The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism,
Machiavellianism, and psychopathy
Delroy L. Paulhus
and Kevin M. Williams
Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver V6T 1Z4, Canada
Of the oﬀensive yet non-pathological personalities in the literature, three are es-
pecially prominent: Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, and subclinical psy-
chopathy. We evaluated the recent contention that, in normal samples, this ÔDark
TriadÕof constructs are one and the same. In a sample of 245 students, we measured
the three constructs with standard measures and examined a variety of laboratory
and self-report correlates. The measures were moderately inter-correlated, but cer-
tainly were not equivalent. Their only common Big Five correlate was disagree-
ableness. Subclinical psychopaths were distinguished by low neuroticism;
Machiavellians, and psychopaths were low in conscientiousness; narcissism showed
small positive associations with cognitive ability. Narcissists and, to a lesser extent,
psychopaths exhibited self-enhancement on two objectively scored indexes. We con-
clude that the Dark Triad of personalities, as currently measured, are overlapping
but distinct constructs.
Ó2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
Among the socially aversive personalities cited in Kowalski (2001), three
have attracted the most empirical attention: Machiavellianism, narcissism,
and psychopathy. The construct of Machiavellianism—in short, the manip-
ulative personality—emerged from Richard ChristieÕs selection of state-
ments from MachiavelliÕs original books (see Christie & Geis, 1970).
Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563
0092-6566/02/$ - see front matter Ó2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 0 9 2 - 6 5 6 6 ( 0 2 ) 00 5 0 5 - 6
Christie fashioned those statements into a measure of normal personality by
demonstrating reliable diﬀerences in respondentsÕagreement with the items.
Further research showed that respondents who agreed with these statements
were more likely to behave in a cold and manipulative fashion in laboratory
and real world studies (Christie & Geis, 1970).
The construct of subclinical or ÔnormalÕnarcissism emerged from Raskin
and HallÕs (1979) attempt to delineate a subclinical version of the DSM-de-
ﬁned personality disorder. Facets retained from the clinical syndrome in-
cluded grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority. Items were
reﬁned on large samples of students and assembled in the Narcissistic Per-
sonality Inventory (NPI). The successful migration from clinical to subclin-
ical construct is well supported by a strong research literature (Morf &
The adaptation of psychopathy to the subclinical sphere is the most re-
cent of the three (Hare, 1985; Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996). Central charac-
ter elements include high impulsivity and thrill-seeking along with low
empathy and anxiety. The self-report psychopathy (SRP) scale was assem-
bled from items that diﬀerentiated clinically diagnosed psychopaths from
non-psychopaths (Hare, 1985). It was later validated in non-criminal sam-
ples (Forth, Brown, Hart, & Hare, 1996). Recent research by Williams
and Paulhus (2002) conﬁrmed that the SRP has the same four-factor solu-
tion as the Psychopathy Check List (Hare, 1991), which is the gold standard
in the measurement of psychopathy. Moreover, SRP scores predict anti-so-
cial behavior in forensic and non-forensic populations (Paulhus, Hemphill,
& Hare, in press).
Despite their diverse origins, the personalities composing this ÔDark
TriadÕshare a number of features. To varying degrees, all three entail a
socially malevolent character with behavior tendencies toward self-promo-
tion, emotional coldness, duplicity, and aggressiveness. In the clinical liter-
ature, the links among the triad have been noted for some time (e.g., Hart
& Hare, 1998). The recent development of non-clinical measures of all
three constructs has permitted the evaluation of empirical associations in
normal populations. As a result, there is now empirical evidence for the
overlap of (a) Machiavellianism with psychopathy (Fehr, Samsom, &
Paulhus, 1992; McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998), (b) narcissism with
psychopathy (Gustafson & Ritzer, 1995), and (c) Machiavellianism with
narcissism (McHoskey, 1995). Given such associations, the possibility
arises that, in normal samples, the Dark Triad of constructs may be equiv-
In the present study, we exploited three methods for teasing apart the
triad of constructs. First, we mapped the triad onto the Big Five domains
to examine similarities and diﬀerences on fundamental dimensions of per-
sonality. Second, we compared the triad with respect to two measures
of cognitive ability. Finally, we determined whether the substantial self-
Brief report / Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563 557
enhancement observed in narcissists (John & Robins, 1994; Paulhus, 1998;
Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991) would also be evident in Machiavellian
and subclinically psychopathic individuals. Two objective measures of
self-enhancement were developed: One was an index of the tendency to
over-claim general knowledge items; the other was a measure of discrepancy
between self-reported intelligence and objectively scored intelligence.
Two hundred and forty-ﬁve undergraduate psychology students (65%
female) participated in the present study for extra course credit. The pro-
cedure involved two steps. First, each participant took home an anony-
mous questionnaire package, which included standard self-report
measures of the Dark Triad and the Big Five as well as self-ratings of in-
telligence. Participants later returned to the lab for a supervised adminis-
tration of the over claiming measure and an objective measure of global
cognitive ability (IQ).
The NPI (Raskin & Hall, 1979) was used to measure narcissism. The NPI
is a 40 item forced-choice questionnaire, currently the standard measure of
subclinical narcissism. The Mach-IV inventory (Christie & Geis, 1970) was
used to measure Machiavellianism: It consists of 20 5-point Likert items. To
measure subclinical psychopathy, we used the SRP III (Hare, 1985) consist-
ing of 31 5-point items. In our sample, the alpha reliabilities for the NPI,
SRP, and Mach-IV scale were .84, .79, and .74, respectively.
The Big Five inventory (BFI) is a 44 item questionnaire designed to mea-
sure the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscien-
tiousness, neuroticism, and openness). Its validity is well-established (John
& Srivastava, 1999). The alpha reliabilities in our sample were .87, .81,
.81, .86, and .80, respectively.
To measure self-perceptions of intelligence, we summed four 5-point
scales anchored by Not at all (1) to Very much (5). The items were intelligent,
smart, good at school, and known as brainy. In our sample, the alpha reliabil-
ity was .83.
The 50-item speeded Wonderlic Personnel Test (Wonderlic, 1977) was
used to measure global cognitive ability, including both verbal and nonver-
bal IQ. The Over Claiming Questionnaire (OCQ) was designed as an unob-
trusive measure of both cognitive ability and self-enhancement bias
(Paulhus, Harms, Bruce, & Lysy, in press). The task requires rating the fa-
miliarity of 90 persons, events, and things, 20% of which do not exist. Signal
detection formulas were then calculated to index accuracy of general knowl-
edge (cognitive ability) and response bias (knowledge self-enhancement). In
our sample, the alpha reliabilities for accuracy and bias indexes were .84 and
558 Brief report / Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563
3. Analysis and results
Males scored signiﬁcantly higher on all three of the Dark Triad: Biserial
correlations were .11, .21, and .40, for NPI, Mach IV, and SRP, respectively
(all signiﬁcant, p<:05, two-tailed). Within gender, however, the correla-
tional patterns with external variables were remarkably similar: Therefore,
we pooled the data across gender. The measures overlapped considerably,
as evident from Fig. 1. Nonetheless, the maximum inter-correlation of .50
suggests that they cannot be considered equivalent. Even disattenuated,
the highest correlation—that between psychopathy and narcissism—reaches
Big Five traits. In Table 1, several correlations between Big Five scores
and the Dark Triad measures reached signiﬁcance using two-tailed tests,
p<:01. Agreeableness showed correlations of ).36, ).47, and ).25, for nar-
cissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, respectively. Narcissists and
psychopaths also tended to have higher Extraversion (.41 and. 34) and
Openness scores (.38 and .24). Machiavellians and psychopaths showed
low scores on Conscientiousness ().34 and ).24). Finally, psychopaths
tended to report lower levels of Neuroticism ().34).
Cognitive ability. Table 1 shows small positive correlations of both cogni-
tive ability measures with narcissism but no links with Machiavellianism or
psychopathy. After separating the IQ items into verbal and nonverbal sub-
scales, a discrepancy score was calculated by subtracting the standardized
verbal from the standardized nonverbal subscale. Table 1 shows signiﬁcant
positive correlations of the diﬀerence score with Machiavellianism (.20) and
psychopathy (.13), indicating a higher nonverbal IQ score relative to verbal.
Self-enhancement bias. Over-claiming bias was operationalized as the sig-
nal detection parameter (ÔcÕ) that indexes any claim of familiarity with an
Fig. 1. Correlations among measures of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
Brief report / Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563 559
OCQ item, regardless of its true existence. Over-claiming correlated signiﬁ-
cantly with narcissism (.17), but not with Machiavellianism or psychopathy
(see Table 1). The OCQ accuracy index (dÕ) was unrelated to any of the Dark
A second measure of self-enhancement was calculated by partialing IQ
scores out of self-rated intelligence using regression analysis (see Paulhus
& John, 1998). This residual represents the discrepancy between self-ratings
and objective performance. As Table 1 shows, narcissists and, to a lesser ex-
tent, psychopaths tended to overestimate their intelligence (rs¼.24 and .14),
whereas Machiavellians did not.
Our goal was to evaluate the similarities and diﬀerences among the Dark
Triad of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
Our data do not support the contention that, when measured in normal
populations, these three constructs are equivalent. The intercorrelations
were all positive and ranged from .25 to .50. Their distinctiveness became
most apparent in our examination of the external correlates, including both
self-report and performance measures. Their locations in the ﬁve factor
space of personality revealed only one commonality across the triad,
namely, low agreeableness. Both narcissism and psychopathy were also as-
sociated with extraversion and openness: Thus they fall in the circumplex
quadrant labeled ‘‘unmitigated agency’’ (Helgeson & Fritz, 1999; Paulhus
& John, 1998). Also consistent, Machiavellianism and psychopathy were
Correlations of the Dark Triad with the Big Five, cognitive ability, and self-enhancement
Narcissism Machiavellianism Psychopathy
Big Five Inventory
Extraversion .42 ).05 .34
Agreeableness ).36 ).47 ).25
Conscientiousness ).06 ).34 ).24
Neuroticism .02 .12 ).34
Openness .38 ).03 .24
OCQ accuracy index .09 .04 .09
IQ test .15 .04 .05
Verbal–nonverbal discrepancy .05 .20 .13
Discrepancy of self-rating vs.
.24 ).02 .14
Over-claiming bias index .17 .08 .09
Note. N ¼245. All correlations in bold are signiﬁcant at p<:05, two-tailed.
560 Brief report / Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563
negatively associated with conscientiousness, a communal trait. Finally,
only psychopaths were low on neuroticism, consistent with their traditional
characterization as lacking anxiety (Hare, 1991).
On two objective measures, narcissists exhibited the most self-enhance-
ment, followed by the psychopaths. The narcissism ﬁnding replicates previ-
ous research (John & Robins, 1994; Paulhus, 1998) but the establishment of
self-enhancement in subclinical psychopaths is novel. In contrast, machia-
vellians showed no sign of self-enhancement. This diﬀerence is consistent
with previous evidence that Machiavellians are more grounded, or reality-
based, in their sense of self (Christie & Geis, 1970), whereas narcissists have
a strong self-deceptive (i.e., low insight) component to their personality (Ra-
skin et al., 1991; Paulhus, 1998). Such grandiosity and poor insight have also
been noted in clinical-range psychopathy (Hart & Hare, 1998).
The only association with cognitive ability was the small positive correla-
tion between IQ and narcissism. However, we did ﬁnd signiﬁcant associa-
tions of psychopathy and Machiavellianism with a relatively higher
nonverbal to verbal IQ score. A breakdown on ethnicity and gender indi-
cated the strongest correlate of this diﬀerence score (r¼.27) was psychopa-
thy in males of European heritage (i.e., white people with dark
personalities). This ﬁnding is consistent with previous work showing that
a parallel performance-verbal diﬀerence score is higher in delinquent than
in non-delinquent adolescents (e.g., Lynam, Moﬃtt, & Stouthamer-Loeber,
1993) and higher in psychopathic than non-psychopathic delinquents (Gret-
ton, 1998). These samples, too, were primarily white males.
The tendency for dark personalities to exhibit relatively higher levels of
nonverbal IQ is intriguing but the implications are unclear. The ﬁnding de-
ﬁes the stereotype of the smooth talking manipulator but supports the no-
tion of a complex intellectual deﬁcit. One possibility is that the frustration
arising from an inability to communicate oneÕs ideas eventuates in more ma-
levolent interpersonal strategies. Another possibility is some subtle neuro-
As for fundamental personality features, our ﬁndings suggest that, in
non-clinical samples, members of the Dark Triad share a common core of
disagreeableness. Thus the root of their social destructiveness is disturbingly
normal - even banal. In combination with disagreeableness, the minimal
anxiety of psychopaths may make them the most treacherous of the three
- even within the normal range of personality found in our sample. Our
more recent work has supported this fear. A wide variety of self-report
and behavioral measures of antisocial behavior were signiﬁcantly predicted
by psychopathy but not by Machiavellianism or narcissism (Paulhus & Wil-
liams, 2002; Williams & Paulhus, 2002).
Which of the triad is most maladaptive? Our view is that no personality
trait is universally adaptive or maladaptive (Paulhus, Fridhandler, & Hayes,
1997). Indeed, Machiavellians and narcissists may be more of an interper-
Brief report / Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002) 556–563 561
sonal irritant than a threat: Data suggest that such characters are a mixed
blessing in personal life (Robins & Beer, 2001), interpersonal life (Paulhus,
1998), and some organizational contexts (Hogan, Raskin, & Fazzini, 1990;
Robins & Paulhus, 2001). Adaptive interpersonal correlates of subclinical
psychopathy may be more diﬃcult to ﬁnd. Their positive self-view and lack
of anxiety, however, can be viewed as adaptive in an intrapsychic sense
(Taylor & Armor, 1996).
To summarize, our comparison of the Dark Triad of personalities does
not support the proposition that they are equivalent in normal populations.
Even in non-forensic, non-pathological, high-achievement populations, they
are distinctive enough to warrant separate measurement.
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