The dark triad of personality includes Machiavellianism (strategic and manipulative), psychopathy (lacking empathy), and narcissism (entitled, needing admiration). We all have these traits to some degree on a continuum. People with high levels of dark triad traits tend to have destructive relationship patterns, which include lying, infidelity, jealousy, and revenge.
People with dark triad traits are often deceptive. Researchers have found that those higher on the dark triad continuum opens in a new windowlie more often, and think of themselves as good at lying. More specifically, Machiavellianism is associated with telling more white lies, while narcissism is associated with lying about popularity and status. The most troubling are those with high levels of psychopathy, who are more likely to lie for no reason at all.
But people with more dark triad traits tend to make a habit of emotionally shallow relationships, both romantically and with friends. Specifically, narcissism tends to go hand-in-hand with one-night-stands, and psychopathy opens in a new windowtends to go with booty calls.
Have you ever been in a relationship that made you feel insecure, put down, and used? Here's how to spot whether your partner has the dark triad, a trifecta of personality traits that can do serious damage in relationships, and advice for safely getting out.
You can spot a person high on the dark triad scale if they have a hard time being warm and friendly (especially if there's nothing to be gained from acting nicely), are prone to risk-taking, use aggressive or dark humor, have difficulty describing or understanding emotions, and have a wobbly moral compass. To get out of a relationship with someone like this, bolster yourself with social supports, make sure you plan for safety, and make a clean break.
Last week we walked through the destructive relationship patterns of opens in a new windowpeople with the dark triad. I hope nothing in that episode resonated with your own experiences with a past or current partner, but if so, you might now be able to put a name to why a relationship feels or felt traumatic.
People with high dark triad levels are known for playing mind games and undercutting your confidence. Bolster your defenses with people you can trust to be in your corner who will believe what you say and offer you a safe emotional haven.
The dark triad is a psychological theory of personality, first published by Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams in 2002, that describes three notably offensive, but non-pathological personality types: Machiavellianism, sub-clinical narcissism, and sub-clinical psychopathy. Each of these personality types are called dark because each is considered to contain malevolent qualities.
A factor analysis found that among the big five personality traits, low agreeableness is the strongest correlate of the dark triad, while neuroticism and a lack of conscientiousness were associated with some of the dark triad members. Agreeableness and the dark triad show correlated change over development.
The dark triad traits have significant theoretical and empirical overlap. All three traits share characteristics such as a lack of empathy, interpersonal hostility, and interpersonal offensiveness.
Psychopathy is considered the most malevolent of the dark triad. Individuals who score high on psychopathy show low levels of empathy and high levels of impulsivity and thrill-seeking. With respect to the Big Five personality factors, psychopathy has been found to correlate negatively with agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Several researchers have suggested expanding the dark triad to contain a fourth dark trait: sadism. It is defined as the enjoyment of cruelty, and is the most common addition. While sadism is highly correlated with the dark triad, researchers have shown that sadism predicts anti-social behavior beyond the dark triad. Sadism shares common characteristics with psychopathy and antisocial behavior (lack of empathy, readiness for emotional involvement, inflicting suffering), although Reidy et al. (2011) showed that sadism distinctively predicted unprovoked aggression separate from psychopathy.
Studies on how sadists gain pleasure from cruelty to subjects were applied towards testing people who possessed dark triad traits. Results showed that only people exhibiting traits of sadism derived a sense of pleasure from acts of cruelty, concluding that sadism encompasses distinctly cruel traits not covered by the rest of the dark triad, therefore deserving of its position within the dark tetrad.
The vulnerable dark triad comprises three related and similar constructs: vulnerable narcissism, sociopathy, and borderline personality disorder. A study found that these three constructs are significantly related to one another and manifest similar nomological networks. Although the vulnerable dark triad members are related to negative emotionality and antagonistic interpersonal styles, they are also related to introversion and disinhibition; however, these findings are based largely on the reports of parents of white undergraduate students rather than information gleaned from clinical evaluation.
Oliver James identifies each of the three dark triadic personality traits as typically being prevalent in the workplace. Furnham (2010) has identified that the dark triad is related to the acquisition of leadership positions and interpersonal influence. In a meta-analysis of dark triad and workplace outcomes, Jonason and colleagues (2012) found that each of the dark triad traits were related to manipulation in the workplace, but each via unique mechanisms. Specifically, Machiavellianism was related with the use of excessive charm in manipulation, narcissism was related with the use of physical appearance, and psychopathy was related with physical threats. Jonason and colleagues also found that the dark triad traits fully mediated the relationship between gender and workplace manipulation. The dark triad traits have also been found to be fairly well-represented in upper-level management and CEOs.
Recent studies have found that people who are identified as internet trolls tend to have dark personality traits and show signs of sadism, antisocial behavior, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. The 2013 case study suggested that there are a number of similarities between anti-social and flame trolling activities, and the 2014 survey indicated that trolling is a manifestation of everyday sadism. Both studies suggest that this trolling may be linked to bullying in both adolescents and adults. A 2021 study found that the dark triad's influence may be mediated by malicious motives, and that there is no strong connection between having these traits and engaging in trolling.
Youth who score higher in dark triad traits show higher amounts of violent delinquency, specifically with interpersonal violence. Individuals with low self control and dark triad traits showed more overall delinquency, however higher self control lowered the delinquency. Another study found that those who have admitted to stealing at some point in their life score higher on Machiavellianism and primary and secondary psychopathy. Those higher in psychopathy and Machiavellianism were shown to predict psychological abuse with intimate partner violence, however agreeableness was found to be the main factor.
There is a clear distinction in the methods of a cyber attack between each part of the dark triad. Psychopathy correlated with faster speeds of persistence and exploitation, Narcissism correlated with faster privilege escalation, persistence, and extraction, and Machiavellianism correlated with stealth. Individuals with higher levels of psychopathy are more likely to engage in cyber bullying, with some correlation to both narcissism and Machiavellianism. Individuals with dark triad traits were also found to be more likely to commit acts of online fraud, with each trait having different impacts on factors. Machiavellianism has impacts on opportunity and motivation, psychopathy has impacts on rationalization, and narcissism has impacts on perceptions of motivation and capabilities.
Dark triad characteristics correlate with support for various extremist ideologies. Support for the alt-right, which is prolifically associated with online trolling and harassment, and politically correct authoritarianism both correlate with all three traits as well as measures of entitlement. To a lesser extent, support for a more liberal form of political correctness correlates negatively with psychopathy. Dark triad characteristics correlate positively with out-group threat perceptions, anti-immigrant prejudice, and social dominance orientation, a psychological disposition toward group-based supremacy. Costello et al (2022) found that left- and right-wing authoritarianism correlate similarly with psychopathy.
In a similar manner to research on the Big Five personality traits, twin studies have been conducted in an effort to understand the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in the development of dark triad traits.
All three traits of the dark triad have been found to have substantial genetic components. It has also been found that the observed relationships between the three traits, and with the Big Five, are strongly driven by individual differences in genes. Within the triad, psychopathy and narcissism have both been found to be more inheritable than Machiavellianism.
Environmental factors contribute to the development of dark triad traits, although they have less influence than genetics. During childhood and adolescence, environmental factors that are not shared with siblings (such as friends or extracurricular activities) contribute to all three dark triad traits. However, only Machiavellianism is related to environmental factors that are shared with siblings. 2b1af7f3a8