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The “Positive Psychology” movement has been all the rage in recent years. Stop worrying about the dark side of human nature and start looking at people who are joyful, fearless, industrious, and self-actualized!
Del Paulhus, on the other hand, has defied the trend with a series of research digging into the dark side of human psychology. According to an article published today in Current Directions in Psychological Science: “Our research on the ‘dark side’ contrasts sharply with the mainstream research on positive personality qualities. Dark characters, in our opinion, are more interesting than sparkling, joyful people.”
Paulhus and his colleagues identified four types of self-centered and socially objectionable people in our daily lives: narcissists, Machiavellians, nonclinical psychopaths, and everyday sadists.
Paulhus observes that psychologists frequently conflate these types of persons, who all have a proclivity to score exceptionally high on measures of callousness (or lack of empathy for other people). Each of these types is also gregarious and social, so they frequently make good first impressions before making life terrible for others who are used by them. However, there are significant differences, and those variances have significant ramifications for the kind of harm these people might inflict on their relationship partners and employees. Also, you must try to play this Am I Morbid Quiz.
Am I Morbid Quiz
Narcissists are “grandiose self-promoters who desire attention all the time.” “You have probably been irritated by these tiresome braggarts,” Paulhus observes. Frank Sinatra, the famous crooner of my mother’s time, was a narcissist, something he shared with a slew of other super-stars in the performing arts, both then and now.
According to Paulhus, Machiavellians are “Master manipulators… one of them has tricked you out of something valuable—a truth you may not have noticed until it was too late.” They are distinguished from narcissists by their exceptionally high scores on manipulativeness tests and their proclivity for white-collar criminality. The typical Machiavellian is stock swindler Bernard Madoff, who rose to the top of the New York Stock Exchange only to utilize his position to defraud his investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Psychopaths, according to Paulhus, are “probably the evilest,” scoring high on measures of callousness, impulsivity, manipulativeness, and grandiosity, making them gloomy all over. They frequently do harm to others as they pursue thrills with little regard for those who suffer as a result. Their impulsiveness makes them less adept at white-collar criminality of the Bernie Madoff sort, and it frequently leads to violence when others get in their way. Psychopathy is exemplified by Charles Manson and Whitey Bulger (see Do You Have Criminal Genes?). However, Paulhus observes that there are many persons whose psychopathy is low enough to keep them out of jail while still causing costs for those who are drawn close to them.
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What is particularly concerning about this first set (the original “Dark Triad”) is that they are frequently socially skilled and may create excellent first impressions. For example, they perform better in job interviews than other people, owing to their lack of worry about other people’s opinions and a higher readiness to show off their abilities to strangers while remaining smooth and comfortable.
Everyday sadists share the attribute of callousness with the previous three types, but they are distinguished not by their impulsiveness or manipulativeness (both of which are common), but by their love of cruelty. As Paulhus points out, ordinary sadists may be tempted to positions like police officers or the military, where they can damage others in a legal capacity. Paulhus is not implying that all law enforcement employees are sadistic, but only that their ranks may contain a greater than usual proportion of ordinary sadists (who, as noted by a police official interviewed recently on NPR, can do great damage to police-community relations).