Journal of Family Violence
“It’s All inYour Head”: Personality Traits andGaslighting Tactics
EvitaMarch1 · CameronS.Kay2· BojanaM.Dinić3· DanielleWagsta4· BeátaGrabovac5· PeterK.Jonason6,7
Accepted: 22 May 2023
© The Author(s) 2023
Background Gaslighting is a form of psychological/emotional abuse inﬂicted upon an intimate partner that includes manipu-
lative tactics such as misdirection, denial, lying, and contradiction – all to destabilize the victim/survivor. Compared to other
forms of intimate partner abuse, gaslighting remains underexplored in the literature.
Aims/Purpose In this preregistered study, we aimed to explore correlates between the Dark Tetrad traits (i.e., grandiose
narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, Machiavellian tactics, Machiavellian views, primary psychopathy, secondary psychopathy,
and sadism) and acceptance of gaslighting tactics in intimate relationships.
Method Participants (N = 315; Mage = 42.39; 62.2% women) were recruited online and completed an online questionnaire.
We developed and internally validated the Gaslighting Questionnaire, a 10-item self-report measure of acceptance of gas-
lighting tactics in intimate relationships.
Results All the Dark Tetrad traits were associated with more acceptance of gaslighting tactics in intimate relationships,
with primary psychopathy, Machiavellian tactics, and sadism emerging as signiﬁcant predictors in the regression. We also
examined sex diﬀerences. Compared to women, men found deploying gaslighting tactics more acceptable, and this was
largely driven by sex diﬀerences in primary psychopathy. Further, men high in vulnerable narcissism demonstrated the
greatest acceptance of gaslighting tactics.
Conclusions These ﬁndings provide foundational information for understanding gaslighting tactics in intimate partner abuse
and may have practical implications for relationship counsellors and clinicians practicing in this space. For example, the
present ﬁndings indicate that personality assessment can be a valuable tool for estimating a client’s propensity to gaslight.
Keywords Gaslighting· Intimate Partner Violence· Dark Tetrad· Narcissism· Psychopathy· Machiavellianism· Sadism
Pre-registration: https:// osf. io/ wk3sn/? view_ only= a7df3 0b594
36470 78e45 8fd3d ca429 18
* Evita March
1 Institute ofHealth andWellbeing, Federation University
Australia, Berwick, Australia
2 Psychology Department, University ofOregon, Eugene, USA
3 Department ofPsychology, Faculty ofPhilosophy,
University ofNovi Sad, NoviSad, Serbia
4 Institute ofHealth andWellbeing, Federation University
Australia, Churchill, Australia
5 Department ofSocial Sciences andHumanities, Hungarian
Language Teacher Training Faculty, University ofNovi Sad,
6 Department ofGeneral Psychology, University ofPadua,
7 Institute ofPsychology, University ofCardinal Stefan
Wyszyński, Warsaw, Poland
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) refers to violence and abuse
between individuals in an intimate partnership (Jewkes, 2002)
and includes not only physical violence but also psychological
and emotional abuse (World Health Organisation, 2012). The
global prevalence of IPV (Sardinha etal., 2022) highlights the
critical importance of ongoing research to better understand,
manage, and prevent the phenomenon. In the current research,
we explore an understudied form of manipulation and control
in intimate relationships – gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a type of psychological and emotional
abuse that involves an abuser (the “gaslighter”) attempting
to make a victim/survivor (the “gaslightee”) seem or feel
“crazy” by creating a “surreal” interpersonal environment
(Sweet, 2019,). Gaslighting is often deployed in intimate
Journal of Family Violence
relationships with an unequal power balance and is consid-
ered a core feature in intimate partner abuse (Sweet, 2019).
Interestingly, despite the controlling nature of gaslighting
(Logan etal., 2022), this insidious form of abuse is absent
from the Duluth Model-Power and Control Wheel (Pence
& Paymar, 1993), which outlines various controlling and
manipulative intimate relationship behaviour. Although gas-
lighting likely combines elements of the wheel, such as min-
imising, denying, blaming, and the use of isolation, intimida-
tion, and coercive control, the doubting of one’s reality that
is characteristic of gaslighting (Stark, 2019; Sweet, 2019)
is not captured.
Unlike other forms of intimate partner abuse where there
may be overt indicators of abuse (e.g., physical signs, insults,
or other overt controlling behaviours), gaslighting may oper-
ate on a discrete and covert level (Stern, 2007). Gaslight-
ing tactics include constant misdirection, denial, lying,
and contradiction – all to destabilize a target (Bhatti etal.,
2021; Sweet 2019). By destabilizing a target, gaslighting
ultimately prevents them from seeking support and resources
that could help them escape the abuse as they no longer trust
their surroundings (Sweet, 2019). There is even evidence to
suggest that, in the long term, psychological abuse can be
more harmful than physical abuse (Anderson etal., 2003).
Compared to other forms of intimate partner abuse, such as
physical forms and emotional forms, limited research has
explored gaslighting. Here, we extend recent research link-
ing socially aversive personality traits to gaslighting (see
Miano etal., 2021) by exploring the associations between
the Dark Tetrad traits (i.e., narcissism, Machiavellianism,
psychopathy, and sadism)and facets and perceived accept-
ability of gaslighting tactics. Findings ofthis novel explora-
tion of personality correlates and gaslighting tactics provides
foundational directions for future research, as well as practi-
cal implications for relationship counsellors and clinicians.
The Dark Tetrad Traits andIntimate Partner Abuse
The Dark Tetrad of personality comprises the subclinical
traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and
sadism (Chabrol etal., 2009). Intercorrelated but distinct,
the traits are collectively considered socially aversive (Paul-
hus, 2014) and antisocial (Chabrol etal., 2017). Narcis-
sism is characterized by grandiosity and egoism (Koladich
& Atkinson, 2016), Machiavellianism by cynicism and
manipulation of others (Abell & Brewer, 2014), psychopa-
thy by impulsivity, low empathy, and low guilt (Viding &
McCrory, 2018), and sadism by the enjoyment of psycho-
logically and/or physically harming others (Buckels etal.,
2013). The traits are linked to an opportunistic, exploitative
mating style (Jonason etal., 2012) and are associated with
aggression (Jain etal., 2022) and IPV (Tetreault etal., 2021).
Considerable research has explored associations between
the Dark Tetrad traits and IPV, although the correlations
are not equivalent. People with higher levels of these traits
express more desire for control in intimate relationships
(Hughes & Samuels, 2021). However, Machiavellianism and
psychopathy, but not narcissism, correlate with increased
perpetration of emotional abuse (Carton & Egan, 2017),
with psychopathy as the strongest correlate of various direct
(e.g., physical abuse), indirect (e.g., frightening a partner),
and controlling forms of IPV, especially among men (Kiire,
2017). Other research has found only sadism to correlate
with physical IPV, and only narcissism to not correlate with
verbal IPV (Tetreault etal., 2021). Surprisingly, one study
found no associations between the Dark Tetrad traits and
perpetration of physical IPV (Plouﬀe etal., 2022) which, the
authors speculated, was a methodological artifact (e.g., fail-
ure to consider context, restricted range, reason for abuse).
We contend that another reason for the inconsistencies may
be a failure to consider the multifaceted nature of the traits.
Facets of psychopathy and narcissism have been explored
in relation to IPV. Primary psychopathy (callousness and
manipulation) and secondary psychopathy (impulsivity and
antisociality) are both related to psychological and physical
aggression (Plouﬀe etal., 2020) and control (Brewer etal.,
2018)in intimate relationships. However, other researchhas
found only primary psychopathy to correlate with physi-
cal assault, psychological aggression, and sexual coercion
(Iyican & Babcock, 2018). For facets of narcissism, gran-
diose narcissism (grandiosity and superiority) has a direct
relationship with psychological abuse, whereas vulnerable
narcissism (contingent self-esteem, ego-fragility) is indi-
rectly linked to psychological abuse via romantic jealousy
(Ponti etal., 2020). Previous research has found no asso-
ciations between grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcis-
sism, psychopathy, and gaslighting tactics in relationships
(Arabi, 2023). However, the authors assessed gaslighting via
a single, informant-report item (i.e., “Have you encountered
attempts by this partner to deny your perception of real-
ity, thoughts or feelings”). Thus, an investigation into these
traits and gaslighting using a more comprehensive measure
Aims ofCurrent Study
The aim of the current study is to explore the relationships
between the Dark Tetrad traits and gaslighting. Given the
probable bias that exists with direct assessment of the per-
petration of abuse in intimate relationships (Ferrer-Perez
etal., 2020), we indirectly assess the perpetration of gas-
lighting by assessing the acceptance of gaslighting tactics
in intimate relationships. As diﬀerential patterns of ﬁndings
have emerged for facets of psychopathy (i.e., primary and
Journal of Family Violence
secondary) and narcissism (i.e., grandiose and vulnerable),
and IPV tactics (see Iyican & Babcock, 2018; Plouﬀe etal.,
2020; Ponti etal., 2020), we explore these facets and accept-
ance of gaslighting. We also explore acceptance of gaslight-
ing and facets of Machiavellianism – speciﬁcally Machi-
avellian views (i.e., a cynical view of others) and tactics
(i.e., interpersonal exploitation). These facets are yet to be
explored in relation to relationship abuse; however, given
Machiavellian views likely generate the callous and exploita-
tive tactics (Monaghan etal., 2020), there is rationale for
both facets to relate to acceptance of gaslighting tactics.
Sadism includes vicarious (i.e., enjoying watching oth-
ers be hurt) and direct (i.e., enjoying hurting others) facets,
with direct sadism further delineated into physical and ver-
bal forms(Paulhus & Dutton, 2016). Although we aimed to
indirectly assess perpetration of gaslighting via acceptance
of tactics, the goal was to make inferences about engaging
in the behaviour. Thus, vicarious sadism was not relevant to
our aim. Further, as gaslighting is considered a form of psy-
chological abuse, the facet of direct physical sadism was also
not of relevance. Therefore, unlike psychopathy, narcissism,
and Machiavellianism, we assessed sadism as a total trait.
As detailed in our preregistration1, we expected the facets of
the Dark Tetrad traits to be associated with greater accept-
ance of gaslighting tactics. In addition, as research indicates
(1) women and men may engage in diﬀerent forms of IPV
(Chan, 2011; Kiire, 2017), (2) men score higher on the Dark
Tetrad traits than women (Neumann etal., 2022), and (3)
that the Dark Tetrad traits may predict diﬀerent forms of
IPV for men and women (Green etal., 2020; Tetreault etal.,
2021), we examine not only the overall associations between
the Tetrad and IPV but also the associations between the
Tetrad and IPV separated by gender. We propose no speciﬁc
hypotheses for these analyses.
Ethics approval was obtained from the XXXX Human
Research Ethics Committee. All participants provided
informed consent before participating and were debriefed.
Participants were recruited via Cloud Research (https://
www. cloud resea rch. com/; Chandler etal., 2019). An ini-
tial 375 potential participants accessed the link. Of these
potential participants, 31 did not progress beyond the con-
sent page. A further 13 participants failed the attention
checks throughout the questionnaire, and ﬁve responses were
removed because they had duplicate IP addresses. Lastly,
11 participants withdrew their consent after the debrieﬁng,
which revealed the speciﬁc aims of the study. The ﬁnal sam-
ple comprised 315 Australian participants aged between 18
to 82 years (Mage = 42.39; SD = 15.06). Of participants,
62.2% identiﬁed their biological sex as female and 37.8%
identiﬁed their biological sex as male. We therefore adopt
the term sex over gender. Participants predominantly identi-
ﬁed as heterosexual (80.6%) and unmarried (60.3%). Most
participants were not students (83.7%). Using G*Power, an
a priori power analysis indicated that with alpha set at .05,
power at .95, and a small eﬀect size of .10, a minimum sam-
ple size of 236 was required for adequate statistical power.
Thus, our sample size was satisﬁed. Open data is available
We assessed primary and secondary psychopathy with the
26-item self-report Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale
(Levenson etal., 1995), which includes 16 items for primary
psychopathy (e.g., “For me, what’s right is whatever I can
get away with”; α = .873) and 10 items for secondary psy-
chopathy (e.g., “I don’t plan anything very far in advance”;
α = .77). Participants indicated agreement with each item (1
= Disagree strongly; 4 = Agree strongly), and after reverse
scoring responses were summed for total scores with higher
scores indicating higher psychopathy.
Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism were assessed with
the 28-item self-report Brief Pathological Narcissism Inven-
tory (Schoenleber etal., 2015), which includes 12 items for
grandiose narcissism (e.g., “I often fantasize about perform-
ing heroic deeds”; α = .89) and 16 items for vulnerable nar-
cissism (e.g., “It’s hard to feel good about myself unless I
know other people admire”; α = .94). Participants reported
how like them each item was (0 = Not like me at all; 5 =
Very much like me), and responses were summed for total
scores with higher scores indicating higher narcissism.
Machiavellian tactics and views were assessed with the
12-item self-report Two-Dimensional Machiavellianism
Scale (Monaghan etal, 2020), which includes six items for
tactics (e.g., “I think that it is OK to take advantage of oth-
ers to achieve an important goal”; α = .78) and six items for
views (e.g., “In my opinion, human nature is to be dishon-
est”; α = .70). Participants indicated agreement with each
item (1 = Disagree strongly; 7 = Agree strongly), and after
1 https:// osf. io/ wk3sn/? view_ only= a7df3 0b594 36470 78e45 8fd3d
2 https:// osf. io/ wk3sn/? view_ only= a7df3 0b594 36470 78e45 8fd3d
3 All alphas are reported after removal of outliers
Journal of Family Violence
reverse scoring responses were summed for total scores with
higher scores indicating higher Machiavellianism.
Sadism was assessed with the Short Sadistic Impulse
Scale (O’Meara etal., 2011), which includes 10 self-report
items (e.g., “I enjoy seeing people hurt”; α = .92). Partici-
pants indicated agreement with items (1 = Strongly disagree;
5 = Strongly agree), and after reverse scoring responses
were summed for a total score with a higher score indicat-
ing higher sadism.
We assessed controlling relationship tactics with the 16-item
self-report Intimate Partner Violence Control Scale (Bledsoe &
Sar, 2011). Following the recommendations of previous research
to increase generalizability of the measure (see Brewer etal.,
2018), item 15 (e.g., “I wish sometimes that I could take the chil-
dren away from my partner to get her to go along with things”),
was removed from the measure. Participants indicated frequency
(1 = Never; 5 = Very often) to the remaining 15 items (e.g., “I
wish I had more say over who my partner’s friends are”; α =
.97), and responses were summed for a total score with a higher
score indicating a greater desire for control.
We also controlled for socially desirable responding by
including the Marlowe-Crowne Short Form C (Reynolds, 1982)
which comprises 13 self-report items (e.g., “No matter who I
am talking to, I am always a good listener”; α = .73). Partici-
pants responded true or false to items with socially desirable
responses scored as 1 and socially undesirable responses scored
as 0. Responses were summed for a total score with a higher
score indicating more socially desirable responses.
To assess acceptance of gaslighting tactics in intimate
relationships, we generated an initial set of 18 items to
assess gaslighting tactics. Development of these items was
guided by previous measures (see Stern, 2007) and a review
of the extant literature. We asked participants to indicate
how acceptable they found a series of intimate relationship
scenarios (1 = Unacceptable; 7 = Acceptable). An explora-
tory factor analysis with a principal axis factoring extrac-
tion4 was performed on the 18 items, with parallel analysis
demonstrating the presence of one factor that explained
79.3% of the overall variance (Bartlett’s test χ2 = 8083,
p < .001; KMO = .98). In the ﬁnal form of the Gaslighting
Questionnaire, we retained the 10 items with the highest
factor loadings (Table1) which accounted for 75.9% of the
overall variance (Bartlett’s test χ2 = 3409, p < .001;
KMO = .97; Cronbach’s alpha = .97).
Data were screened and analysis assumptions were consid-
ered met (See Supplementary Materials). Table2 contains
the correlations overall and by sex along with descriptive
statistics. All Dark Tetrad traits shared signiﬁcant, positive
correlations with acceptance of gaslighting tactics (p < .05).
Further, an independent measures t-test with a Bonferroni
correction indicated men found gaslighting tactics more
acceptance than women.
As social desirability correlated with gaslighting accept-
ance and all Dark Tetrad traits, we ran a Hierarchical Multi-
ple Regression with social desirability entered at Step 1 and
Table 1 Exploratory Factor Analysis with a Principal Axis Factoring Extraction on the Gaslighting Questionnaire
Note. The total of these items was correlated with the Intimate Partner Violence Control Scale (r = .78, p < .001).
Item Statement Loading
For the following items, please rate how acceptable you ﬁnd each scenario
1 Person A accuses Person B of lying, even when Person A knows that they are the one who is
2 Person A tells Person B that they are wrong, even when Person A knows that what Person B is
saying is true
3 Person A accuses Person B of being paranoid, even if Person A knows that Person B’s suspi-
cions are well-founded
4 Person A tries to make Person B question their sanity .89
5 Person A says anything to Person B if it means that they will get their way .89
6 Person A lashes out at Person B whenever Person B says something that contradicts Person A’s
version of events
7 Person A never admits to doing anything wrong, even when Person B has proof that Person A
did do something wrong
8 Person A says Person B has a bad memory if Person B catches Person A telling a lie .87
9 Person A makes Person B question their decision-making abilities, if it means Person A gets to
be the one to make decisions in the relationship
10 Person A lies to Person B just to see if Person B will believe them .86
4 Rotation was not applied as only one factor was extracted
Journal of Family Violence
Table 2 Total and Sex-Speciﬁc Zero-Order Correlations, Descriptive Statistics, and t-tests
12 3 456789
1. Social Desir-
-.53 .79 -
-.37 .39 .39 -
-.33 .24 .30 .35 -
-.28 .48 .48 .68 .34 -
-.38 .55 .61 .31 .28 .43 -
8. Sadism -.36 .43 .47 .54 .30 .65 .52 -
-.20 .40 .38 .54 .22 .67 .44 .73 -
Correlations by sex
1. Social Desir-
8. Sadism -.48a.49a.62a.57a.40a.68a.60a- .69a
Journal of Family Violence
the Dark Tetrad traits entered at Step 2. At Step 1, social
desirability explained a signiﬁcant 4.0% of variance in gas-
lighting acceptance, R2 = .40, F(1, 308) = 12.98, p < .001.
At Step 2, the Dark Tetrad traits explained an additional
57.2% of variance in gaslighting acceptance, ΔR2 = .57,
ΔF(7, 301) = 63.38, p < .001. The total model explained
61.2% of variance in gaslighting acceptance, R2 = .61, F(8,
309) = 36.47, p < .001. After accounting for shared vari-
ance, high Machiavellian tactics, high primary psychopathy,
and high sadism were predictive of gaslighting tactics. Coef-
ﬁcients can be seen in Table3.
As correlations by sex indicated potential moderation
– for example, vulnerable narcissism shared stronger cor-
relations with acceptance of gaslighting tactics for men than
women – we explored the simple slopes by conducting a
series of moderation analyses via the PROCESS macro ver-
sion 3.5 (Hayes, 2022) with sex as the moderator, each trait
as the predictor, and gaslighting tactics as the criterion. An
interaction was observed between sex and vulnerable nar-
cissism (p = .023), which is depicted in Fig.1. There was
no diﬀerence between men and women at low vulnerable
narcissism (Eﬀect = -2.07, SE = 1.41, p = .141) but a dif-
ference was found at average (Eﬀect = -4.41, SE = 1.01, p <
.001) and high (Eﬀect = -6.75, SE = 1.47, p < .001) levels.
The aim of this study was to explore the relations the Dark
Tetrad traits of primary psychopathy, secondary psychopa-
thy, grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, Machiavel-
lian tactics, Machiavellian views, and sadism, and accept-
ance of gaslighting tactics in intimate relationships. To
address this aim, and the bias associated with direct assess-
ment of the perpetration of abuse in intimate relationships
(see Ferrer-Perez etal., 2020), we developed and provided
initial validation of the Gaslighting Questionnaire. The
measure showed acceptable internal consistency and strong
convergent validity with a measure of IPV control.
We found positive correlations between all Dark Tetrad
facets and acceptance of gaslighting tactics. These ﬁndings
support a wide berth of previous research (e.g., Carton &
Egan, 2017; Kiire, 2017) that has linked these traits to a
variety of aggressive and abusive behaviours in intimate
relationships. When controlling for shared variance in the
regression, only primary psychopathy, Machiavellian tac-
tics, and sadism predicted gaslighting tactics, with sadism
emerging as a particularly strong predictor. These ﬁndings
are in line with previous research correlating primary psy-
chopathy with psychological aggression and control (Iyican
& Babcock, 2018; Plouﬀe etal., 2020), Machiavellianism
with emotional abuse (Carton & Egan, 2017), and sad-
ism with relationship control (Hughes & Samuels, 2021).
Table 2 (continued)
12 3 456789
Total M (SD) 7.27 (3.04) 25.35 (12.09) 30.52 (17.58) 17.00 (6.72) 21.21 (6.07) 31.93 (8.26) 23.07 (5.07) 16.80 (8.23) 16.61 (9.57)
Men M (SD) 7.91 (3.04) 25.22 (11.63) 28.63 (17.31) 17.52 (7.08) 20.95 (6.57) 33.89 (7.88) 22.54 (5.04) 17.58 (8.94) 18.90 (10.21)
Women M (SD) 6.88 (2.97) 25.43 (12.39) 31.65 (17.69) 16.69 (6.49) 21.37 (5.76) 30.75 (8.28) 23.38 (5.08) 16.34 (7.77) 15.24 (8.91)
t-value 2.94** -0.15 -1.47 1.06 -0.58 -3.29** -1.42 1.25 3.20**
Hedge’s g.34 -0.02 -0.17 0.12 -0.07 0.39 -0.17 0.15 0.39
Note. All correlation coeﬃcients were signiﬁcant (p < .05); Correlation between social desirability and gaslighting for women was ns; Correlation coeﬃcients below the diagonal are for men,
correlation coeﬃcients above the diagonal are for women; diﬀerent subscripts indicate correlations between men and women diﬀer at Fisher’s z, p < .05; t-tests corrected for multiple compari-
sons (Bonferroni correction); Multicollinearity was not present as no correlations between predictors > .80; **p < .01
a, b diﬀerent subscripts indicate correlations between men and women diﬀer at Fisher’s z, p < .05
Journal of Family Violence
Although these ﬁndings align with previous research, it is
important to note that gaslighting remains its own unique
form of abuse. The goal of gaslighting is to destabilize a
target through constant misdirection, denial, lying, and con-
tradiction (Bhatti etal., 2021; Sodoma, 2022; Sweet 2019).
The covert nature of gaslighting (Stern, 2007) renders this
form of abuse particularly insidious, leading the target to
doubt their own perceptions of reality (Sweet, 2019). Still,
given the extreme interpersonal manipulation employed in
gaslighting, it is logical that primary psychopathy, Machi-
avellian tactics, and sadism would predict more acceptance
of gaslighting tactics.
Compared to secondary psychopathy, characterized by
high emotionality, impulsivity, and sensation seeking (New-
man etal., 2005), greater acceptance of gaslighting tactics is
best associated with primary psychopathy, characterized by
emotional detachment (Levenson etal., 1995), callousness
(Cooke & Michie, 1997), dominance (March & Springer,
2019), cold aﬀect, and the manipulation of others (Vail-
lancourt & Sunderani, 2011). Further, while Machiavellian
views are characterized by pessimistic beliefs that others are
gullible and can easily be manipulated (Monaghan etal.,
2020), Machiavellian tactics includes actively manipulat-
ing others, and justifying this interpersonal exploitation,
for personal gain and goals (Monaghan etal., 2018). Thus,
according to our ﬁndings, it is not necessarily the view that
others are able to be manipulated that leads an individual
to ﬁnd gaslighting tactics more acceptable, but rather the
willingness and ability to manipulate others. Lastly, the
association between sadism and gaslighting tactics is not
particularly surprising – the psychological harm inﬂicted by
gaslighting (Dimitrova, 2021) likely appeals to the sadist’s
propensity to derive pleasure from harming others (Buckels
etal., 2019). In sum, our ﬁndings indicate that gaslighting
is likely a deliberate and manipulative tactic of relationship
control – not necessarily the result of distorted perceptions
or the need for emotional validation.
For both men and women, as vulnerable narcissism increased
so did their acceptance of gaslighting tactics. Compared to
women, men with higher vulnerable narcissism were particularly
Table 3 Beta Coeﬃcients of
Coeﬃcients Table for Social
Desirability and the Dark Tetrad
Traits Predicting Acceptance of
Note. * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001
B [95% CI] SE B β t
Social Desirability -0.63 [-0.98, -0.29] 0.18 -.20 -3.60***
Social Desirability 0.36 [0.08, 0.64] 0.14 .11 2.52*
Grandiose Narcissism 0.06 [-0.03, 0.16] 0.05 .08 1.33
Vulnerable Narcissism -0.04 [-0.11, 0.03] 0.04 -.07 -1.07
Machiavellianism Tactics 0.17 [0.02, 0.31] 0.07 .12 2.23*
Machiavellianism Views -0.07 [-0.20, 0.05] 0.06 -.05 -1.14
Primary Psychopathy 0.31 [0.18, 0.44] 0.07 .27 4.63***
Secondary Psychopathy 0.16 [-0.03, 0.34] 0.09 .08 1.68
Sadism 0.58 [0.46, 0.70] 0.06 .50 9.66***
Fig. 1 Interaction of par-
ticipant’s sex and vulnerable
narcissism on the acceptance of
gaslighting tactics. Low (12.94),
average (30.52), and high
(48.10) vulnerable narcissism
values represent -1SD, M, and
Journal of Family Violence
likely to ﬁnd gaslighting tactics acceptable, a ﬁnding in line with
previous research where men’s vulnerable narcissism has been
related to both perpetration of physical/sexual abuse and psycho-
logical abuse (Green etal., 2020)5. As the current study is the
ﬁrst to explore vulnerable narcissism in relation to gaslighting,
our interpretation is somewhat speculative; however, as those
with higher vulnerable narcissism are hypersensitive to rejec-
tion (Besser & Priel, 2010; Grieve & March, 2021), experience
inadequacy(March etal., 2021), and appraise negative social
feedback as devaluing of the self (Hart etal., 2017), it is pos-
sible that they consider gaslighting tactics (e.g., manipulation,
deﬂection of blame) acceptable, as these tactics could avoid ego-
threats and shame associated with negative feedback from an
intimate partner. We recommend future research seek to explore
the role of “humiliated fury” (i.e., shame that leads to anger; see
Kaplenko etal., 2018) in the relationship between more vulner-
able forms of narcissism and gaslighting.
Although not a speciﬁc hypothesis, it is also worthwhile
noting that men were more accepting of gaslighting tactics
than women, a ﬁnding that aligns with speculation that men
are more often the perpetrators of gaslighting and women
more often the victims/survivors (e.g., Morgan, 2007). That
said, the “gender paradigm” of IPV, where men are pre-
dominantly positioned as the perpetrators and women as the
victims/survivors, is by no means established (see Dutton,
2012). Some research has demonstrated little to no sex dif-
ferences in perpetration of diﬀerent forms of IPV (Kiire,
2017), whereas other research has demonstrated diﬀerential
patterns across the forms; for example, women perpetrate
more emotional abuse, whereas men perpetrate more psy-
chological forms of intimidation and threats (Harned, 2001).
There is also evidence that the type of emotional abuse per-
petrated by men and women diﬀer – men appear to be more
motivated by control (Hamberger, 2005) and use tactics
that threaten and inhibit partner autonomy, whereas women
employ shouting/yelling as tactics (Hamberger & Larsen,
2015). We suggest our ﬁndings further substantiate the
potential for men and women to engage in diﬀerent forms
of relational abuse, and we recommend future research avoid
adopting the gender paradigm of IPV and seek to further
explore (1) sex diﬀerences in abusive tactics, and (2) why
diﬀerential tactics are adoptedby men and women.
Limitations, Future Directions, Conclusions
A potential limitation of the present study was that we
assessed participants’ acceptance of gaslighting rather than
their reported perpetration of gaslighting. We did this to
avoid the possibility that participants would underreport
their tendency to engage in a behaviour that is widely con-
sidered to be undesirable. Still, we encourage researchers
to build on these ﬁndings by examining the association
between the Dark Tetrad and one’s actual tendency to engage
in gaslighting behaviours. Further, although we found sup-
port for the Gaslighting Questionnaire’s internal consistency
and convergent validity, additional work should be under-
taken to further establish its psychometric bona ﬁdes via
more rigorous psychometric testing.
Although research, particularly psychological research,
on gaslighting remains in its infancy, gaslighting has been
conceptualised to comprise diﬀerent forms, such as glam-
our gaslighting and intimidator gaslighting (see Fuchsman,
2019; Stern, 2018). Our conceptualization of gaslighting
most closely aligns with intimidator gaslighting, where the
gaslighter exercises control through criticism and disap-
proval (Miano etal., 2021). Future research should endeav-
our toexplore these other forms of gaslighting, as well as
their diﬀerential predictors.
Another potential limitation is that we used only single
measures to assess the Dark Tetrad traits, and it is possible
that some of the present results are because of the idiosyn-
crasies of the speciﬁc measures used. Future work could
use multiple measures of the Dark Tetrad traits in concert
with latent variable techniques to avoid this issue. Similarly,
other constructs beyond the Dark Tetrad traits may bear of
utility here, such as borderline personality traits (seeMiller
Lastly, we recommend future researchers consider explor-
ing gaslighting as a potential social manipulation tactic (see
Jonason & Webster, 2012). In the current study, we explored
gaslighting in intimate relationships; however, gaslighting
can occur in a broad range of social relationships. Future
researchers might consider exploring gaslighting as a manip-
ulation tactic occurring across a broad range of interpersonal
relationships (e.g., organizational and friendships).
This was the first study to conduct a comprehensive
exploration of the Dark Tetrad traits and acceptance of
gaslighting tactics. All Dark Tetrad traits were associ-
ated with more acceptance of gaslighting tactics, with
primary psychopathy, Machiavellian tactics, and sadism
emerging as significant predictors. Men found gaslight-
ing tactics more acceptablee than women, though this
was largely driven by primary psychopathy. Further,
although acceptance of gaslighting tactics increased with
higher vulnerable narcissism for both men and women,
men with higher vulnerable narcissism demonstrated the
greatest acceptance of gaslighting tactics. These novel
findings provide future researchers with a wealth of
opportunity to replicate and expand the exploration of
the understudied phenomena of gaslighting.
5 Interestingly, when controlling for shared variance between the two
forms of narcissism, Green etal. (2020) found only grandiose narcis-
sism to predict perpetration of emotional abuse. To ensure the robust-
ness of our ﬁndings, we reran our moderation analysis controlling for
grandiose narcissism as a covariate and the results remained stable.
Journal of Family Violence
Supplementary Information The online version contains supplemen-
tary material available at https:// doi. org/ 10. 1007/ s10896- 023- 00582-y.
Funding Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and
its Member Institutions
Conflict of Interest Statement The authors declare that they have no
conﬂict of interest.
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