable people were more likely to use online dating apps.