Psychologists Define The ‘Dark Core of Personality’


Source: University of Copenhagen

Summary: Egoism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, spitefulness and others are among the traits of the malevolent side of human personality. Results from a research project show, these traits share a common “dark core.


Both world history and everyday life are full of examples of people acting ruthlessly, maliciously or selfishly. In psychology and in everyday language, such dark tendencies human are termed psychopathy (lack of empathy), narcissism (excessive self-absorption), and Machiavellianism (the belief that the ends justify the means), the so-called dark triad, along with many others such as egoism, sadism, or spitefulness. Although at first glance, there appear to be noteworthy differences between these traits and it may seem more “acceptable” to be an egoist than a psychopath new research project from the University of Copenhagen shows that all dark aspects of human personality are very closely linked and are based on the same tendency. That is, most dark traits can be understood as flavoured manifestations of a single common underlying disposition: The dark core of personality. The study findings were published in the journal Psychological Review.

Dark core of personality

Dark factor figure. Credit: University of Copenhagen

Researchers have demonstrated how the common denominator is present in nine of the most commonly studied dark personality traits:

  • Egoism: an excessive preoccupation with one’s own advantage at the expense of others and the community
  • Machiavellianism: a manipulative, callous attitude and a belief that the ends justify the means
  • Moral disengagement: cognitive processing style that allows behaving unethically without feeling distress
  • Narcissism: excessive self-absorption, a sense of superiority, and an extreme need for attention from others
  • Psychological entitlement: a recurring belief that one is better than others and deserves better treatment
  • Psychopathy: lack of empathy and self-control, combined with impulsive behaviour
  • Sadism: a desire to inflict mental or physical harm on others for one’s own pleasure or to benefit oneself
  • Self-interest: a desire to advance and highlight one’s own social and financial status
  • Spitefulness: destructiveness and willingness to cause harm to others, even if one harms oneself in the process

The nine dark traits are by no means the same, and each can result in specific kinds of behaviour. However, at their core, the dark traits typically have far more in common. And knowledge about this ‘dark core‘ can play a crucial role for researchers or therapists who work with people with specific dark personality traits, as this D-factor affects different types of reckless and malicious human behaviour and actions that are often reported in the media.


More Information: Morten Moshagen et al, “The dark core of personality”, Psychological Review (2018). DOI: 10.1037/rev0000111 


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