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A new study has found that tasks designed to make someone more likeable also effectively reduce a trio of negative personality traits known as the “dark triad”: Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.
SMU psychology professor Nathan Hudson’s study showed that engaging in activities such as “donating money to a charity that you would normally spend on yourself” or “talking to a stranger and asking about yourself” decreased all three traits of dark triad after four months. This was the case even for people who said they wanted to enhance their dark features, not diminish them.
However, in a surprising twist, Hudson’s study published in the personality diary found that these people wanted to be more likeable: modest, kind, considerate, and helpful.
“Therefore, sympathetic-targeted interventions may be an effective way to help reduce dark traits in a way that people are likely to cooperate,” he said.
How does Hudson explain the discovery?
“I guess people with a high level of Machiavellianism, for example, want to be nice and kind. But they also think that manipulating others is a good and useful strategy for navigating life and getting what they want. »
And maybe there is a mental disconnect for people with high levels of the dark triad.
“No one wants to see themselves as evil or perverted. So people tend to justify their bad behavior,” he said.
The dark triad has been associated with a number of behavioral risks, including cheating in school, increased criminal activity, increased intimate partner violence, and negative behaviors in the workplace, such as reduced productivity and damaged professional relationships.
fake it until you make it
Previous research by Hudson and other psychologists has shown that people who actively work to change aspects of their personality, in many cases, succeed in getting the results they want. She helped create a list of challenges people can take on to change one of the Big Five personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.
But I was curious if completing these tasks might also have unintended effects on other traits. So, in this most recent study, Hudson examined whether altering one of the Big Five traits would reduce Machiavellianism, narcissism, or psychopathy.
The study shows that only activities aimed at agreeableness reduced all three Dark Triad traits, beyond any change in agreeableness.
For the study, Hudson asked more than 460 college students with an average age of 20 to rate their desire to change Big Five and Dark Triad personality traits. They were given tasks to address the changes they wanted to make.
The students were also asked a series of questions to gauge the strength of these traits after each week of the four-month study.
It should be noted that the people in the study were not actually clinically tested for any of the dark triad traits. Instead, they were ranked based on their responses to a survey based on the Short Dark Triad’s 27-point scale.
Most of the people ranked highest for having dark triad traits said they didn’t want to change narcissism or psychopathy. Hudson found the most wanted increase Machiavellianism: Characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
Narcissists are known for their grandiosity, pride, and lack of empathy, while psychopathy is characterized by impulsiveness, selfishness, lack of remorse, and persistent antisocial behavior.
Why would anyone with these traits want to change?
“This finding has inherent significance in that these dark traits are generally related to having an inflated view of oneself and accepting to hurt or use other people for one’s own benefit,” Hudson said. “People with such traits may see their high opinion of themselves or their willingness to use others as an asset that helps them achieve their goals, rather than a liability. »
However, Hudson made another unexpected finding that supports the general perception that people skilled at manipulation seek better tools to hone that behavior: those who scored high on any of the dark triad traits were likely to indicate that they wanted to an intervention to increase comfort.