The Dark Triad of Personality: A 10 Year Review
, Steven C. Richards
, and Delroy L. Paulhus
University College London
University of British Columbia
Ten years ago Paulhus and Williams (2002) called attention to the ‘Dark Triad’, a constellation of
three conceptually distinct but empirically overlapping personality variables. The three members –
Machiavellianism, narcissism and subclinical psychopathy – often show differential correlates but
share a common core of callous-manipulation. There are now dozens of studies on the triad and,
according to Google Scholar, over 350 citations. The goal of this review is to update and critically
evaluate this rapidly expanding literature. The standard measures of each Dark Triad member are
reviewed along with newer combination measures. The Dark Triad members are located in in
mainstream structural models, namely, the interpersonal circumplex as well as Five- and Six-Factor
Models. Key issues and controversies are addressed.
How many kinds of bad characters are there? According to Paulhus and Williams (2002),
the answer was three – namely, the so-called ‘Dark Triad’ of Machiavellianism, narcis-
sism, and psychopathy. This review covers the intervening 10 years of research into those
three socially-aversive personalities. Although citations to that original article are now
approaching 400, no review is currently available. We cannot address all that literature in
detail, but chose to focus on several key issues. In addition, we provide links to summa-
ries of the larger literature.
In the original paper, Paulhus and Williams (2002) sought to clarify the literature on
personalities that are aversive but still within the normal range of functioning: Three vari-
ables were most prominent: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Indeed, all
three had enormous literatures. Further examination indicated that each literature suffered
from ‘construct creep’, that is, the tendency for researchers focused on a single construct to
continually expand its scope (Jones & Paulhus, 2011a). Confusion among the Dark Triad
members was almost inevitable, given that, at the subclinical level of functioning, the three
concepts share a conceptual resemblance and their common measures overlap empirically.
To tease apart the triad members, Paulhus and Williams (2002) initiated a program of
research to evaluate the degree of distinctiveness of the Dark Triad, both conceptually
and empirically. That initial work has stimulated many others to conduct their own
research, as is evident in the wealth of studies cited below.
Our review is organized around key theoretical and psychometric issues. First is the
distinction between clinical and subclinical conceptions. Second is the conceptual and
empirical coherence of the triad as well as evidence for the psychological processes that
explain their distinctiveness. Third is the biological basis for the triad. Finally, we review
the measurement instruments most popular in this research as well as their correlates. In
psychometric terms, we are reviewing evidence for the construct validity of the three
Dark Triad variables.
Social and Personality Psychology Compass 7/3 (2013): 199–216, 10.1111/spc3.12018
ª2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
To permit comparisons, all the research reported here included at least two of the triad
members. Note that the review will not cover results from measures explicitly designed
for clinical samples (e.g., the Millon Inventory, PAI, DAPP, or the SNAP). Those mea-
sures do not always map onto their subclinical counterparts (Furnham & Crump, 2005).
From Clinical to Subclinical: The Grand Migration
Drawing the line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ personality has always been a chal-
lenging issue (Allport, 1937). In the personality disorder literature, the terms clinical and
subclinical are often contrasted (Lebreton, Binning, & Adorno, 2006). We will apply that
terminology in the following way: Clinical samples comprise individuals those currently
under clinical or forensic supervision; Subclinical samples refer to continuous distributions
in broader community samples. Although the term implies a milder version, subclinical
samples will inevitably cover a wider range and naturally include the extreme cases who
are currently at large in the community (Ray & Ray, 1982).
The concepts of narcissism and psychopathy originated in clinical literature and practice
(see Furnham & Crump, 2005). Indeed, both remain as personality disorders in the
DSM-IV-TR. Psychiatric classiﬁcation, however, has traditionally been categorical: For
example, offenders have often been categorized as psychopaths if and only if they
exceeded 30 on Hare’s (1991) Psychopathy Check List. By contrast, mainstream personal-
ity assessment has relied on dimensional models such as the Big Five and used trait ques-
tionnaires as the primary means of assessment. Within the latter tradition, pathological
traits are viewed as extremes of ‘‘normality’’ (Wiggins & Pincus, 1989). Consistent with
this notion, psychopathy has often been seen as synonymous with extremely low scores
on agreeableness and conscientiousness (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985; Miller, Lynam, Widi-
ger, & Leukefeld, 2001).
Narcissism migrated into the mainstream literature with the publication of the Narcissis-
tic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979). This migration was surprisingly
smooth because the subclinical version was largely consistent with the clinical deﬁnition
(Campbell & Foster, 2007; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). The ﬁrst principal component of
the NPI was characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, dominance and superiority (Corry,
Merritt, Mrug, & Pamp, 2008). A notable exception to the parallel literatures has been the
inability of the NPI to capture the vulnerable aspects of clinical narcissism (Cain, Pincus,
& Ansell, 2008; Miller et al., 2010). Whether clinical or subclinical, others ﬁnd narcissists
to be socially aversive (Leary, Bednarski, Hammon, & Duncan, 1997; Paulhus, 1998).
The migration of psychopathy into the mainstream personality research was anticipated
by Ray and Ray (1982): However, the only questionnaire available at the time was the
dubious MMPI PD scale. The subsequent introduction of a number of construct-based
questionnaires culminated in reviews by Hall and Benning (2006) as well as Lebreton
et al. (2006). Even at the subclinical level, psychopathy is viewed as the most malevolent
of the Dark Triad (Rauthmann, 2012). The syndrome is marked by high levels of impul-
sivity and thrill-seeking along with low levels of empathy (Hare, 1985; Lilienfeld &
By contrast, the construct of Machiavellianism had an entirely different etiology.
Rather than a clinical syndrome (i.e., a personality disorder), the concept was named ep-
onymously for the philosophy of Nicolo Machiavelli, a political advisor to the Medici
family in the 1500s. Christie and Geis (1970) created a questionnaire measure by distilling
the philosophy and tactical recommendations from Machiavelli’s original text. Subsequent
experimental and correlational work led to the conclusion that everyday samples who
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agreed with such statements also behaved that way in their personal lives. Consistent with
Machiavelli, high scorers on the questionnaire are cynical, unprincipled, believe in inter-
personal manipulation as the key for life success, and behave accordingly (for the latest
review, see Jones & Paulhus, 2009).
To date, most Dark Triad research has used standard personality questionnaires whose
validity has been well documented in the earlier personality literature. Newer, briefer
measures are now available, although, to date, they have received less validation (Paulhus
& Jones, forthcoming).
One measure of subclinical narcissism has dominated the Dark Triad literature: The origi-
nal 40-item NPI (Raskin & Hall, 1979) and its shorter form (NPI-16; Ames, Rose, &
Anderson, 2006). More recently, a measure of pathological narcissism has been created
and validated by Pincus et al. (Cain et al., 2008; Pincus et al., 2009). However, the gran-
diosity conception, as tapped by the NPI, is most relevant to Dark Triad research.
In the Dark Triad literature, the most commonly-used measure of psychopathy is the
Self-Report Psychopathy (SRP-III) scale. It was modeled after the Psychopathy Check
List (Hare, 1991), the ‘‘gold standard’’ for the measurement of forensic psychopathy. The
SRP has gone through several revisions: SRP-I (Hare, 1985), SRP-II (Hare, Harpur, &
Hemphill, 1989), the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale-III-E (Williams, Paulhus, & Hare,
2007), and SRP-III (Paulhus, Neumann, & Hare, forthcoming). The 4-factor structure
was carved out in Version III and recently conﬁrmed by Neal and Sellbom (2012).
A spate of studies have conﬁrmed the construct validity of the SRP for the assessment
of psychopathy in sub-clinical samples. (e.g., Forth, Brown, Hart, & Hare, 1996;
Mahmut, Menictas, Stevenson, & Homewood, 2011; Paulhus et al., forthcoming; Wil-
liams, Nathanson, & Paulhus, 2010). Its psychometric foundation is the latent trait running
through all four subscales: Thus the total score is a meaningful measure of psychopathy.
Other instruments used in Dark Triad research include more than one independent
factor. One is the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI; Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996).
Of its two primary factors, the Self-Centered Impulsivity subscale is most relevant to
Dark Triad research; the other factor, Fearless Dominance, has primarily adaptive corre-
lates (Miller & Lynam, 2012). Second is the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale
(LSRP; Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995). A comparative review found that total
scores on the SRP and PPI ﬁrmly converge whereas the LSRP has more in common
with measures of antisocial personality disorder (Hicklin & Widiger, 2005).
The most common measure of Machiavellianism in the Dark Triad literature is the Mach
IV (Christie & Geis, 1970). The German translation has also seen signiﬁcant use
(Henning & Six, 2008). A tentative Mach VI was introduced by Jones and Paulhus
(2009) and incorporated in the Short Dark Triad (SD3). Recent attempts have been made
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to expand the original conception with multi-dimensional (Rauthmann & Will, 2011)
and workplace-speciﬁc versions (Kessler et al., 2010).
Measures of all three constructs
Two brief measures are now dominating Dark Triad research. One is the Dirty Dozen
(Jonason & Webster, 2010). Emphasizing brevity, the Dirty Dozen includes only four
items to tap each triad member. Jonason and colleagues have carried out a series of stud-
ies to support its validity (e.g., Jonason & Kavanagh, 2010). Although some researchers
have found it to be useful (e.g., Rauthmann, 2012), others have been critical (e.g., Lee
et al., forthcoming; Miller & Lynam, 2012; Paulhus & Jones, forthcoming; Rauthmann,
The other popular measure is the Short Dark Triad (SD3; Jones & Paulhus, forthcom-
ing). This 27-item instrument has been employed successfully by a number researchers
(e.g., Arvan, 2012; Baughman, Dearing, Giammarco, & Vernon, 2012; Giammarco,
Atkinson, Baughman, Veselka, & Vernon, forthcoming; Holzman, 2011; Lee et al., forth-
coming). In the initial paper, the SD3 authors presented ﬁve studies, including informant
validation of all three subscales. Direct comparisons with the Dirty Dozen indicate
broader predictive power for the SD3 (Egan, 2012; Jones & Paulhus, forthcoming; Lee
et al., forthcoming).
Two other measures have yet to be used in published research. One is the Dark Triad
Screening Measure (MacNeil, Whaley, & Holden, 2007). That instrument was designed to
provide subscales with minimal overlap. Their conﬁrmatory factor analysis successfully
replicated a 3-factor structure. The other unpublished instrument is the Mini-Markers of
Evil (Harms, Roberts, & Kuncel, 2004). This 57-item instrument is constructed entirely
of trait adjectives. Its three subscales show concurrent validity with the standard measures
of the Dark Triad.
Recall that the original impetus for the simultaneous study of the Dark Triad members
was the apparent discrepancy between their distinctive theoretical origins and empirical
ﬁndings that suggested overlap. Because of some common features and positive intercor-
relations, some authors have viewed them as indistinguishable in normal samples (e.g.,
McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998). As a result, researchers have sometimes gone so
far as to combine them into a global Dark Triad index (e.g., Jonason, Li, & Teicher,
Evidence for the empirical overlap derives from two types of data. First is a number of
factor analytic studies where subclinical psychopathy and narcissism load on the same fac-
tor (Furnham & Crump, 2005; Furnham & Trickey, 2011; Hogan & Hogan, 1997). Sec-
ond, a number of studies show similar patterns when psychopathy and narcissism are
correlated with self-reports, observer-reports and behavioral measures (Khoo & Burch,
2008; McHoskey et al., 1998; Moscoso & Salgado, 2004). In the one factor analytic study
using the standard Dark Triad measures, all three loaded on the HEXACO Honesty-
Humility factor (Lee & Ashton, 2005).
How strong are the intercorrelations in normal samples? A meta-analysis of nearly 100
correlations is available from the senior author. Although the instrument used to opera-
tionalize each Dark Triad member varies across studies (in some studies subscale scores
are used instead of the full measure), several conclusions can be drawn. First, all the
202 Dark Triad of Personality
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correlations are positive and signiﬁcant. Second, nearly a quarter are >.50. Third, the
highest mean correlations appear between psychopathy and Machiavellianism, and the
lowest between narcissism and Machiavellianism. A key question is the extent to which
these correlations are a function of the psychometric properties of the measures, item
overlap, common components, dissimulation or some other factor.
The moderate size but consistent direction of these intercorrelations bears on the ques-
tion of how to treat the Dark Triad members in research situations: Should they be com-
bined into a composite or evaluated separately as distinct predictors?
The lion’s share of research in this review suggests that any apparent equivalence of the
Dark Triad members is illusory. Because they are positively correlated, the three members
often show similar correlates. The key to differentiating the Dark Triad lies in administering
measures of all three to the same sample and applying multiple regression to determine their
independent contributions. Only then do the theoretically predicted differences emerge
clearly (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).
When regression analyses are conducted, differences among the Dark Triad outcomes
become clear. Here are some examples. Compared to the other two, Machiavellians are
more likely to plagiarize essays (Nathanson, Paulhus, & Williams, 2006a) and avoid risky
bets (Jones & Paulhus, forthcoming). More than the other two, narcissists self-enhance
(Paulhus & Williams, 2002) and aggress after ego threat (Jones & Paulhus, 2010). Finally,
more than the other two, psychopaths bully others (Baughman et al., 2012; Williams,
McAndrew, Learn, Harms, & Paulhus, 2001), and carry out their revenge fantasies
(DeLongis, Nathanson, & Paulhus, 2011).
Of special import are studies demonstrating that observers can distinguish the Dark
Triad members. Ziegler and La
¨mmle (2012), for example, used structural modeling to
demonstrate the ability of close informants to discriminate the three members (see also
Paulhus & Jones, 2012). Other studies conﬁrming distinct correlates of the Dark Triad
are presented in the later section on Major Outcomes.
Location in Personality Space
Given their relevance to normal personality, the Dark Triad should have links to the pre-
dominant structural models of personality. The most important of these models are the
interpersonal circumplex (e.g., Wiggins, 1979), the Five Factor Model (Costa & McCrae,
1991) also known as the Big Five, and the HEXACO model (Lee & Ashton, 2005), also
known as the Big Six.
The interpersonal circumplex
This 2-factor structural model has an inﬂuential history anchored conceptually in the
work of Bakan (1966) and structurally in the work of Leary (1957). The axes are com-
monly labeled Agency (striving for autonomy and superiority) and Communion (con-
necting with and helping others). All the intermediary locations were assigned labels by
The most thorough analysis of the Dark Triad geometry was provided by Jones and
Paulhus (2011a). They showed that all three members shared Quadrant II, that is, high
agency and low communion (see also Paulhus & Abild, 2011). Jones and Paulhus went
further to argue that, because of their similar locations, distinguishing the three required
the consideration of two other dimensions: Psychopathy stands apart by scoring high on a
dimension of impulsivity; Narcissism stands apart on an axis of superior identity (i.e.,
Dark Triad of Personality 203
self-enhancement). Rauthmann (forthcoming) replicated the circumplex location but
showed that residualized versions of the Dark Triad scattered to different quadrants.
The Five Factor Model
The ﬁve factor model (also known as the Big Five) covers the ﬁve broad (and relatively
independent) personality dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness,
Neuroticism, Openness to Experience (Costa & McCrae, 1991). All of the Big Five have
been linked to one or more of the Dark Triad variables.
Most consistent are negative associations with Agreeableness and Conscientiousness
(Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006; Jonason, Koenig, & Tost, 2010; Jonason, Li, & Buss, 2010;
Jonason, Li, & Teicher 2010; Jonason & Webster, 2010; Miller et al., 2010; Nathanson,
Paulhus, & Williams, 2006b; Nathanson et al., 2006a; Paulhus & Williams, 2002;
Williams et al., 2010).
Negative links with Agreeableness are entirely understandable. As measured by the
NEO-PI (Costa & McCrae, 1991), the concept is exceedingly broad, including (reverse-
keyed) attributes such as shrewd, autocratic, selﬁsh; stubborn, demanding, headstrong,
impatient, intolerant, outspoken, hard-hearted, argumentative, and aggressive. Because
they share those elements, it is no surprise that the standard 48-item NEO-PI measure
correlates with Dark Triad measures. Associations are similar but smaller when shorter
Big Five measures are used (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).
Distinctions among the Dark Triad emerge when the Big Five facets are separated. For
narcissism, the strongest associations are with low Modesty and low Straightforwardness
whereas psychopathy associations are strongest with low Deliberation and low Dutifulness
(Miller et al., 2010). Distinctions also emerge with the facets of Conscientiousness: the
strongest correlates of narcissism are achievement-striving and competence whereas the
strongest correlates of psychopathy are low dutifulness and low deliberation (Miller et al.,
The Big Six
Michael Ashton, Kibeom Lee and colleagues have argued for a six factor structure called
the HEXACO model (Ashton & Lee, 2001; Lee & Ashton, 2005): The additional
dimension was labeled Honesty-Humility. Because it explicitly contrasts pro-social and
anti-social behavior, this factor is more relevant to the Dark Triad than are any of the
Big Five dimensions. Empirical results have been rather straightforward: All three of the
triad load on that sixth factor (Lee & Ashton, 2005; Lee et al., forthcoming). Later
research clariﬁed even further how the Dark Triad link up with the Five Factor and Cir-
cumplex conﬁgurations (Veselka, Schermer, Martin, & Vernon, 2010; Veselka, Schermer,
& Vernon, 2011).
The core of the Triad
If the Dark Triad members are not interchangeable, then why are they always positively cor-
related – regardless of the instrument used to measure them? One possibility is a common
underlying element (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Among the strongest candidates are dis-
agreeableness, honesty-humility, lack of empathy (callousness), and interpersonal antagonism.
Vince Egan has made a strong case for agreeableness (Egan & McCorkindale, 2007;
Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006). As noted above, a range of studies support the link. Our
204 Dark Triad of Personality
concern is that the wide breath of agreeableness allows it to correlate with a wide range
of lower order traits – not necessarily for the same reasons. Donald Lynam has argued
that interpersonal antagonism is a better explanation (e.g., Lynam & Dereﬁnko, 2005).
Michael Ashton and Kibeom Lee argue for Honesty-Humility as the common element
(Ashton & Lee, 2001; Lee & Ashton, 2005). For Jonason, Li, Webster, and Schmitt
(2009), it is social exploitativeness, Finally, Jones and Paulhus make the case for callous-
ness (low empathy) as the common core (Jones & Paulhus, 2011a). Whatever the causal
order, it appears that callousness goes hand-in-hand with interpersonal manipulation and
exploitation (Jones & Figueredo, forthcoming; Miller et al., 2010). More research is
needed to determine whether this difference in labeling is substantive or merely semantic.
Biological and Environmental Origins
Nature or nurture? When Paulhus and Williams (2002) isolated the Dark Triad as a dis-
tinct constellation, they made no assumptions about their etiology. Since then, a number
of theoretical and empirical advances have been made. On the theoretical side, the classic
roots have been revisited and possible evolutionary roots have been postulated. On the
empirical side, a series of behavior-genetic studies have partitioned the nature and nurture
foundations of the Dark Triad. Finally, the callous core has been identiﬁed (Ali, Amorim,
& Chamorro-Premuzic, 2009; Douglas, Bore, & Munro, 2012; Frick, Bodin, & Barry,
2000; Jones & Paulhus, 2011a).
Behavior genetics: Nature or nurture?
Distinctive behavior behaviors among the Dark Triad are are already evident in juveniles
aged 11–17 (Lau & Marsee, 2012). Vernon and colleagues showed that all three have
substantial genetic components (Petrides, Vernon, Schermer, & Veselka, 2011; Vernon,
Villani, Vickers, & Harris, 2008; Veselka et al., 2011). Machiavellianism alone has a
shared environmental component (Vernon, Martin, Schermer, & Mackie, 2008; Vernon,
Villani, et al., 2008). That ﬁnding was interpreted by Jones and Paulhus (2011a) as evi-
dence that Machiavellianism is the most likely of the three to be modiﬁed by experience.
To fully substantiate claims about the modiﬁability of each triad member, the ideal study
would examine how the environmental components changed across the life span.
The notion that dark personalities can ﬂourish as social parasites has been around since
Linda Mealey (1995). She pointed out that evolutionary theory predicts such predatory
subgroups. Two groups have taken the lead in elaborating an evolutionary take on the
Dark Triad. One group is led by Peter Jonason (e.g., Jonason, Valentine, Li, & Harbeson,
forthcoming; Jonason et al., 2009); the other group is led by A. J. Figueredo (e.g., Brum-
bach, Figueredo, & Ellis, 2009; Figueredo et al., 2009; Gladden, Figueredo, & Jacobs,
2009; Sisco, Gladden, & Figueredo, 2010). Understandably, these evolutionary
approaches emphasize mating issues.
To explain individual differences in Dark Triad traits, both groups apply the notion of
life history strategy (Figueredo, 2007; Rushton, 1985). Within that framework, individu-
als differ along a continuum of reproductive strategies. Those emphasizing mating are said
to have a fast life strategy; those emphasizing parenting are said to have a slow reproduc-
Dark Triad of Personality 205
Both groups argue that individuals with Dark Triad traits have a fast life history strat-
egy. Characterized by deﬁcits in self-control, such individuals often exhibit short-term
mating, selﬁshness, and other antisocial manifestations. The relatively ‘‘lighter’’ traits,
Machiavellianism and narcissism, include facets that lessen the socially undesirable and
costly aspects of having a fast life strategy. Hence the latter two can easily function in
society whereas the psychopath has more difﬁculty. The evidence supporting these claims
is reviewed in the section below under Major Outcomes.
Given our focus on differentiation, we would argue that a more nuanced version of
evolutionary psychology is required to explain the Dark Triad. Following Mealey (1995),
there is room for more than one ‘dark niche’ in human societies – at least three, we sug-
gest. Thus each Dark Triad member exploits others in a unique social environment
wherein their brand of callous exploitation fosters reproductive success.
Major Outcome Domains
A wide variety of outcome variables have been described in the above research. Here
they are organized around ﬁve human concerns: occupational, educational, mating, inter-
personal, and antisocial behavior. Within these themes, a few topics have been given spe-
cial attention. Details on many of these studies are available from the senior author.
One or more of the Dark Triad personalities invariably emerge in analyses of counter-
productive behavior (Harms, Spain, & Hannah, 2011; Hogan, 2007). They are evident in
notions of ‘toxic leadership’, ‘snakes in suits’, and ‘bad bosses’. Such leaders typically
derail somewhere down the line (Babiak, 1995; Dotlich & Cairo, 2003; Furnham, 2010;
Hogan & Hogan, 2001; Kets de Vries, 2006; Lubit, 2004). A review of the Dark Triad
at work indicates a similar fate for non-leaders as well (O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, &
Recent research has turned to the adaptive side by uncovering contexts where one or
more of the Dark Triad have proved to be advantageous (Hogan & Hogan, 2001). Furn-
ham (2010), for example, has detailed cases where high levels of Dark Triad traits, when
combined with other factors (intelligence, physical attractiveness), often help an individual
acquire positions of leadership. In the words of Hogan (2007), dark traits help people
‘‘get ahead of’’ but not necessarily ‘‘get along with’’ others in the work place.
In fact, some researchers have now focused on so-called ‘‘successful’’ psychopaths
(Babiak & Hare, 2006; Chatterjee & Hambrick, 2007) as well as successful narcissists
(Chatterjee & Hambrick, 2007; Paulhus, Westlake, Calvez, & Harms, forthcoming).
Although these individuals may ﬂourish in some contexts, most eventually fall from grace
(Furnham, 2010; Hogan, 2007).
Distinctive workplace behaviors were recently simulated by asking student samples to
predict how they would react to a variety of scenarios (Jonason, Slomski, & Partyka,
2012). Whereas narcissists claim to use soft manipulation tactics, psychopaths chose hard
tactics. As usual, Machs are the most ﬂexible: They chose both soft and hard tactics.
Although the assumed goal of education is knowledge transfer, its secondary function is
to evaluate and distinguish individuals with regard to their potential. Because students are
206 Dark Triad of Personality
well aware of the second function, those with darker personalites continually face the
temptation to cut corners.
The most obvious examples are cheating and essay plagiarism. Whereas psychopathy is
the the only independent predictor of exam copying (Nathanson et al., 2006a), essay pla-
giarism is also predicted by Machiavellianism (Williams et al., 2010). This pattern is
understandable, given that classroom cheating is often spur-of-the-moment whereas pla-
giarism often requires planning and self-control.
Students offered extra credit for participation in research also have opportunities to take
advantage of loopholes in the system. Not surprisingly, psychopaths and Machiavellians
were found to claim extra credits they had not earned (Paulhus & Jones, 2012).
One of the most consistent ﬁndings in Dark Triad research is the higher scores received
by males – regardless of the measurement instruments (e.g., Furnham & Trickey, 2011;
Jonason, Koenig, et al., 2010; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). This sex difference often turns
out to moderate the pattern of ﬁndings on interpersonal relations (Jones, 2012).
As noted above, much of the work by Jonason et al. has taken an evolutionary per-
spective. Thus Jonason et al. (2009) argued that the sex difference in Dark Triad scores
helps explain the fact that men are more likely than women to pursue a short-term
impulsive mating strategy (in line with the oft-cited biological restraints borne by
women). These claims were largely supported. They also predicted that all three triad
members would be more inclined to engage in a short-term mating strategy. Later data
analyzed with regression analyses failed to support this claim: Only psychopaths showed a
clearly impulsive mating style (Jones & Paulhus, 2011b).
Jonason, Li, and Buss (2010) found that dark individuals, especially psychopaths, poa-
ched mates from others and were themselves poached from their mates at higher rates
than those scoring lower on triad traits. This behavior provides one path to reproductive
success and ensures that the short-term mating style remains evident in the gene pool
Jonason and Kavanagh (2010) provided a more detailed examination of mating styles
by differentiating sexual, manipulative, practical, enduring, selﬂess, and love-struck indi-
viduals. After multiple regression was applied, the manipulative style was localized to
psychopathy and the love-struck style to Machiavellianism. The practical love style was
positively associated with Machiavellianism and narcissism but negatively with psychopa-
thy. The selﬂess style was positively associated with Machiavellianism but negatively with
psychopathy. In short, it appears that Machiavellians show the most ﬂexibility in their
Together, this research indicates that each Dark Triad member approaches reproduc-
tion in a distinct fashion. A key distinction centers on the preference for short-term vs.
long term-perspectives: Whereas psychopaths increase their mating possibilities with an
impulsive, aggressive mating strategy, Machiavellians beneﬁt from a more strategic and
regulated mating style that maintains the relationship.
All three of the Dark Triad admit prejudice against immigrants and, more generally, pro-
claim a social dominance orientation (Hodson, Hogg, & MacInnis, 2009). All three are
rated high in ruthless self-advancement (Zuroff, Fournier, Patall, & Leybman, 2010).
Dark Triad of Personality 207
In general, however, evaluations by knowledgeable observers reveal distinctive inter-
personal styles for the Dark Triad members. Psychopaths are the most likely to acquire
tattoos for intimidation purposes (Nathanson et al., 2006b), and make negative impres-
sions in brief meetings (Rauthmann, 2012).
Consistent with Christie and Geis (1970), Machiavellians harbor the most cynicism
toward others (Rauthmann, 2012). Along with psychopaths, Machiavellians are also the
most morally suspect (Arvan, 2012; Glenn, Iyer, Graham, Koleva, & Haidt, 2009) and,
more generally, have the ‘darkest’ personalities (Rauthmann & Kolar, 2012). The fact
that the Dark Triad members can be distinguished by facial characteristics suggests a
prepared danger cue (Gordon & Platek, 2009; Holzman, 2011; Holzman & Strube,
Although often perceived by others as socially aversive, narcissists see themselves as
good leaders (Furtner, Rauthmann, & Sachse, 2011; Zuroff et al., 2010) and high in
emotional intelligence (Petrides et al., 2011). All three of the Dark Triad tend to use
humor as an interpersonal strategy (Veselka et al., 2011). A closer look indicates that
Machiavellians and psychopaths prefer aggressive humor styles whereas narcissists prefer
afﬁliative humor (Martin, Lastuk, Jeffrey, Vernon, & Veselka, 2012; Veselka et al., 2010).
In direct comparisons, it seems clear that psychopaths are more likely than Machiavel-
lians and narcissists to have confronted the justice system (Williams et al., 2001).
Indeed, the investigation of psychopathy began with studies of repeat criminals
(Cleckley, 1941). Hence, it is not surprising that psychopaths are known as bullies
(Baughman et al., 2012; Williams et al., 2001), aggress after physical threat (Jones &
Paulhus, 2011a), and actually carry out their deviant fantasies, whether they be sexual
(Williams, Cooper, Howell, Yuille, & Paulhus, 2009) or revenge fantasies (DeLongis
et al., 2011).
Whereas psychopaths respond aggressively to physical threat, narcissists require signiﬁ-
cant ego-threat (Jones & Paulhus, 2010). Although as malevolent as psychopaths, Machia-
vellians are more cautious and deliberate in their behavior: Hence, they do not act on
temptation like psychopaths (Williams et al., 2010). When ego-depleted, however,
Machiavellians act out like psychopaths (Paulhus & Jones, forthcoming).
The emerging study of corporate crime provides a provocative example of where the
Dark Triad members diverge (Mathieu, Hare, Jones, Neumann, & Babiak, forthcoming;
Jones, Mathieu, Neumann, Babiak, & Hare, forthcoming). Clearly, such white-collar
criminals as Bernie Madoff, who enjoyed 50 years of ﬁnancial and interpersonal success,
are not hampered by the impulsivity of a psychopath. It is the corporate Machiavellian
who successfully perpetrates white collar crime (Jones et al., 2012). Given world enough
and time, however, even Machiavellians are likely to be caught.
Conclusions and Future Research
Ten years ago, Paulhus and Williams (2002) chose the adjective ‘dark’ to describe the trio
of personalities addressed in this review. At the time, the label seemed appropriate
because each Dark Triad member had drawn attention for its socially aversive nature (see
also Hogan & Hogan, 1997).
Nonetheless, each member appears to have both adaptive
and maladaptive elements. This tradeoff emerged in all of the outcome domains reviewed
above. Even psychopathy appears to pay off as a short-term mating style (Jonason et al.,
208 Dark Triad of Personality
forthcoming; Jones, 2012). Such ﬁndings are consistent with evolutionary arguments that
both poles of personality traits have adaptive elements (Penke, Denissen, & Miller, 2007).
Lumping vs. splitting
The research reviewed here suggests that each Dark Triad member has a rich, distinctive
complexion. Lumping them together implies a simplistic distinction between good and
bad personalities. We suspect that the temptation to lump them stems from a number of
First is the overlap (both conceptual and empirical) resulting from their common
callousness. The moderate-sized positive intercorrelations among standard measures of the
triad have persuaded some commentators to assume a single concept. These commenta-
tors may have been misled by the fact that, because of their empirical overlap, the Dark
Triad members sometimes show the same outcome correlates. A second reason for lumping
is the ‘construct creep’ noted in the introduction: Each literature has grown to include hun-
dreds of published studies and the tendency in each ﬁeld has been to gradually colonize more
and more of the dark personality space.
Unfortunately, this tendency toward construct creep continues unabated. In our opin-
ion, some psychopathy measures are too broad. One example is the Psychopathic Person-
ality Inventory published by Lilienfeld and Andrews (1996). Comprising 180 items and
eight facets, the inventory was purposely designed to be as inclusive as possible. Our anal-
ysis suggests that it went too far by including items measuring Machiavellianism, narcis-
sism, and psychological adjustment (see Miller & Lynam, 2012).
The same is true of two recent inventories developed to broaden the scope of Machia-
vellianism: One was developed by Kessler et al. (2010) and the other by Rauthmann and
Will (2011). The former suggests separate scoring of three factors and the latter requires
ﬁve. By contrast, the unidimensional Mach VI measure (Jones & Paulhus, 2009) retained
its ﬁdelity to the original elements cited by Machiavelli himself.
To distinguish the Dark Triad, one cannot rely on raw correlations as the sole method of
analysis. At a minimum, multiple regression or partial correlations should be reported.
This is not to say that the Dark Triad members rarely engage in similar behaviors. They
often do – presumably because of the common core they share.
Compromise approaches that consider both the common core and the unique mem-
qualities have been explored by a number of researchers (Giammarco et al., forth-
coming; Jones & Figueredo, forthcoming; Lee et al., forthcoming; Sisco et al., 2010).
The ﬁrst unrotated principal component can be extracted and used for prediction, then
followed up with multiple regression on the three separate predictors. Hierarchical models
have also been suggested (Ashton & Lee, 2001; Jonason, Kavanagh, Webster, & Fitzger-
ald, 2011; Sisco et al., 2010).
Future analyses should consider other important differentiations within each Dark Triad
member. Narcissism, for example, been separated into grandiose and vulnerable facets
(Ackerman et al., 2011; Pincus et al., 2009). Primary and secondary forms of psychopathy
have been distinguished (Levenson et al., 1995). Because vulnerable narcissism and second-
ary psychopathy are the less conﬁdent variants, they are less relevant to Dark Triad
research. Matthias Ziegler and Lena La
¨mmle have already shown the value of analyzing
facets rather than global scores for each trait (Ziegler & La
¨mmle, 2012). Nonetheless, more
attention is required to which facets are key to the Dark Triad and which ones are not.
Dark Triad of Personality 209
Beyond the triad
Whereas some researchers lean to the ‘lumping’ side, others have called for further addi-
tions to our taxonomy of dark characters. Sadism, for example, has already been included
under the rubric of the Dark Tetrad (Chabrol, Leeuwen, Rodgers, & Sejourne, 2009;
Paulhus & Buckels, 2011). Other possibilities are borderline disorder and status-driven
risk-taking (Visser, Pozzebon, & Tamayo, 2012).
Of course, the dark roster should be circumscribed in some fashion and not be indis-
criminant. Tentatively our rationale is that callousness be the necessary condition.
Currently this criterion is satisﬁed by the Dark Triad and sadism.
Other correlates of interest
Inevitably, research on the Dark Triad share must address the possibility of some sort of
moral deﬁcit (e.g., Arvan, 2012; Bartels & Pizarro, 2011; Campbell et al., 2009). Further
work is necessary to discriminate the Dark Triad from such variables as social dominance
orientation, aggression sensitivity (Lawrence, 2006), and sensational interests (Egan et al.,
Empirically, the challenge is to determine the explanatory power of Dark Triad vari-
ables over and above these other unsavory tendencies. Developmentally, it can be argued
that personality variables such as the Dark Triad traits are sequentially prior to those alter-
natives. One reason is the evidence for a strong genetic component of each triad member
(Vernon, Martin, et al., 2008; Vernon, Villani, et al., 2008). In cases where other predic-
tors also have a genetic component, it may be more difﬁcult to tease apart the numerous
sources of interpersonally toxic behavior (Frick et al., 2000). We anticipate that these
other contenders will ultimately be distinguished from the Dark Triad by level of analysis:
For example, traits vs. values, identities, attachment styles, etc.
Although we have emphasized their distinctiveness, we freely acknowledge that some
individuals possess more than one of the Dark Triad traits. Indeed, their positive intercor-
relation suggests that a subgroup with all three traits lurks within any large community.
Successful dictators such as Gadhaﬁ and Saddam – eccentric but not psychotic – are likely
candidates. Others include diabolical terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden and Anders Breivik.
Their psychopathy provoked extreme brutality and their Machiavellianism facilitated stra-
tegic manipulation (Paulhus & Buckels, 2011). Finally, their narcissistic sense of superior-
ity and entitlement readily justiﬁed the behavior. At the more mundane but no less
important level, such monstrous characters often surface in cases of spousal abuse (Dutton
& Kropp, 2000). We are exploring those important applications in ongoing research.
Del Paulhus’s research is centered in normal personality but cuts across social psychology,
forensic psychology, and clinical psychology. He is best known for his work on self-pre-
sentation, including socially desirable responding, impression management, self-deception
and over-claiming. He has taught at the University of British Columbia for thirty years
with one year visiting positions UC Berkeley and UC Davis.
210 Dark Triad of Personality
Adrian Furnham was educated at the London School of Economics where he obtained
a distinction in an MSc Econ., and at Oxford University where he completed a doctorate
(D.Phil) in 1981. He has subsequently earned a D.Sc (1991) and D.Litt (1995) degree.
Previously a lecturer in Psychology at Pembroke College, Oxford, he has been Professor
of Psychology at University College London since 1992. He has lectured widely abroad
and held scholarships and visiting professorships at, amongst others, the University of
New South Wales, the University of the West Indies, the University of Hong Kong and
the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has also been a Visiting Professor of Management
at Henley Management College. He has recently been made Adjunct Professor of Man-
agement at the Norwegian School of Management (2009. He has written over 1000 sci-
entiﬁc papers and 70 books. He is on the editorial board of a number of international
journals, as well as the past elected President of the International Society for the Study of
Individual Differences. He is also a founder director of Applied Behavioural Research Asso-
ciates (ABRA), a psychological consultancy. Like Noel Coward, he believes work is more
fun than fun and considers himself to be a well-adjusted workaholic. He rides a bicycle
to work (as he has always done) very early in the morning and does not have a mobile
phone. Adrian enjoys writing popular articles, travelling to exotic countries, consulting
on real-life problems, arguing at dinner parties and going to the theatre. He hopes never
Steven Richards is an undergraduate student in the School of Behavioral and Brian
Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. He plans on graduating in May 2013 with a
degree in Psychology and Child Learning and Development with minors in Criminology
and Healthcare Studies. His research interests include the ‘‘dark side’’ of personality and
the environmental and biological inﬂuences of healthy development and ageing across the
human lifespan. In his spare time, Steven volunteers and ⁄or works for social service agen-
cies and public health initiatives in the Dallas, Texas area.’’
* Correspondence address: 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6T 1Z4. Email: dpaulhus@
We argue that this successful subgroup is more likely to comprise Machiavellians, the more strategic Dark Triad
Of the three, psychopathy is commonly viewed the darkest (Rauthmann, 2012).
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Lee & Ashton, 2005). Despite linking all three of the Dark Triad to their Honesty-Humility factor, this research
team has recommended against combining them (Lee et al., forthcoming).
Concerns have been raised about reifying residualized versions of personality scales (Lynam et al., 2006). In the
present case, the unique contributions of each Dark Triad member may not fairly represent the original concept.
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