A new study by Ekin Ok at the University of British Columbia has found that people who promote their virtue and victimize themselves are more likely to have Dark Triad personality traits.
The dark triad includes narcissism (self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and duplicity), and psychopathy (insensitivity and cynicism). People with Dark Triad traits can be seductive.
A study conducted by psychologists at the University of Durham found that women rated the same man as more attractive when he had dark triad traits.
In psychologist Justin Lehmiller’s book, Tell Me What You Want, he reveals that the most fantasized superhero among women is Batman. Gay men preferred Superman and Captain America. One reason women are more attracted to Batman is that he has darker triad personality traits than other superheroes.
Another study by researchers Carrie Haslam and V. Tamara Montrose revealed that although narcissistic men don’t make good partners, women aged 18 to 28 want them more than other men. The researchers asked women about their dating experiences and their desire to marry. They wanted to see if these factors influenced their attraction to narcissistic men.
They found that young women with more dating experience and a greater desire to marry were more attracted to narcissistic men.
The features of the dark triad seem to be advantageous in certain contexts
In their recently published article, Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities, the authors suggest that Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy may be beneficial in obtaining resources.
In their introduction, they acknowledge that being seen as a victim can lead to a loss of esteem and respect. But, they continue, in modern Western societies, victimizing oneself does not always lead to undesirable outcomes. Sometimes, victimization can increase one’s social status. And justify its claim to material resources.
They argue that “contemporary Western democracies have become particularly welcoming environments for ‘so-called’ victims to carry out a non-reciprocal resource extraction strategy”. One reason: strong egalitarian values lead many Westerners to believe that any difference in outcomes is illegitimate.
Another is that one of our key values is the alleviation of human suffering. Saying that you don’t have as much as others and that you suffer from it can be a clever way to get material resources.
Researchers examine victimization, which they define as “public and intentional expression of disadvantage, suffering, oppression or personal limitations. They also examine the emphasis on virtue, defined as “symbolic manifestations that may lead observers to make favorable inferences about a person’s moral character”.
They argue that victimization and virtue would maximize the capacity for resource extraction. People feel more sympathy for a victim who is also a good person.
The researchers developed a victimization scale, ranging from 1 = not at all to 5 = always. They found that victimization scores were highly correlated with scores on the dark triad (r = 0.35). This association occurred after controlling for gender, ethnicity, income, and other factors that may make people vulnerable to maltreatment.
Participants also completed a questionnaire that measured their self-reported virtue. They assessed the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements about moral traits such as being fair, compassionate, and honest. An example of a statement is “I often buy products that show that I have these characteristics. They also found that emphasizing one’s virtue was significantly correlated with scores in the dark triad (r = 0.18).
They replicated this association in a follow-up study. This time they used a different, more robust Dark Triad scale. They then found a stronger correlation between Dark Triad traits and victimization (r = 0.52).
They also found that victimization was negatively correlated (r = -.38) with honesty-humility. This is a personality measure of sincerity, fairness, avoidance of greed, and modesty. This suggests that people who victimize themselves may be more greedy and less honest than those who do not report their victim status
Besides measuring questionnaire responses, they also asked participants to play a game. Basically, it was a game in which participants could win money if they won.
The researchers rigged the game so that participants could easily cheat. Participants could claim to have won even if they did not and thus get more money.
Those who victimized themselves were more likely to cheat in the game. The researchers again found that these results held after controlling for ethnicity, gender, income, and other factors.
Regardless of personal characteristics, those who scored higher on the dark triad traits were more likely to be people who victimized themselves. And maybe more likely to deceive others for material gain.
The researchers then conducted a study testing whether people who scored high on victimization were more likely to exaggerate reports of co-worker abuse to gain an advantage over them.
Participants were told to imagine that they were working with another trainee. And that they were competing for a job. Participants were told, “You keep noticing little things about the way the trainee talks to you. You feel that the other trainee may have no respect for your suggestions. For you, the trainee is nice, but something is wrong with you.
Next, participants took part in the trainee’s performance debriefing. Then they completed the victimization scale. People who victimized themselves were more likely to exaggerate the negative qualities of their competitors. They were more likely to agree that the trainee “made demeaning or derogatory remarks” or “put you down in front of colleagues. There is nothing in their colleague’s description to indicate that they performed these actions. But those who victimized themselves were more likely to report that they had done so.
As the authors note, real victims exist. But they have no intention of deceiving or taking advantage of others. Yet, alongside the victims, there are social predators among us. Regardless of the environment in which they find themselves, they will implement strategies that maximize the rewards of material resources, gender, or prestige. People with traits belonging to the dark triad will adapt their strategies to get these benefits, depending on their social environment.
Today, those with dark triad traits may find that the best way to get rewards is to make a public spectacle of their victimization and virtue.
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