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The Dark Core of Personality

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-dark-core-of-personality/

blogs.scientificamerican.com

The Dark Core of Personality

What's your dark core score?

Over 100 years ago Charles Spearman made two monumental discoveries about human intelligence. First, a general factor of intelligence (g) exists: people who score high on one test of intelligence also tend to score high on other tests of intelligence. Second, Spearman found that the

g-factor
conforms to the principle of the "indifference of the indicator": It doesn't matter what test of intelligence you administer; as long as the intelligence test is sufficiently cognitively complex and has enough items, you can reliably and validly measure a person's general cognitive ability.

Fast forward to 2018, and a

hot-off-the-press paper
suggests that the very same principle may not only apply to human cognitive abilities, but also to human malevolence. New research conducted by a team from Germany and Denmark suggests that a General Dark Factor of Personality (D-factor) exists among the human population, and that this factor conforms to the principle of indifference of the indicator. This is big news, so let's take a look.

The Proposed D-Factor

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We all know people who consistently display ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior in everyday life. Personality psychologists refer to these characteristics among a subclinical population as "dark traits." An understanding of dark traits has become increasingly popular not only in psychology, but also in

criminology
and
behavioral economics
.

Even though psychologists have studied various dark traits, it has become increasingly clear that

these dark traits are related to each other
. This raises the question: Is there a unifying theme among dark traits?

Morten Moshagen and his colleagues proposed that a D-factor exists, which they define as the basic tendency to maximize one's own utility at the expense of others, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications for one's malevolent behaviors. In their definition, utility refers to goal achievement. For those scoring high on the D-factor, utility maximization is sought despite running contrary to the interests of others or even for the sake of bringing about negative outcomes in others.

Utility in this definition does not refer to utility maximization that is irrelevant of the effect on others—such engaging in sports to improve one's health, engaging in consensual sex, or recreational activities. Also, it should be noted that those scoring high on the D-factor aren't always uncooperative, as they can be very strategic in choosing when to cooperate. Their key prediction is that those scoring high on the D-factor will not be motivated to increase the utility of others (helping others in need) without benefiting themselves, and will not derive utility for themselves from the utility of others (eg, being happy for the success of others).

The researchers acknowledge that the D-factor can be manifested in a large number of ethically, morally and socially questionable attitudes and behaviors. However, they propose that any single dark trait will boil down to at least one of the defining features of the D-factor. For instance, those scoring high on narcissism might be particularly justifying of the belief that they are superior, whereas those scoring high in sadism may place a stronger emphasis on deriving utility from actively provoking disutilities for others. Nevertheless, they argue that any single dark trait will be related to at least one (and typically several) of the defining aspects of the D-factor; ie, there is a substantial common core underlying individual differences on all measures of dark traits.

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Again, the g-factor analogy is apt: while there are some differences between verbal intelligence, visuospatial intelligence, and perceptual intelligence (ie,

people can differ in their pattern of cognitive ability profiles
), those who score high on one form of intelligence will also tend to statistically score high on other forms of intelligence.

So what did they actually find?

The Actual D-Factor

Across four studies, the researchers found support for the existence of their proposed D-factor. To capture a reasonable D-factor, they administered nine different tests measuring a particular dark trait that has been well studied in the psychological literature. These are the nine traits that comprised their D-factor:

  1. Egoism. The excessive concern with one's own pleasure or advantage at the expense of community well-being.
  2. Machiavellianism. Manipulativeness, callous affect and strategic-calculating orientation.
  3. Moral Disengagement. A generalized cognitive orientation to the world that differentiates individuals' thinking in a way that powerfully affects unethical behavior.
  4. Narcissism. An all-consuming motive for ego reinforcement.
  5. Psychological Entitlement. A stable and pervasive sense that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others.
  6. Psychopathy. Deficits in affect, callousness, self-control and impulsivity.
  7. Sadism. Intentionally inflicting physical, sexual or psychological pain or suffering on others in order to assert power and dominance or for pleasure and enjoyment.
  8. Self-Interest. The pursuit of gains in socially valued domains, including material goods, social status, recognition, academic or occupational achievement and happiness.
  9. Spitefulness. A preference that would harm another but that would also entail harm to oneself. This harm could be social, financial, physical or an inconvenience.

Here is a summary of their main findings:

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  • First, they found that all of the dark traits were substantially positively related to each other (what Spearman referred to as a "
    positive manifold
    ")—although some traits were more strongly correlated with each other than others. The strongest correlations were found among measures of Egoism, Machiavellianism, Moral Disengagement, Psychopathy, Sadism and Spitefulness.
  • Second, the pattern of items that were most strongly related to the D-factor related to aspects of their theoretical model: utility maximization ("I'll say anything to get what I want"), inflicting disutility on others ("There have been times when I was willing to suffer some small harm so that I could punish someone else who deserved it"), and justifying malevolent beliefs ("I honestly feel I'm just more deserving than others").
  • Third, they found that those scoring high on the D-factor were more likely to keep money for themselves when given the opportunity, and were more likely to display unethical behavior (cheating to maximize one's gain).
  • Fourth, the D-factor was related to a number of outcomes you would expect, including positive associations with self-centeredness, dominance, impulsivity, insensitivity, power, aggression and negative associations with nurturance, internalized moral identity, perspective taking, sincerity, fairness, greed avoidance and modesty.
  • Fifth, they found support for Spearman's principle of the indifference of the indicator. The D-factor captured the dark core of many different dark traits without crucially relying on any one measure. In fact, they found that even after omitting 50 percent of the items at random, and repeating this process 1,000 times, still resulted in extremely high correlations among all of the D-factors (> r=.93).

What's Your Dark Core Score?

If you've made it this far, you're probably eager to see whether you score high on the D-factor. This nine-item test should be sufficient to estimate to a reasonable degree where you would score on the D-factor. The more you are in strong agreement with multiple items on this scale, the higher the likelihood you would score high on the D-factor. If you are in strong agreement with just one item on this scale, I wouldn't be so confident that you would score high on the D-factor. However, if you are in extremely strong agreement on many of these items, there's a high likelihood that you would indeed score high on the D-factor (ie, you're a humongous asshole, objectively measured):

The Dark Core Scale

1. It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.

2. I like to use clever manipulation to get my way.

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3. People who get mistreated have usually done something to bring it on themselves.

4. I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.

5. I honestly feel I'm just more deserving than others.

6. I'll say anything to get what I want.

7. Hurting people would be exciting.

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8. I try to make sure others know about my successes.

9. It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.

© 2018

Scott Barry Kaufman
, All Rights Reserved

Note: The Dark Core Scale was adapted from the larger test battery. I selected the items on an ad-hoc basis for entertainment purposes, but I do not recommend using the scale to make any sort of diagnosis. For more on the D-factor, go to 

www.darkfactor.org
. To take the self-assessment created by the researchers of the dark factor study, go to: 
http://qst.darkfactor.org
.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Scott Barry Kaufman

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is a humanistic psychologist exploring the depths of human potential. He has taught courses on intelligence, creativity, and well-being at Columbia University, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. In addition to writing the column 

Beautiful Minds
 for Scientific American, he also hosts 
The Psychology Podcast
, and is author and/or editor of 9 books, including 
Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization
Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind 
(with Carolyn Gregoire), and 
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined
. In 2015, he was named one of "50 Groundbreaking Scientists who are changing the way we see the world" by Business Insider. Find out more at 
http://ScottBarryKaufman.com
.

Credit: Andrew French

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Key Ideas

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"Indifference of the indicator"

"Indifference of the indicator"

Over 100 years ago, Charles Spearman made discoveries about human intelligence. One is that the general factor of intelligence (g-factor) conforms to the principle of the "indifference of the indicator," meaning that regardless of what test of intelligence you use, as long as the intelligence test is difficult and long enough, you can reliably measure a person's intelligence.

A new study suggests the same principle applies to human malignancy. The General Dark Factor of Personality (D-factor) conforms to the principle of "indifference of the indicator."

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The dark traits of personality

We all know people who consistently display ethically, morally and socially unreasonable behavior. Personality psychologists refer to these characteristics as "dark traits."

Researchers emphasize that these dark traits are related to each other, so they suggest that a D-factor exists. This is defined as the basic tendency to maximize one's own goal at the expense of others, and believing that one's malicious behaviors are justified.

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864 READS

Scoring high on the Dark factor

  • Those who score high on the D-factor aren't always uncooperative, as they can be very strategic in choosing when to cooperate.
  • Those scoring high on the D-factor will not be motivated to help others in need without it benefiting themselves.

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Traits of the Dark factor

  • Egoism. Excessive concern with one's own advantage at the expense of the wellbeing of others.
  • Machiavellianism. A callous person that's so focused on their own interests that they will manipulate and deceive to get what they want.
  • Moral Disengagement. Behaving as if ethical standards don't apply to oneself.
  • Narcissism. All-consuming desire for ego reinforcement.
  • Psychological Entitlement. Thinking that one is entitled to more than others are.
  • Psychopathy. Display a lack of self-control, is callous, and impulsive.
  • Sadism. Intentionally causing physical, sexual, or psychological pain on others to assert dominance or for enjoyment.
  • Self-interest. Chasing after socially valued domains, including material goods, social status, recognition, academic or occupational achievement.
  • Spitefulness. Doing something that will harm others even though it means harm to oneself. It could be social, financial, physical, or an inconvenience.

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Your Dark Core Score

The more you agree with multiple items on this scale, the higher the likelihood you would score high on the D-factor. If you are strong on just one item, you probably will not score high on the D-factor:

  1. It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.
  2. I like to use clever manipulation to get my way.
  3. People who get mistreated have usually done something to bring it on themselves.
  4. I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.
  5. I honestly feel I deserve more than others.
  6. I'll say anything to get what I want.
  7. Hurting people would be exciting.
  8. I try to make sure others know about my successes.
  9. It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.

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732 READS

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The light triad of human nature consists of three distinct factors:

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  1. Continued appreciations of the same objects, events and circumstances.
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  3. Maintaining authenticity and dignity.
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  6. Pursuing the real, unadulterated truth about people and nature.
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  9. Having a conscience.
  10. Being a creative spirit while doing any kind of action.

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Self-Actualization is an internal struggle that one must take by leaning towards stability and our higher goals while minimizing disruption from distracting thoughts and impulses (disruptive impulsivity).

One also has to look out for oneself to not fall in the dark abyss of negativity and doubt, apart from feeling directionless or meaningless.