People with dark personality traits don’t hide them, study suggests

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A recent study in Spain explored the associations between personality traits based on Eysenck’s theory of personality and the Dark Triad traits. The results indicated that narcissism and Machiavellianism are linked with neuroticism and extraversion, while psychopathy is associated with psychoticism. These associations suggest that individuals with higher Dark Triad traits did not fully conceal them when responding to the survey. The study was published in Current Issues in Personality Psychology.

In the 1940s, Hans Jürgen Eysenck, a German-born British psychologist, proposed a theory describing human personality through three broad dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Extraversion measures how outgoing, sociable, and energetic a person is, with high scores indicating a preference for social interactions. Neuroticism assesses emotional instability and susceptibility to distress, with high scores linked to anxiety and moodiness. Psychoticism involves traits like aggressiveness, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy, with high scores suggesting antisocial behavior.

Eysenck’s dimensions are thought to have a biological basis, influenced by genetics and the central nervous system. His model emphasizes that personality traits are relatively stable over time and can predict behavior in various situations. It is considered a precursor to modern personality theories.

Study author Manuel Galán and his colleagues aimed to explore the links between Eysenck’s personality traits and the Dark Triad, a modern personality model. The Dark Triad consists of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Narcissism involves grandiosity and a need for admiration, Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and deceit, and psychopathy involves impulsivity and a lack of empathy.

Despite being distinct models, there is overlap between the Dark Triad traits and Eysenck’s dimensions. Importantly, the manipulative and deceptive nature of the Dark Triad suggests that individuals with high levels of these traits might try to hide them in self-report assessments, leading to potential mismeasurement. This could obscure the associations between the Dark Triad and Eysenck’s traits.

The study involved 2,385 adults, mostly Spanish (85%) or South American. Of the participants, 1,727 were women, with an average age of 29 years. Sixty-two percent had completed university studies. Participants completed assessments for the Dark Triad traits (the Dark Triad Dirty Dozen) and Eysenck’s personality traits (the abbreviated Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire).

Results showed that older individuals exhibited more emotional stability (lower neuroticism), lower psychoticism, lower sincerity, and lower levels of all Dark Triad traits. Individuals higher in neuroticism had slightly higher levels of Machiavellianism and narcissism. More extraverted individuals showed higher narcissism and slightly lower psychopathy.

As expected, individuals with higher psychoticism had higher levels of all three Dark Triad traits. Additionally, those with higher levels of Dark Triad traits scored higher on sincerity assessments.

“Considering the deceptive and manipulative nature of the Dark Triad, these results would imply that these traits could be mismeasured in some contexts. However, in research conditions those people who score higher on the Dark Tetrad traits do not hide behaviors that tend to be socially undesirable, implying some degree of honesty in their answers,” the study authors concluded.

The study contributes to the better scientific understanding of the links between the classical Eysenck’s model of personality and the modern Dark Triad conceptualization of dark personality traits. However, it is important to note that all assessments, including those for sincerity, were based on self-reports. This introduces the risk of reporting bias, which affects the interpretation of the results.

The study, “Are the dark personalities sincere? Connections between the Dark Triad and the Big Three,” was authored by Manuel Galán, David Pineda, Pilar Rico-Bordera, José A. Piqueras, and Ana Martínez-Martínez.

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