The dark triad and normal personality traits
Sharon Jakobwitz, Vincent Egan
Department of Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA, Scotland
Received 18 April 2005; received in revised form 1 July 2005; accepted 26 July 2005
Available online 8 September 2005
Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy are often referred to as the Ôdark triadÕof personality.
We examined the degree to which these constructs could be identiﬁed in 82 persons recruited from the gen-
eral population, predicting that the dark triad would emerge as a single dimension denoting the cardinal
interpersonal elements of primary psychopathy. We expected the primary psychopathy dimension to cor-
relate negatively with Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C), whereas secondary psychopathy would
be associated with Neuroticism (N). The negative correlation was found between primary psychopathy and
A, but not with C. While the predicted correlation between secondary psychopathy and N was found,
N was also positively associated with primary psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Factor analysis revealed
that all measures of the dark triad loaded positively on the same factor, upon which A loaded negatively.
Secondary psychopathy loaded positively on a second factor, together with N and (negatively) with C.
These ﬁndings reiterate the distinguishing properties of secondary psychopathy, impulsivity and anti-social
behaviour relative to primary psychopathy. Thus, even in the general population, the dark dimension of
personality can be described in terms of low A, whereas much of the anti-social behaviour in normal per-
sons appears underpinned by high N and low C.
Ó2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Psychopathy; Narcissism; Machiavellianism; Dark triad; Personality; Big ﬁve; Agreeableness; Conscien-
0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 141 331 3037; fax: +44 141 331 3636.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (V. Egan).
Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339
The term ÔDark Triad of PersonalityÕrefers to three interrelated higher-order personality con-
structs—psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). The majo-
rity of work conducted on psychopathy builds upon observations by Cleckley (1941/1988),
operationalised in HareÕs revised Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R; Hare, 1991). The PCL-R and
similar measures (e.g., LevensonÕs self-report measure of psychopathy (LSRP; Levenson, Kiehl,
& Fitzpatrick, 1995)) measure two facets of psychopathy. Factor 1 reﬂects primary psychopathy
(e.g., selﬁshness, callousness, lack of interpersonal aﬀect, superﬁcial charm and remorselessness),
factor 2 measures anti-social lifestyle and behaviours, and is akin to secondary psychopathy. It
should be noted that researchers now propose three facets to core psychopathy; an arrogant
and deceitful interpersonal style, deﬁcient aﬀective experience, and an impulsive and irresponsible
behavioural style (Cooke & Michie, 2001).
Most research into psychopathy involves forensic populations such as prisoners and mentally
disordered oﬀenders. However, not all persons with primary and secondary psychopathy are
in custody, and a literature has gradually emerged examining psychopathy-like traits in the
general population (Board & Fritzon, 2005; Ross, Lutz, & Bailley, 2004). This suggests that if psy-
chopathy is a trait, it should be apparent in non-oﬀenders, and that it may even confer some kind
of social advantage (Levenson, 1992). Examining psychopathy in the general population over-
comes the sample bias of only seeing persons from prison settings, who are essentially homoge-
nous regarding socio-economic background and who are competitively disadvantaged
intellectually, socially, and interpersonally. It is probable that the majority of institutionalised
oﬀenders are more inclined to secondary than primary psychopathy, with diﬀerent dispositional
mechanisms driving their transgressive behaviour (Lykken, 1995; McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto,
Machiavellianism (MACH) refers to interpersonal strategies that advocate self-interest, decep-
tion and manipulation. Christie and Geis (1970) examined the extent to which people use qualities
such as deceit, ﬂattery and emotional detachment to manipulate social and interpersonal interac-
tions. While high MACHS are perceived to be more intelligent and attractive by their peers (Cher-
ulnik, Way, Ames, & Hutto, 1981), MACH does not correlate with intelligence or measures of
success in modern life such as income or status (Ames & Kidd, 1979; Hunt & Chonto, 1984).
In experimental settings high MACHS frequently outperform low MACHS, whether this be bar-
gaining and alliance forming (Christie & Geis, 1970), or assuming leadership in group situations
(Cherulnik et al., 1981). As persons high in MACH are likely to exploit others and less likely to be
concerned about other people beyond their own self-interest, MACH is predictably negatively
correlated with empathy (Barnett & Thompson, 1985). Given these ﬁndings, one would expect
a relationship between MACH and primary psychopathy.
The concept of narcissism derives from the psychodynamic formulations such as a pathological
form of self-love (Freud, 1914), or personality development, whereby ‘‘narcissistic wounds’’ sus-
tained in childhood may lead to an arrest in development and increased shame-driven rage
(Kohut, 1977). It has been argued that the construct of narcissism is compromised by the contrast
between vague psychoanalytic terminology and theory, and more observable elements of the con-
cept (Bradlee & Emmons, 1991; Watson & Morris, 1991). However as a means of encapsulating
332 S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339
the behavioural grandiosity and perceived entitlement of an individual, the concept of narcissism
is a very useful concept. One commonly used scale to assess narcissism is the Narcisssistic Person-
ality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979). The NPI measures persistent attention seeking,
extreme vanity, excessive self-focus, and exploitativeness in interpersonal relationships (Millon
& Davis, 1996), and comprises four factors: Exploitativeness/Entitlement, Leadership/Authority,
Superiority/Arrogance and Self-Absorption/Self-Admiration (Emmons, 1984).
The constructs of the dark triad correlate with each another singularly and in combination;
(Hare, 1991; Skinner, 1988; Smith & Griﬃth, 1978; McHoskey, 1995). Such ﬁndings led McHos-
key et al. (1998) to argue that for the general population MACH is a global measure of psycho-
pathy comparable to primary and secondary psychopathy, this comparability being confounded
due to the diﬀerent paradigms and theoretical orientations of clinical and diﬀerential psychology.
McHoskey et al. found that when secondary psychopathy was controlled for, primary psychop-
athy remained associated with narcissism (r= 0.46). Paulhus and Williams (2002) also investi-
gated the dark triad in the general population and found considerable overlap between the
constructs, although the scale used to measure psychopathy (the SRP-III; Hare, 1985) did not
distinguish between primary and secondary psychopathy. The scales of the dark triad were
correlated with Agreeableness, and revealed negative correlations of 0.36, 0.47 and 0.25
for narcissism, psychopathy and MACH, respectively. No other dimension of the Big Five
captured the constructs of the dark triad. This is perhaps surprising, as MACH is typically neg-
atively correlated with anxiety (Wiggins & Pincus, 1989), as is primary psychopathy (Fehr,
Samson, & Paulhus, 1992), so one would expect Neuroticism (N) to be a negative associate of
The current study investigated to what extent MACH, primary psychopathy, secondary
psychopathy and narcissism reﬂect the same underlying construct, and to examine the extent to
which normal dimensions of personality indexed by a brief measure of the Big Five could capture
the constructs of the dark triad. We expected to ﬁnd low A and low C associated with higher
scores on each of the dark triad dimensions, and to load on a single dark triad factor. We expected
N to be unrelated to the core traits of psychopathy, but to be associated with secondary
2.1. Sample and procedure
The sample in this study were recruited opportunistically from the general population using a
ÔsnowballÕsystem, whereby a starter sample were further asked recruit people from their environ-
ment who would be willing to take part in this study. Although this meant that not all participants
were in direct contact with the researcher, this form of recruitment ensured that a diverse selection
of the general population, was enlisted. Eighty-two persons were recruited, their mean age being
29; of the cohort 37% were men (N= 30), 63% (N= 52) women. Questionnaires were answered
anonymously and participants ﬁlled out a consent form before taking part in the study. The study
was a correlational within-subjects design.
S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339 333
3.1. The revised NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI-R; McCrae & Costa, 2004)
The NEO-FFI-R is a revised version of the NEO-FFI, in which 14 items of the NEO-FFI were
changed. This was done to increase the correlation between the shortened version of the scale and
overall NEO-PI-R scores, diversify item content by selecting items from underrepresented facets,
and to increase the intelligibility of the items. This modiﬁcation was required following the discov-
ery that not all scales of the NEO-FFI had equally stable structures (e.g. Egan, Deary, & Austin,
2000). The NEO-FFI-R consists of 60 items that yield scores on ﬁve personality dimensions: Neu-
roticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness (O), Agreeableness (A), and Conscientiousness (C). In
responding to the NEO, subjects report the extent to which they agree or disagree in regard to
how each item applies to them by rating themselves on a 5-point Likert scale. Internal reliability
coeﬃcients of the NEO-FFI-R scales range from 0.75 to 0.82.
3.2. The MACH-IV (Christie & Geis, 1970)
The original MACH scale consisted of 71 items in three categories: (1) interpersonal tactics; (2)
views of human nature; and (3) abstract or generalised morality. The scale was subsequently re-
duced to 60 meaningful items, from which the 10 highest-related items worded in the Machiavel-
lian direction were selected into the scale along with the 10 highest-related items worded in the
opposite direction to produce the MACH-IV. Responses are given to items on a 6-point Likert
scale, ranging from Ôstrongly disagreeÕto Ôstrongly agreeÕ. Although the reliability of the scale
has been questioned (Ray, 1983) more recent studies have found good reliabilities, with split-half
reliabilities based on several samples averaging 0.79 (Hansen & Hansen, 1991; Wrightsman, 1991)
and the MACH-IV is now the most widely used tool to measure the construct (McHoskey et al.,
3.3. The Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (LSRP; Levenson et al., 1995)
The LSRP is based on the two-factor interpretation of the PCL-R structure and is designed to
measure psychopathy in the general population. Responses are given on a 4-point Likert scale.
The 16-item primary psychopathy scale measures callous, selﬁsh and manipulative interpersonal
attitudes, while the 10-item secondary psychopathy scale assesses impulsivity and a self-defeating
lifestyle. Rather than examine criminal activity typical of the person high on the second dimension
of the PCL-R, the LSRP elicits information about behaviours more typical of community life
which may be morally oﬀensive but are not illegal. CronbachÕsais 0.82 for primary psychopathy,
0.63 for secondary psychopathy. The scale is valid and reliable (Brinkley, Schmitt, Smith, & New-
man, 2001; Lynam, Whiteside, & Jones, 1999; McHoskey et al., 1998).
3.4. Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979)
The NPI is a 40-item forced choice instrument, used to measure narcissism in non-clinical pop-
ulations. Responses are scored positively; thus, the higher the score, the greater the narcissism
334 S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339
shown by the subject. Of the various instruments that measure narcissism, the NPI has received
the most rigorous scrutiny for its psychometric properties. Construct validity has been demon-
strated for the instrument with other measures of narcissism (Emmons, 1984; Raskin & Terry,
1988), and the inventory has high internal consistency, with alphas ranging from 0.82 to 0.84.
4. Statistical analysis
Correlations were calculated between scores on the dark triad measures and the NEO-FFI-R.
The reliability of these measures was calculated using CronbachÕs alpha. To simplify the relation-
ships between measures of personality and the dark triad, and to examine whether all three scales
of the dark triad reﬂected the same underlying construct, principal components analysis with
Varimax rotation of the derived factors was calculated.
Table 1 presents means, standard deviations and internal reliabilities for the measures used in
the study. Reliabilities were adequate to good, but some measures clearly had greater internal reli-
ability than others (e.g. N and narcissism vs. secondary psychopathy). While not a main hypoth-
esis, independent sample t-tests examined whether there were any sex diﬀerences for the measures.
Results showed that males were higher than women for C (t(79) = 2.79; p< 0.05), whereas females
were signiﬁcantly higher than males for E (t(79) = 3.37; p< 0.05), and A (t(79) = 2.56;
Table 2 presents the correlations between all measures in the study. The subscales of the NEO-
FFI-R were much less correlated when the NEO-FFI was used as a short-form of the Big Five.
Even though the negative correlations between O and A, and N and C were statistically signiﬁ-
cant, they were modest in magnitude. The MACH-IV correlated strongly with primary psychop-
athy and secondary psychopathy, and moderately with narcissism. Primary psychopathy
and narcissism also correlated positively. To test the claim that MACH is a global measure
of psychopathy (McHoskey et al., 1998), a partial correlation between MACH and secondary
Descriptive statistics and reliabilities of scales used in study
Mean SD CronbachÕsa
Neuroticism 24.8 8.4 .85
Extraversion 28.6 5.1 .60
Openness 32.3 6.3 .71
Agreeableness 27.6 5.7 .65
Conscientiousness 29.5 6.5 .79
Primary psychopathy 31.4 6.7 .80
Secondary psychopathy 22.0 3.8 .60
Machiavellianism 55.9 7.7 .69
Narcissism 16.4 6.8 .85
S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339 335
psychopathy was calculated, controlling for the eﬀects of primary psychopathy. This correlation
was found to be only .28, suggesting that the correlation of 0.52 found between the MACH-IV
and secondary psychopathy is largely attributable to shared variance between primary and sec-
ondary psychopathy. Finally, signiﬁcant negative correlations were found between the MACH-
IV, primary psychopathy, secondary psychopathy, narcissism and A, and signiﬁcant positive
correlations between primary psychopathy, secondary psychopathy, the MACH-IV and N. Lower
C was associated with higher scores on the MACH-IV and narcissism. In contrast to previous
ﬁndings (e.g., Paulhus & Williams, 2002), none of the dark triad constructs was signiﬁcantly cor-
related to either O or E.
Finally, in order to clarify the relationship patterns found in the correlations between the NEO-
FFI-R and the measures of the dark triad and to identify possible latent constructs total scores of
the nine scales were subjected to a factor analysis, using varimax rotation. Four factors with an
Eigenvalue greater than 1 were extracted, with convergence occurring in nine iterations. Table 3
Correlations for the dark triad and NEO-FFI-R subscales (n= 82)
E O A C PP SP M Nar
Neuroticism .04 .11 .02 .27
Extraversion (E) .01 .15 .19 .08 .04 .13 .10
Openness (O) .23
.15 .21 .21 .17 .10
Agreeableness (A) .08 .43
Conscientiousness (C) .21 .19 .27
P. Psychopathy (PP) – .49
S. Psychopathy (SP) – – .52
Machiavellianism (M) – – – .36
Narcissism (Nar) – – – –
Correlation is signiﬁcant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed).
Correlation is signiﬁcant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed).
Principal components analysis (with Varimax rotation; loadings less than 0.4 suppressed)
F1 F2 F3 F4
Primary Psychopathy .80
Secondary Psychopathy .54 .52
Eigenvalue 2.6 2.6 1.2 1.1
Variance (%) 29.9 19.9 13.7 12.2
Total variance = 74.7%
336 S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339
shows loadings for each scale on the relevant factor as well as the variance explained by the factor.
Together, these factors account for 74.7% of the variance. The ﬁrst rotated factor contained all the
measures of the dark triad, as well as A, conﬁrming our hypothesis. The second factor contrasted
a high positive loading for secondary psychopathy (which also had a split loading on the ﬁrst fac-
tor) and N, and a high negative loading for C. O and E both loaded on separate factors and were
found to be entirely unrelated to any of the constructs underlying the measures of the dark triad.
These ﬁndings suggest that the dark triad is essentially unitary and associated with low A, whereas
secondary psychopathy has unique variance unrelated to the constructs underlying the dark triad,
and is associated with high N and low C.
The current study examined the relationship between the constructs of the dark triad and how
they ﬁtted into the ﬁve factor space of personality. Previous studies indicated that there is consid-
erable overlap between MACH-IV, primary psychopathy, secondary psychopathy and narcissism,
and that more speciﬁcally that MACH-IV is a global measure of psychopathy (McHoskey et al.,
1998). This could reﬂect the varied nature of the MACH-IV, which contains items measuring dis-
positions as well as behaviours, thus perhaps over-integrating the two factors of psychopathy.
While McHoskey et al. found support for their argument their ﬁndings were not replicated by
the current study which had a more diﬀerentiated measure of psychopathy. A correlation between
the MACH-IV and secondary psychopathy, controlling for the eﬀects of primary psychopathy
produced a much weaker correlation (0.28), suggesting that the initial correlation could be attrib-
uted to the shared variance between primary and secondary psychopathy, rather than that shared
between MACH and secondary psychopathy.
As predicted, we found the dark triad reduces to a large general factor and a secondary factor
associated with secondary psychopathy, high N and low C. Also as predicted, there were signi-
ﬁcant and systematic correlations between the scales of the dark triad and the A dimension of
the NEO-FFI-R. Comparable with conceptions of secondary psychopaths as essentially criminal,
neurotic and disorganised (Blackburn, 1975; Levenson et al., 1995), we found secondary psychop-
athy correlated positively with N and negatively with C. Predictions made about a negative cor-
relation between C and the dark triad were not upheld, perhaps because, at least in normal
samples, C is more associated with secondary psychopathy. These ﬁndings are comparable with
those found by Ross et al. (2004).
It must be emphasised that these ﬁndings reﬂect participants recruited from the general com-
munity, and not from criminal or psychiatric settings. As such, the results suggest that patterns
of association seen in more exclusively forensic or mentally disordered populations can also be
found in normal samples, vindicating the view that pathology associated with personality is
dimensional, and the extreme of normal characteristics, with no obvious discontinuity (Egan,
Austin, Elliot, Patel, & Charlesworth, 2003).
Moreover it suggests that studies into psychopathy are valid for non-oﬀender samples, expedi-
ting researchers who do not have access to specialist samples. We found neither O or E contrib-
uted signiﬁcantly to any aspect of the dark triad, and provide further negative evidence for the
long-hypothesised but often erratic contributory inﬂuence of E on anti-social behaviour.
S. Jakobwitz, V. Egan / Personality and Individual Diﬀerences 40 (2006) 331–339 337
Secondary psychopathy had a split loading with the other variables in the study, and this may
reﬂect the fact that although it ﬁts into the Ôdark dimension of personalityÕ, it indexes anti-social
attitudes and lifestyle at a behavioural rather than philosophical or dispositional level. High N
and low C tap into this behaviour, as they reﬂect a more changeable and impulsive nature. We
speculate that anti-social behaviour—legal or illegal—results from a lack of impulse control
and a lack of planning as well as a sense of entitlement, which demands immediate gratiﬁcation
of needs, no matter what the consequences are, and that low A is a contributory (but not cardinal)
dimension directing secondary psychopathy.
Our sample was relatively small, and from the general population. While these can be raised as
criticisms of the study, our ﬁndings are quite unambiguous and reﬂect, replicate and extend other
ﬁndings using similar paradigms. One interesting and novel ﬁnding is that our mean scores on the
MACH-IV were higher than for studies 20–25 years ago (e.g. Nigro & Galli, 1985; Smith & Grif-
ﬁth, 1978). Recent scores were consistently high and uninﬂuenced by sample size. We speculate
that modern western society is much more competitive and materialistic than even 20 years
ago, and some degree of apparent psychopathy may be necessary to succeed in this type of society.
Anonymity leads to a diminished sense of communal responsibility and as long as the concept of
hurting another is abstract (i.e. society) vs. speciﬁc (i.e. my neighbour or colleague) persons might
more readily be prepared to behave in such a way (Gupta, 1986; Okanes & Murray, 1982).
In sum, the current study shows that the dark triad of personality—psychopathy, Machiavel-
lianism and narcissism—reﬂect an essentially unitary construct, and that the division of psychop-
athy into primary and secondary psychopathy usefully diﬀerentiates normal personality traits
associated with the more unpleasant features of the self. This diﬀerentiation could be made in
an unselected sample of persons from the general population. Our study contributes to the view
that it is perhaps unhelpful to overly diﬀerentiate the elements for the dark triad when they so
closely overlap with one-another.
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