Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Dark Side

By Tim Hannan

A new study suggests that dark personality traits are the expression of a single underlying disposition.

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Both the course of human history and the events of everyday life provide many examples of the worst of human nature. These behaviours don’t seem to be diminishing in frequency given the prevalence of serial killer documentaries on Netflix, the findings of the Royal Commission into banking, and the off-season transgressions of rugby league players.

Explorations of the so-called “dark” aspects of humanity have often involved an attempt to identify specific personality traits that are common to those who engage in antisocial behaviour. While these traits have usually been examined independently, a recent study has argued that these and other dark personality traits have a single common underlying factor – the tendency to maximise one’s personal goals and interests over those of others.

Historically, theories of the nature and motivation of anti-social behaviour have employed psychological constructs such as psychopathy, which refers to antisocial behaviour accompanied by a lack of empathy or remorse; narcissism, which is defined as an excessive need for admiration, usually accompanied by a grossly inflated opinion of one’s own abilities; and Machiavellianism, which labels a tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain.

While each of these may occur in isolation, research has suggested that they often co-occur. Together, these three...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.