If you have one of these personality traits, you possess a ‘dark core’

27 Sep 2018

Image: Alberto Tirado/Shutterstock

A recently published study believes nine different personality traits all link back to a central ‘dark core’.

Getting to the root of a psychological issue might seem quite challenging given the complexity of the human mind, but new research published in the journal Psychological Review believes a ‘dark core’ could be at play for the worst of human traits.

The research conducted by a German-Danish team found evidence for nine personality traits that all share a common source. These traits include: egoism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, moral disengagement, psychological entitlement, self-interest and spitefulness.

Behind all of these, the researchers claim, is a so-called ‘D-factor’: having a general tendency to maximise a person’s own personal gains with a disregard for – and even enjoying – a person’s suffering, while believing that course of action to be justified.

A graph showing the different personality traits that make up the dark core.

The ‘dark core’ at the heart of the D-factor. Image: University of Copenhagen

While the researchers believe that all of these traits share a common core, they may differ in which aspects are dominant. For example, a narcissist would feel very justified in their actions, whereas a sadist takes pleasure in another’s suffering.

“The dark aspects of human personality also have a common denominator, which means that – similar to intelligence – one can say that they are all an expression of the same dispositional tendency,” said Ingo Zettler of the University of Copenhagen.

What this finding means

The study was conducted among 2,500 people, asking them to answer to what extent they agreed with statements such as: ‘It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there’ and ‘It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.’

As the results showed, despite differences among individual traits, the D-factor can indicate how likely a person is to engage in behaviour associated with one or more of these dark traits.

Going forward, the researchers hope these findings will be able to inform those working with psychiatric patients. “We see it, for example, in cases of extreme violence, or rule-breaking, lying and deception in the corporate or public sectors,” Zettler said.

“Here, knowledge about a person’s D-factor may be a useful tool – for example, to assess the likelihood that the person will reoffend or engage in more harmful behaviour.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic