Dark triad

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The dark triad [1] is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.[2][3][4] Use of the term "dark" implies that these traits have malevolent qualities:[5][6][7][8]

All three traits have been associated with a callous-manipulative interpersonal style.[12] A factor analysis carried out at the Glasgow Caledonian University 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.[10]


In 1998, McHoskey, Worzel, and Szyarto[13] provoked a controversy by claiming that narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy are more or less interchangeable in normal samples. Delroy L. Paulhus and McHoskey debated these perspectives at a subsequent American Psychological Association (APA) conference, inspiring a body of research that continues to grow in the published literature. Paulhus and Williams found enough behavioral, personality, and cognitive differences between the traits to suggest that they were distinct constructs; however, they concluded that further research was needed to elucidate how and why they overlap.[1]

Subclinical dimensions vs. disorders[edit]

Narcissism was discussed in the writings of Sigmund Freud, and psychopathy as a clinical diagnosis was addressed in the early writings of Hervey Cleckley in 1941 with the publication of The Mask of Sanity.[14] Given the dimensional model of narcissism and psychopathy, complemented by self-report assessments that are appropriate for the general population, these traits can now be studied at the subclinical level.[15]

With respect to empirical research, psychopathy was not formally studied until the 1970s with the pioneering efforts of Robert Hare, his Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), and its revision (PCL-R).[16] Hare notes in his book, Without Conscience [17] that asking psychopaths to self-report on psychologically important matters does not necessarily provide accurate or unbiased data. However, recent efforts have been made to study psychopathy in the dimensional realm using self-reported instruments, as with the Levenson Primary and Secondary Psychopathy Scales,[18] The Psychopathic Personality Inventory,[19] and the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale.[20]

Similarly, assessment of narcissism required clinical interviews, until the popular "Narcissistic Personality Inventory" was created by Raskin and Hall in 1979.[21] Since the NPI, several other measures have emerged which attempt to provide self-report alternatives for personality disorder assessment.[22] In addition, new instruments have been developed to study "pathological" narcissism [23] as opposed to "grandiose" narcissism, which is what many argue the NPI measures.[24][25]

Machiavellianism has never been referenced in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for psychological disorders. It has been treated as strictly a personality construct. The original published version of the Mach-IV [26] is still the most widely used in empirical research.[27]


As a disorder[edit]

In general, clinicians treat these traits as pathological, something that needs to be treated, and inherently undesirable, e.g. socially condemned or personally counter-productive. However, others argue that adaptive qualities may accompany the maladaptive ones. The evolutionary perspective (below) considers the dark triad to represent different mating strategies. Their frequency in the gene pool requires at least some local adaptation.

The everyday versions of these traits appear in student and community samples, where even high levels can be observed among individuals who manage to get along in daily life. Even in these samples, research indicates correlations with aggression,[28] racism,[29] and bullying[30] among other forms of social aversiveness.

In the workplace[edit]

Oliver James identifies each of the three dark triadic personality traits as typically being prevalent in the workplace (see also Machiavellianism in the workplace, narcissism in the workplace and psychopathy in the workplace).[31]

Internet trolls[edit]

Main article: Troll (Internet)

Recent studies have found that people who are identified as trolls tend to have dark personality traits and show signs of sadism, antisocial behavior, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.[32][33][34] 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 an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. Both studies suggest that this trolling may be linked to bullying in both adolescents and adults.

As a mating strategy[edit]

Studies have suggested that on average, those who exhibit the dark triad of personality traits have an accelerated mating strategy, reporting more sex partners, more favorable attitudes towards casual sex,[35] lowered standards in their short-term mates,[36] a tendency to steal or poach mates from others,[37] more risk-taking in the form of substance abuse,[38] a tendency to prefer immediate but smaller amounts of money over delayed but larger amounts of money,[39] limited self-control and greater incidence of ADHD symptoms[40] and a pragmatic and game-playing love style.[41] These traits have been identified as part of a fast life strategy that appears to be enacted by an exploitative, opportunistic, and protean approach to life in general[42] and at work.[43]

The evidence is mixed regarding the exact link between the dark triad and reproductive success. For example, there is a lack of empirical evidence for reproductive success in the case of psychopathy.[11] Additionally, these traits are not universally short-term-oriented[44] nor are they all impulsive.[45] Furthermore, much of the research reported pertaining to the dark triad cited in the above paragraph is based on statistical procedures that assume the dark triad are a single construct, in spite of genetic[46] and meta-analytic evidence to the contrary.[47]

Nevertheless, several academic studies have found evidence that women, in general, are more superficially and initially attracted to men who exhibit dark triad personality traits or that people with such traits are perceived as more physically attractive.[48][49][50][51][52]

Related concepts[edit]

Dark tetrad[edit]

The dark tetrad extends the dark triad by adding everyday sadism.[53][54]

Vulnerable dark triad[edit]

The vulnerable dark triad (VDT) comprises three related and similar constructs: vulnerable narcissism, factor 2 psychopathy, and borderline personality disorder. A study found that these three constructs are significantly related to one another, and manifest similar nomological networks. Although the VDT members are related to negative emotionality and antagonistic interpersonal styles, they are also related to introversion and disinhibition.[55]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Robert M. Regoli; John D. Hewitt; Matt DeLisi (20 April 2011). Delinquency in Society: The Essentials. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-7637-7790-6. 
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  4. ^ Mark R. Leary; Rick H. Hoyle (5 June 2009). Handbook of individual differences in social behavior. Guilford Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-59385-647-2. 
  5. ^ Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic; Sophie von Stumm; Adrian Furnham (23 February 2011). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Individual Differences. John Wiley & Sons. p. 527. ISBN 978-1-4443-4310-6. 
  6. ^ Paulhus, D. L., Williams, K. M. (2002). "The Dark Triad of personality: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy". Journal of Research in Personality 36 (6): 556–63. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6. 
  7. ^ Leonard M. Horowitz; Stephen Strack, Ph.D. (14 October 2010). Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology: Theory, Research, Assessment and Therapeutic Interventions. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 252–55. ISBN 978-0-470-88103-3. Retrieved 15 February 2012. 
  8. ^ David Lacey (17 March 2009). Managing the Human Factor in Information Security: How to Win Over Staff and Influence Business Managers. John Wiley & Sons. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-470-72199-5. 
  9. ^ Kohut, H. (1977). The Restoration of the Self. New York: International Universities Press. 
  10. ^ a b Jakobwitz, S., Egan, V. (2006). "The 'dark triad' and normal personality traits". Personality and Individual Differences 40 (2): 331–39. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.006. 
  11. ^ a b Skeem, J. L.; Polaschek, D. L. L.; Patrick, C. J.; Lilienfeld, S. O. (2011). "Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy". Psychological Science in the Public Interest 12 (3): 95–162. doi:10.1177/1529100611426706. 
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  53. ^ Chabrol H., Van Leeuwen, N., Rodgers, R., & Sejourne, N. (2009). Contributions of psychopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and sadistic personality traits to juvenile delinquency. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 734–739.
  54. ^ Buckels, E.E., Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). Psychological Science, 24, 2201-2209.
  55. ^ Miller, JD.; Dir, A.; Gentile, B.; Wilson, L.; Pryor, LR.; Campbell, K. (October 2010). "Searching for a Vulnerable Dark Triad: Comparing Factor 2 Psychopathy, Vulnerable Narcissism, and Borderline Personality Disorder" (PDF). Journal of Personality 78 (5): 1529–1564. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00660.x. 

External links[edit]