What We Currently Know About the Dark Triad

Intuitively, people understand that certain personality traits are bad. Selfishness, for example, puts the individual before the group, which can make success more difficult for everyone to achieve.

Likewise, dishonesty tends to undermine the trust others have for the person prone to lying or omitting.

Most everyone has one or two negative personality traits that might cause problems in their relationships.

However, psychologists have identified three major personality flaws that, when combined, transform a person into truly malevolent.

Called the dark triad, these three personality traits are not pathological — meaning they are not indicative of any mental, emotional, or behavioral disease — but they can have significant ramifications on a person’s life.

To learn more about the dark triad and its effects, read on.

The Dark Triad: Narcissism, ASPD and Machiavellianism

The theory of the dark triad was first published in 2002, though the traits involved in the theory have their roots in the origins of human civilization. The traits include:

Narcissism, or excessive interest in oneself, is one of the most common dark personality traits.

Those who display behaviors like grandiosity, egotism, entitlement and superiority often score high on narcissism assessments.

Narcissists tend to be extroverted, but they also tend to lack empathy for those with whom they connect.

Non-clinical ASPD, or antisocial personality disorder, is more colloquially called psychopathy.

Those experiencing ASPD tend to be impulsive and irresponsible, caring little for the feelings or well-being of those around them.

While some psychopaths are indeed pathological, many have suppressed behaviors that allow them to function adequately in society.

This component of the dark triad is often considered to be the most malevolent, perhaps because it is most likely to result in dangerous and criminal behavior.

Machiavellianism, or extreme manipulativeness, is a trait named for the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, whose most famous work, “The Prince,” outlines how rulers can acquire and maintain power through manipulation.

Individuals who measure highly on Machiavellianism assessments tend to display callousness, a lack of morality, low agreeableness and high motivation from self-interest.

A relatively new theory in psychology, the dark triad deserves more attention from researchers — and could perhaps serve as the subject of a dissertation for students obtaining their PhD in psychology online.

Recent research in evolutionary psychology indicates that these personality traits may have substantial genetic components, though the environment can to a lesser extent influence the strength of dark personality traits like those listed above.

Many psychologists argue for the inclusion of a fourth dark personality trait, transforming the dark triad into the dark tetrad.

The potential addition, sadism, is the enjoyment of cruelty, often with the effect of stimulating brutal and destructive behaviors against animals and other people.

Though sadists share many similar behaviors with narcissists, psychopaths and those with Machiavellianism — such as lack of empathy, inclination toward aggression and high incidence of delinquency — many researchers argue that sadism is distinct enough to warrant its presence on this remarkable list of dark traits.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dark Traits

The disadvantages of the dark triad should be clear: Dishonesty, indifference, self-centeredness, cruelty and other negative traits tend to disintegrate relationships, on both a small and large scale.

Team members who have dark triad traits may make teamwork less efficient and more onerous for their other team members, which can slow progress toward shared goals.

Similarly, those displaying dark triad traits are more likely to commit heinous and destructive crimes, which can cause widespread fear and distrust, stymieing societal progress.

However, there are reasons that the dark triad persists in human societies. Individuals with dark triad traits often find it easier to achieve certain types of success because they are not hindered by empathy or honesty.

In the past, the dark triad traits seem to be correlated with greater success in the mating pool — which perhaps allowed for an increasing percentage of the population to inherit these dark traits.

In the modern workplace, the willingness to freely manipulate others to achieve individual goals tends to result in loftier positions, higher pay, and other markers of prestige. In fact, amongst members of upper management, dark triad traits are common.

The dark triad (or tetrad) is one of the most fascinating theories to emerge in the field of psychology in the past few decades.

By investing more resources into studying the dark triad, humans may be able to devise solutions to eliminate some of the most destructive personality traits of the human mind.

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