In the field of personality psychology, Machiavellianism is a psychological trait centered on interpersonal manipulation, unemotional coldness, and indifference to morality. Though unrelated to the historical figure or his works, the trait is named after the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli, as psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis used edited and truncated statements inspired by his works to study variations in human behaviors. Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool and scale of the Machiavellianism construct. Those who score high on the scale (high Machs) are more likely to have a high level of deceitfulness and callousness.
Origin of the construct
In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis wanted to analyze those who manipulated others, and developed a test using a selection of statements, including a few truncated and edited sentences from Machiavelli's works as test items, naming the construct "Machiavellianism" after Machiavelli. They wanted to assess whether or not those who were in agreement with the statements would behave differently than others who disagreed, specifically in regards to manipulative actions. Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool of the Machiavellianism construct. Using their scale, Christie and Geis conducted multiple experimental tests that showed that the interpersonal strategies and behavior of "high Machs" and "low Machs" differ. People scoring high on the scale (high Machs) tend to endorse manipulative statements, and behave accordingly, contrary to those who score lowly (low Machs). Their basic results have been widely replicated. Measured on the Mach - IV scale, males score, on average, slightly higher on Machiavellianism than females.
A recent behavioral genetics study noted that Machiavellianism has both significantly genetic and environmental influences. There has also been extensive research on Machiavellianism in young children and adolescents, via a measure dubbed the "kiddie Mach" test.
A 1992 review described the motivation of those high on the Machiavellianism scale as related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, sociality) in duplicitous ways. More recent research on the motivations of high Machs compared to low Machs found that they gave high priority to money, power, and competition and relatively low priority to community building, self-love, and family commitment. High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost.
Due to their skill at interpersonal manipulation, there has often been an assumption that high Machs possess superior intelligence, or ability to understand other people in social situations. However, some research has established that Machiavellianism is unrelated to IQ. Recently, new research gives support to a contrary viewpoint.
Furthermore, studies on emotional intelligence have found that high Machiavellianism is usually associated with low emotional intelligence as assessed by both performance and questionnaire measures. Both emotional empathy and emotion recognition have been shown to have negative correlations with Machiavellianism. Additionally, research has shown that Machiavellianism is unrelated to a more advanced theory of mind, that is, the ability to anticipate what others are thinking in social situations. If high Machs actually are skilled at manipulating others, this appears to be unrelated to any special cognitive abilities as such, and may simply be due to a greater willingness to engage in manipulation.
Relations with other personality traits
Machiavellianism is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad, along with narcissism and psychopathy. Some psychologists consider Machiavellianism to be essentially a subclinical form of psychopathy, as they both share manipulative tendencies and cold callousness as their primary attributes. More recent research suggests that while Machiavellianism and psychopathy overlap heavily, they are distinct personality constructs. Psychopathy differs from Machiavellianism mainly in impulsivity, a lack of long term planning and self control.
Machiavellianism has been found to be negatively correlated with agreeableness (r = −0.47) and conscientiousness (r = −0.34), two dimensions of the "big five" personality model (NEO-PI-R). However, Machiavellianism correlates more highly with the honesty-humility dimension of the six-factor HEXACO model than with any of the big five dimensions. Machiavellianism has also been located within the interpersonal circumplex, which consists of the two independent dimensions of agency and communion. Agency refers to the motivation to succeed and to individuate the self, whereas communion refers to the motivation to merge with others and to support group interests. Machiavellianism lies in the quadrant of the circumplex defined by high agency and low communion. Machiavellianism has been found to lie diagonally opposite from a circumplex construct called self-construal, a tendency to prefer communion over agency. This suggests that people high in Machiavellianism do not simply wish to achieve, they wish to do so at the expense of (or at least without regard to) others.
In 2002, the Machiavellianism scale of Christie and Geis was applied by behavioral game theorists Anna Gunnthorsdottir, Kevin McCabe and Vernon L. Smith in their search for explanations for the spread of observed behavior in experimental games, in particular individual choices which do not correspond to assumptions of material self-interest captured by the standard Nash equilibrium prediction. It was found that in a trust game, those with high Mach-IV scores tended to follow homo economicus' equilibrium strategies while those with low Mach-IV scores tended to deviate from the equilibrium, and instead made choices that reflected widely accepted moral standards and social preferences.
Although there have been myriad proposed factor structures, two dimensions emerge most consistently within factor-analytic research – differentiating Machiavellian views from behaviors. Although the Mach-IV scale is unable to reliably capture the two dimensions, a 10-item subset of the scale known as the "two-dimensional Mach-IV" (TDM-V), reproduces the views and tactics dimensions across countries, genders, sample types, and scale category length. The "views" dimension appears to capture the neurotic, narcissistic, pessimistic, and distrustful aspects of Machiavellianism, while the "tactics" component captures the more unconscientious, self-serving, and deceitful behavioral aspects.
In the workplace
Machiavellianism is also studied by organizational psychologists, especially those whom study manipulative behaviors in workplace settings. Workplace behaviors associated with this concept include flattery, deceit, coercion, and abusive supervision.
- Confidence game
- Crowd manipulation
- Dirty Dozen test
- Social dominance orientation
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