Everyone has a certain amount of darkness in their personality, a yin to their yang. This darkness can manifest itself as antisocial personality traits. A new theory suggests that these traits share a common core – the D Factor.
Psychologists have been researching the darker side of the human psyche since the 1950s. They found that some people are predisposed to hurting others and identified patterns in harmful behaviour that are related to certain ‘dark’ personality traits.
In psychology the term ‘dark triad’ has been used to refer to three personality traits notable for their malevolence.
The dark triad is Narcissism (pathological self-absorption and need for attention), psychopathy (engaging in antisocial behaviour with a lack of empathy or remorse) and Machiavellianism (a propensity for manipulation and callousness).
The triad is sometimes expanded to include sadism (pleasure derived from hurting people), forming a ‘dark tetrad’. Although each of these traits is a distinctly different concept, psychologists have long noticed links between them.
Previous research into the subject noted a common theme amongst people with these characteristics, namely, extraordinary levels of self-interest and a disregard for other people, but there was never a unifying theory to tie them all together.
The D Factor
That may have changed, as this year researchers from Denmark and Germany have come up with a new theory for understanding dark personality traits by viewing their relationship to each other in a different way.
The researchers extracted the traits of the dark triad and added five more which they define as:
- Egoism – ‘the excessive concern with one’s own pleasure or advantage at the expense of community well-being’
- Moral disengagement – ‘a generalized cognitive orientation to the world that differentiates individuals’ thinking in a way that powerfully affects unethical behavior’
- Psychological entitlement – ‘a stable and pervasive sense that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others’
- Spitefulness – ‘a preference that would harm another but that would also entail harm to oneself. This harm could be social, financial, physical, or an inconvenience’
- Self-interest – ‘the pursuit of gains in socially valued domains, including material goods, social status, recognition, academic or occupational achievement, and happiness’
The image they use to demonstrate how these traits are interrelated is akin to a sunflower with each trait being a petal. These petals overlap with each other as they reach the centre of the flower.
This central core from which dark personality traits originate is what the researchers have dubbed the Dark Factor of Personality, or the D Factor.
D is defined as ‘The general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility – disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others – accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.’
Put simply, D is a basic tendency to pursue your own goals with callousness. A person who scores highly in D does not care about hurting other people to get what they want, and importantly, they hold beliefs that justify their actions.
People who manifest dark personality traits were more likely to score highly in other dark personality traits. Crucially, they also scored highly for D.
Since D is a general dispositional tendency, all dark personality traits and malevolent actions are simply different manifestations of a person’s tendency to act in their own interests without care for others.
Test Your D Factor
This new theory could help us better understand and treat people who manifest dark personality traits and engage in malevolent, antisocial behaviour.
It could also lead to new developments in areas such as criminal profiling and police work.
If you are curious about your own D score you can take the test for yourself. Remember, be honest.