28 Questions That Reveal Whether Someone Has A “Dark Personality”

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Psychologists have long been interested in understanding the personality traits that promote socially unwelcome or offensive behavior.

One of the more well-known constellations of negative personality traits is known as the “Dark Triad.” According to researchers, the Dark Triad is composed of three groups of socially offensive personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy (defined below).

  • Narcissism refers to someone who is self-obsessed and believes that they are special, gifted, and superior to others.
  • Machiavellianism refers to someone who is manipulative, tricky, and ingratiating.
  • Psychopathy describes people who are dangerously risk-seeking and lack empathy for others.

Interestingly, a growing body of research suggests that a fourth dimension — called sadism — should be added to the Dark Triad. According to new research published in the European Journal of Psychological Assessment, sadism “satisfies the criteria of “callousness or impaired empathy” while also adding a “unique element not covered by the Dark Triad members, namely, intrinsic pleasure in hurting others.”

It’s one thing to define a new personality structure, but measuring it is another thing altogether. To this end, a team of psychologists led by Delroy Paulhus of the University of British Columbia in Canada developed a 28-item scale to measure the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. Here is what they came up with. (Note that all statements are responded to on a 5-point, strongly disagree to strongly agree, scale.)

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Machiavellianism

1. It’s not wise to let people know your secrets.

2. Whatever it takes, you must get the important people on your side.

3. Avoid direct conflict with others because they may be useful in the future.

4. Keep a low profile if you want to get your way.

5. Manipulating the situation takes planning.

6. Flattery is a good way to get people on your side.

7. I love it when a tricky plan succeeds.

Narcissism

1. People see me as a natural leader.

2. I have a unique talent for persuading people.

3. Group activities tend to be dull without me.

4. I know that I am special because people keep telling me so.

5. I have some exceptional qualities

6. I’m likely to become a future star in some area.

7. I like to show off every now and then.

Psychopathy

1. People often say I’m out of control.

2. I tend to fight against authorities and their rules.

3. I’ve been in more fights than most people of my age and gender.

4. I tend to dive in, then ask questions later.

5. I’ve been in trouble with the law.

6. I sometimes get into dangerous situations.

7. People who mess with me always regret it.

Sadism

1. Watching a fist fight excites me.

2. I really enjoy violent films and video games.

3. It’s funny when idiots fall flat on their face.

4. I enjoy watching violent sports.

5. Some people deserve to suffer.

6. Just for kicks, I’ve said mean things on social media.

7. I know how to hurt someone with words alone.

Though only 28-items, the researchers found this scale to reliably predict people’s “true” values on the four personality dimensions of interest. 

They write, “Despite their brevity, the final four 7-item subscales had acceptable psychometric properties.” They also reported that the scales replicated across both student and community samples and that they showed consistent correlations with the Big 5 and other well-known personality scales.

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