A new study published in the Journal of Personality examines how dark personality traits show up in basic models of personality, such as the Big Five model of personality.
“In clinical psychopathology, up to seven traits have been suggested as instances of antagonistic psychopathology,” say the researchers, led by David Scholz of the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany.
The seven traits found in antagonistic personalities are:
- Callousness — showing little concern for the feelings or problems of others
- Hostility — recurring feelings of anger and irritability, especially in response to minor slights and insults
- Manipulativeness — trickiness in one’s behavior, typically meant to influence, control, or charm others
- Deceitfulness — dishonesty, embellishment, and/or fraudulence
- Attention seeking — engaging in behaviors designed to make oneself the focus of others’ attention and/or admiration
- Grandiosity — believing that one is superior to others (self-centeredness) and deserves special treatment
- Suspiciousness — over-sensitivity to interpersonal ill-intent or harm
The researchers wanted to know whether these dark personality tendencies could be found in non-pathological models of personality, such as the Big Five (which divides personality into five dimensions: introversion/extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and emotional stability) or the ‘HEXACO’ model of personality. The HEXACO model is similar to the Big Five but adds an ‘honesty/humility’ dimension to the mix.
To test this, they conducted a large-scale online study where over three thousand participants filled out questionnaires measuring the following dimensions of personality.
- Antagonistic traits
- And, dark personality traits
They then assessed how well agreeableness, honesty/humility, and dark personality traits predicted the existence of antagonistic personality traits.
They found that the antagonistic traits of callousness and hostility were best accounted for by the agreeableness dimension from the Big Five personality framework while manipulativeness and deceitfulness were more strongly related to the honesty/humility dimension of the HEXACO model.
Not surprisingly, they found that dark personality traits offered the most predictive power when looking at all seven antagonistic personality traits.
“The results confirmed that [dark personality traits] represent all antagonistic traits most comprehensively, whereas agreeableness and honesty/humility each tend to cover only a certain subset of antagonistic traits particularly well and thus miss out on other aspects,” says Scholz.
One outlier trait, according to the researchers, was attention seeking, which failed to be adequately explained by any of the personality dimensions investigated. They also point out that any attempt to explain antagonistic personality traits through only one or two dimensions of personality — for instance, low agreeableness — would be an oversimplification.
In the future, the authors would like to see more theoretical integration between clinical and personality psychology to better understand maladaptive personality traits.
“The view on personality psychopathology is changing,” says Scholz. “Clinical psychology has been moving away from categorical diagnoses, such as antisocial or histrionic personality disorder, and has started to describe personality-based psychological problems in terms of several so-called maladaptive traits. Research has a long way to go, but without a shared map (in this case a common model of personality and clinical processes) there is limited hope to get very far.”
A full interview with David Scholz discussing this new research can be found here: What is the right way to think about antagonistic, deceitful, and callous personalities?