The Dark Triad of Personality Traits

a black triangle on a gold background
Image by THOR / CC BY

Could certain personality traits be an early warning sign for antisocial behavior? Some researchers certainly thought so and went to work on determining precisely what those are.

After years of study and experimentation (and some rigorous back and forth as experts questioned one another’s findings), patterns began to emerge.

And one of these discoveries was the dark triad of personality traits, so-called because of their malevolent properties. Researchers have found that individuals scoring high in the following three traits are statistically more likely to commit crimes, cause interpersonal conflicts, and be disruptive in the workplace:

  1. Machiavellianism
  2. Narcissism
  3. Psychopathy

Machiavellianism

Drawing its name from the famously ruthless Italian businessman Niccolò Machiavelli, the trait of Machiavellianism involves behaving towards others in a cold and manipulative fashion. Folks high in Machiavellianism are primarily self-interested and will not hesitate to deceive others if they believe that doing so will benefit them.

Narcissism

Highly narcissistic individuals are prone to grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.

Despite having a very similar name, being highly narcissistic is distinct from having narcissistic personality disorder (although individuals with NPD are quite high in narcissistic traits).

Psychopathy

Psychopathy is distinguished by highly impulsive behaviors and a tendency towards thrill seeking along with low levels of empathy for other people. Researchers consider this to be the most malevolent quality in the dark triad.

Curious About How You’d Score?

Curious about how you’d score? Take the test online here.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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