The Dark Triad of Personality

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy

The Dark Triad, first introduced and explored by researchers Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams in 2002, drew inspiration from diverse branches of existing literature. These studies highlighted three distinct yet interconnected personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Paulhus and Williams' work played a pivotal role in solidifying the Dark Triad as a cohesive personality construct, offering a framework for comprehending complex human behavior and its ramifications on relationships and society.

Understanding the Dark Triad

The Dark Triad is an intriguing model of three distinct yet interrelated personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. While they do not rise to the level of full-blown personality disorders, they signify a spectrum of subclinical personality traits characterized by self-interest, emotional detachment, deceit, and aggression.


  • Narcissism is typified by an inflated self-concept and an unrelenting pursuit of admiration and success. Those with narcissistic traits frequently exhibit grandiosity, aggression, and a desire for dominance. They may engage in attention-seeking behaviors, driven by fantasies of control and admiration.

  • Narcissism can be divided into two distinct categories: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism. Grandiose narcissists project an overt sense of self-importance and aggressively seek admiration and success. In contrast, vulnerable narcissists use grandiose behavior as a defense mechanism, concealing their insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and incompetence behind a façade of self-importance.


  • Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulative tendencies, a cynical perspective on human nature, and a resolute commitment to achieving one's goals, often prioritizing these objectives over moral considerations. Individuals with Machiavellian traits are often adept social chameleons, skillfully manipulating situations to their advantage.


  • Psychopathy is distinguished by a lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse, depicting a bold and daring personality. However, this boldness often comes at the cost of poor behavioral controls, making subclinical psychopathy the darkest and most severe trait within the Dark Triad.

The Dark Triad in the Workplace

The traits of the Dark Triad wield both positive and negative influences within the workplace.

  • Narcissism: Subclinical narcissism may contribute to unsatisfactory job performance, job dissatisfaction, and even the emergence of toxic leadership within the workplace. On the flip side, their grandiose nature can work in favor of organizations, as their self-promotion, impression management, and adept organizational politicking can expedite their path to promotions.

  • Machiavellianism: Individuals with Machiavellian traits are a double-edged sword in the workplace. They may resort to mistreating others and even betrayal to achieve their goals. However, their adeptness at social manipulation can also be harnessed for personal gain and the cultivation of robust social networks.

  • Psychopathy: Subclinical psychopathy can have divergent effects in the workplace. Individuals with these traits may exhibit lower job performance, engage in counterproductive work behaviors, and struggle to build positive workplace relationships. Nonetheless, in specific work environments characterized by emotional detachment, subclinical psychopathy can be an advantage. Some top executives exhibit psychopathic traits, benefitting from their ability to "ignore stress" and make calculated, rational decisions.


Continual research into the Dark Triad, building upon the foundation laid by Paulhus and Williams, deepens our comprehension of the intricate workings of human personalities and their impact on the world around us. This ongoing exploration is instrumental in unraveling the enigmatic spectrum of human behavior and its multifaceted consequences.


  • Christie, R., & Geis, F. L. (2013). Studies in Machiavellianism. Academic Press.

  • Forsyth, D. R., Banks, G. C., & McDaniel, M. A. (2012). A Meta-Analysis of the Dark Triad and Work Behavior: A Social Exchange Perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 557.

  • Miller, J. D., Gentile, B., Wilson, L., & Campbell, W. K. (2013). Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism and the DSM–5 Pathological Personality Trait Model. Journal of Personality Assessment, 95(3), 284-290.

  • Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of Personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36(6), 556-563.

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