The "Dark Triad" Of Personality Traits Will Help You Get Ahead In Your Career


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

298 The "Dark Triad" Of Personality Traits Will Help You Get Ahead In Your Career
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred leads to suffering – or does it? Tom Simpson/Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Are you a manipulative person? Can you switch off your empathy? Are you completely obsessed with yourself? Well, science has some good news for you: These supposedly malignant traits may help you go places in your career, get a raise, and find your way into leadership positions, according to some fresh research. The new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science reveals that your promotion chances may be hindered, however, if you are a psychopath.

These traits have been described as the “dark triad” by several psychologists, and for good reason as they can be used to willfully deceive people for personal gain. Narcissism describes how self-obsessed, selfish and self-centered someone can be. Machiavellianism relates to the desire to manipulate people and situations, and the ability to maintain power.


Psychopathy has perhaps the most nebulous definition, as what constitutes a psychopath is still heavily debated. Generally speaking, it describes someone who is able to switch off their ability to feel remorse or empathy. Psychopaths are also impulsive and exhibit bold social behaviors. Like the other two traits, psychopathy is not synonymous with being morally bankrupt.

Although often associated with lying, cheating, and recklessness, this triad is often found in those that are excellent negotiators, those with charm, and those with ambition. Whether they are used for the greater good or for personal gain is highly dependent on the individual in question.

With this in mind, the team of psychologists for this study, led by Daniel Spurk of the University of Bern, decided to see how the prevalence of these traits in a group of 793 working adults between the ages of 25 and 34 helped these people out in their own careers. They were all shown a series of statements relating to each of the three traits, and asked to say how much they agreed or disagreed with them.

Image credit: Would you use your powers for good or evil? SvetaZi/Shutterstock


“I tend to manipulate others to get my way” was a typical Machiavellian statement, whereas “I want others to pay attention to me” was a narcissistic statement. As it turns out, both these traits proved beneficial to people’s career paths.

When other factors were considered, such as the type of organization and pay, the study showed that Machiavellianism was positively correlated to leadership positions and job satisfaction, and narcissism was strongly related to higher salaries. Clearly, the ability to manipulate and the obsession over a good public image pays dividends.

Psychopaths, however, didn’t fare so well. Although they can be charismatic, intelligent and creative, they tend not be good team players, which seems to inhibit them from advancing quickly through the workplace. It does imply that they may work very well on their own, however.

A recent review on “successful psychopathy” notes that there are many psychopaths in leadership positions, so clearly they can advance through the workplace on occasion. It suggests that the more successful psychopaths are more moderate and conscientious than others. In addition to this, successful psychopaths may be able to use their ability to not feel remorse or empathy as protective measures against other antisocial people.


There are, of course, those with a combination of the three treacherous traits – and interestingly these seem to climb the career ladder most ruthlessly. After all, these “triadic” people are those that seem to end up as CEOs at the end of the day.

Main image: Tom Simpson/Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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  • personality,

  • psychopath,

  • dark triad,

  • narcissist,

  • machiavellian,

  • manipulative,

  • the dark side,

  • career