In 2002, two Canadian psychologists coined the term “dark triad”. It’s in reference to the grouping of three specific personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. 

In other words – self-centered, manipulative, and lacking in empathy.

Since, a fair number of research papers have been published around it. They link the dark triad traits to results such as higher incomes, better social skills, larger occupancy in leadership roles, and a number of other positive factors leading to overall success. 

Ironic, really, because when we think about it, wouldn’t we rather work with someone who isn’t cut-throat and ruthless? Yet the aforementioned research says otherwise.

Or maybe it doesn’t. 

The recent years has seen a fair amount of pushback from the research community with earlier studies into the dark triad of personality traits being labelled as shallow. 

One particular study, published in February 2019 on PsyArXiv, points out that much of the earlier research was conducted among narrow groups and using only a handful of criteria to suss out the supposed dark triad traits. Whereas in actuality, such diagnoses would require much more to even begin to justify the characterization.

That is not to dispel the possibility of the dark triad being linked to success but to sound a call to action for better quality, deeper research.

But, let’s break the dark triad further.

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy go beyond the short phrasal descriptions given earlier. For instance, there’s a difference between being self-centered and narcissistic. In the sense that the latter is driven by a motivation to dominate. It’s also fuelled by a sense of entitlement and superiority, with an unhealthy dose of criticism intolerance mixed in.

Machiavellianism does revolve on manipulation but to the point of fake social charm and purposeful, deceitful behavior focused on undermining others. I’m talking Barney Stinson carrying out any play from his notorious Playbook.

Psychopathy works off of a lack of empathy. It’s intermixed with a generally heartless attitude and indifference plus hostility to and within relationships.

The bottom line is that it all chalks up to some pretty exploitative behavior.

And when combined, it’s hardly unthinkable that an attitude of looking out for oneself, caring for oneself, manipulating others for the interests of oneself, feeling entitled and motivated to dominate, and generally not being bogged down by insecurities and anxieties would push a person into a modicum of success, professionally and personally.

However, said qualities don’t exist in a vacuum. They come at a cost.

It’s been found that those who display the dark triad are not only more likely to commit crime and cause social distress, they’re also likely to create problems within an organization when acting from a leadership role. Displaying signs of aggression is also on the table.

The dark sides of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy rear their ugly heads in the forms of toxic leadership, unethical (therefore, damaging) decisions, selfish behavior, and more. And all of this is supposedly justified within the mind of the dark triad personality. Eventually leading to a counterproductive and thereby destructive career path.

All of this, of course, is implied behavior which exists on a spectrum. And goes to show that nice guys, then, don’t finish last.

But what about nice girls? 

All this generic behavior and psychology seems to play off of the collectively accepted behavior of men. Who, un-shockingly, even when displaying toxic behavior seem to climb up the career ladder.

Women, on the other hand, can’t be too nice without being walked all over, and if they displayed the dark triad traits, they’d be quickly slapped with labels of being bossy, bitchy, vapid, rigid, and a hundred other hindering superlatives.

Of course, not enough research has been done within the field to definitively conclude the previous statements. Though, judging off of sociocultural behavior, it can be presented as a valid assessment.

For funsies, I found a generic test to suss out what percentage of dark triad I hold. The results are deduced by clocking your degree of agreement – Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree – on 27 different statements. These include statements like: I enjoy having sex with people I hardly know; People often say I’m out of control; Most people can be manipulated; Payback needs to be quick and nasty.

These affirmations are very basic – as noted in criticisms of the dark triad tests – and a tad manipulative themselves. So, regardless of wherever you fall on the spectrum, simply abide this – don’t be a dick, because in the long run, it’s going to bite you in the ass.

  • Armed with a journalism degree and a passion for reading, Sana is on a mission to find her voice, gives Would You Rather? questions a little too much thought and is a recovering procrastinator.