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February 26, 2024

Dark triad made up of scariest personality types

By MELANIE HSU | May 9, 2013

Before the world knew him as Lord Voldemort, Tom Marvolo Riddle was quite a charmer. A tall, handsome youth with impeccable manners and perfect grades, Riddle was admired by his teachers and classmates. But Tom’s good boy persona was skin-deep. At heart, he was a psychopath and narcissist who used his looks and charisma to rope others into doing his dirty work.

Riddle’s character fits well into the so-called Dark Triad, a trio of harmful personality traits that includes Machiavellians, narcissists and psychopaths. People who possess these traits share a lot in common, most notably the inability to understand how other people feel. There are some subtle differences though. Narcissists are self-centered people who hide their fragile self-images behind a peacock-like ego. Machiavellians are ambitious people who have no problems stepping on others to achieve their goals. Psychopaths, arguably the darkest trait, are slimy like the Machiavellians and self-absorbed like the narcissists. They are also incredibly good at getting people to like them.

Unlike many dysfunctional people, psychopaths readily slither into jobs and relationships. Oxford psychiatrist Kevin Dutton, who conducted The Great British Psychopath Survey in 2011, found psychopaths in many positions of power, including law, surgery and big business. Mesh their superficial charisma with the appeal of a prestigious profession, and you get a social lure that is hard to resist. While they make great first impressions, psychopaths are unable to keep their occupations and partners for very long. Always seeking new thrills, they rush through life like children at amusement parks. They go on rides for the fun of it, get bored really quickly and then set their sights on another attraction.

Dark Triad members may have another way of masking their flaws. Research suggests that these people are more physically attractive than the average person. But attractiveness can refer to more than one thing. Are Dark Triad members better-looking than most of us, or do they just dress better? Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube of Washington University in St. Louis tried to disentangle these two types of attractiveness. Unadorned attractiveness is a person’s natural beauty, which includes physical traits like facial symmetry. As facial symmetry says a lot about the quality of your genes, people tend to find more symmetrical faces more attractive. Adorned attractiveness, which refers to how people normally dress up, depends on transient factors such as choice of clothing and makeup. A third measure is effective adornment, the difference in attractiveness between a person’s unadorned and adorned states.

Holtzman and Michael asked over a hundred college students to join their study. The students entered the lab, dressed in what they regularly wore to impress. The research team captured their polished hairstyles and stylish outfits on camera, using them as the adorned measure. For the unadorned measure, the students removed their accessories, tied back their hair and shaved off any facial hair. Dressed in plain sweat clothes, they looked like they were preparing for a possible chemical spill in organic chemistry lab. The team had unrelated observers rate the attractiveness of both sets of photos, and then students rated their own personality traits with a survey. Wanting to ensure student honesty, they asked each person to pick up to 10 peers to rate them.

Students who scored high in the Dark Triad had higher ratings for their adorned photos, but not their unadorned ones. This suggests that a well-executed makeover can help level the playing field. But this trio has other ways of mesmerizing their prey. Recent research suggests that narcissists tend to use more sexual words, perhaps enticing potential mates through a bad boy or bad girl image. Paul Babiak, an industrial psychologist, and Robert Hare, a psychopath expert, theorized that psychopaths do the opposite: they snag their victims by presenting themselves as kind-hearted and charming. Because the target is often caught up in the joy of falling in love, he or she fails to notice the outrageous lies, unexplained tardiness and suspicious calls from the psychopath’s other boyfriends or girlfriends. When the psychopath gets bored or finds another conquest, he or she slowly and subtly withdraws his or her affections. This causes the victims to become increasingly desperate in their attempts to win back their twisted lovers.

It might be hard to see people like Tom Riddle as successful, but evolutionarily speaking, the Dark Triad’s strategies pay off. Because these people cannot forge lasting relationships based on mutual respect and reciprocation, they evolved a suite of traits to help them utilize a short-term mating strategy. Evolutionarily speaking, this tactic allows the Dark Triad to transmit their genes to the next generation through having sex with many people. The high social statuses of some of these people also grant them access to high-quality mates. Altogether, these strategies allow the Dark Triad, and especially psychopaths, to steal the competition in both the workplace and bedroom.


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