science of us

If You Have One of These Dark Personality Traits, You Have Them All

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

You may have heard of the “dark triad,” a constellation of “offensive but non-pathological” personality traits that tend to come as a package deal: Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, and subclinical psychopathy. For whatever reason, most people who have one are thought to have all three.

However, new research suggests that a singular “dark core” is at the heart of these three traits and several others, including egoism, sadism, and spitefulness. To test their hypothesis, researchers from the University of Copenhagen surveyed more than 2,500 people, whom they asked to rate their agreement with statements like “It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.” Researchers noticed that those participants who tended to display one of nine “dark” personality traits (egoism, Machiavellianism, moral disengagement, narcissism, psychological entitlement, psychopathy, sadism, self-interest, and spitefulness) also tended to display one or more of the other traits as well.

The study’s authors argue this overlap is because all nine dark personality traits share the same dark “core,” which — I’m not kidding — they call “the D-factor.” The, uh, D-factor is defined as “the general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others — accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.” Though each dark personality trait varies in expression and severity, all nine rely on personal gain as one’s primary concern.

The D-factor (ahhh, someone should tell them) can thus be considered a predictor of a person’s likelihood of engaging in behavior associated with one or more dark personality traits, researchers said. “Knowledge about a person’s D-factor may be a useful tool, for example to assess the likelihood that the person will re-offend or engage in more harmful behavior,” said one of the study’s authors, Ingo Zettler. Ha-ha. Indeed it may.

If You Have One Dark Personality Trait, You Have Them All