What Is the Dark Triad?

David Beckerby David Becker

It’s not an Iron Maiden album, nor is it an alliance of supervillains bent on world domination. Coined by Paulhus and Williams (2002), the term Dark Triad refers to three strikingly negative personality traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Research shows that individuals who score high in these traits are more likely to commit crimes, cause social distress, and create problems in the workplace. These individuals exhibit several core features, including “disagreeableness, callousness, deceitfulness, egocentrism, lack of honesty-humility, and tendencies toward interpersonal manipulation and exploitation” (Zeigler-Hill & Marcus, 2016, p. 5).

Although many people know the terms narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, not everyone fully appreciates their intricacies. Narcissism, for instance, does not simply refer to an inflated ego—or what is known in the literature as narcissistic grandiosity. A person with narcissistic tendencies may in fact have low self-esteem and feel helpless, empty, and ashamed of themselves (a.k.a., narcissistic vulnerability). For this person, narcissism may be an unhealthy adaptation to their negative feelings. Likewise, someone with Machiavellian tendencies might not simply seek dominance at the expense of others. He or she might actually have limited power and be the victim of unfair, discriminatory, and abusive treatment. This person may have developed Machiavellian characteristics as a self-defense mechanism. Darth Vader, for instance, is certainly prone to acts of extreme Machiavellianism, but his desire for ultimate power can be seen as the result of a childhood spent in slavery, and of feeling unfairly treated by the Jedi Council.

the dark side of personality

Psychopathy may be the most complex trait of the Dark Triad. In their book, The Dark Side of Personality: Science and Practice in Social, Personality, and Clinical Psychology (2016), Virgil Zeigler-Hill and David Marcus describe psychopathy as a multidimensional construct made of three loosely connected components: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition, which they correlate with fearless dominance; callousness; and sensation seeking, urgency, and distractibility.

In their exploration of the Dark Triad, Zeigler-Hill and Marcus (2016) acknowledge that it is not necessarily a fixed construct. They point to recent research arguing that sadism shares enough similarities with narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism for it to be studied as part of what could be called the “Dark Tetrad.” Even traits that are often regarded as positive, like perfectionism and high self-esteem, or traits typically associated more with self-harm than outward harm, such as anxiousness, can have dark features that may warrant their study alongside the more archetypical dark traits within the Dark Triad. With so many new avenues to explore, Zeigler-Hill and Marcus (2016) wonder, “Will the Dark Tetrad expand at some point to be the Dark Pentad? Would the Dark Hexad be far behind?” (p 7).



Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6

Zeigler-Hill, V., & Marcus, D. K. (2016). The dark side of personality: Science and practice in social, personality, and clinical psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14854-000

Teacher Appreciation Day

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! Over the years, our authors have written quite a lot for teachers. Here’s just a sampling:

APA book: College Teaching: Practical Insights From the Science of Teaching and Learning

College Teaching: Practical Insights From the Science of Teaching and Learning

This book is for beginning instructors as well as those who have been teaching at the college level for many years. Author Donelson Forsyth applies direct classroom experience with best practices from the science of teaching and learning.

Chapters address planning, lecturing, leading discussions, student-centered teaching methods such as collaborative or experiential activities, testing and grading, helping students through feedback and guidance, managing classroom dynamics, using technology effectively, and evaluating and documenting one’s contributions as a teacher.

Brief research analyses show why certain techniques work better than others. Through lively examples and prompts to continually personalize the material, readers learn how to structure their teaching and what to do to ensure their students are treated fairly.


APA book: Favorite Activities for the Teaching of Psychology

Favorite Activities for the Teaching of Psychology

The most popular activities from APA’s successful Activities Handbooks for the Teaching of Psychology are gathered together and updated in this book of teachers’ favorites. The lesson plans, which encourage active learning and involve the whole class, have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be entertaining, effective, and easy to plan.

Contributed by psychology teachers nationwide, the activities are most appropriate for courses at the college undergraduate or high school level, yet many are also applicable to more advanced classes. Both beginner and experienced teachers will appreciate the wide variety of teaching techniques described, including demonstrations, experiments, discussions, and simulations.

Each lesson plan is presented in an easy cookbook format that lists materials needed, timeframe, instructions, and discussion items. The activities are grouped by topic and cover history, statistics, and research methods; the brain and sensory processes; perception; states of consciousness; learning and memory; thinking, problem-solving, and language; motivation and emotion; developmental psychology; personality; psychological disorders and treatments; social psychology; and race, gender, and multiculturalism. Busy teachers will find themselves turning to this book over and over again for inspiration.


APA book: Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors

Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors

Positive psychology is a rapidly expanding area of study that is of great interest to students at the graduate, undergraduate, and high school levels. But the field is so broad that teachers who want to cover all the bases when designing a positive psychology course may have difficulty locating and selecting materials.

Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology addresses this problem by presenting a comprehensive set of fun, interactive classroom activities devised by contributors who are experienced teachers as well as leading scholars in their areas.

Chapters cover all the topics typically included in existing positive psychology textbooks, emphasizing the hands-on experience that makes positive psychology courses so powerful. Extensive reading lists point interested readers towards a fuller understanding of the topics.

The book is a rich source of ideas for all teachers of psychology, from novice to experienced instructors.


APA book: Teaching Ethically: Challenges and Opportunities

Teaching Ethically: Challenges and Opportunities

In this book, editors R. Eric Landrum and Maureen McCarthy identify four broad areas of concern in the ethical teaching of undergraduate psychology: pedagogy, student behavior, faculty behavior toward students, and considerations in the diverse classroom. Together with their team of experts, they provide evidence-based advice and case studies that illustrate the application of relevant ethical principles.

Ethical teachers need to reflect on commonly accepted practices and make individual decisions about responsible teaching behaviors, such as honoring individual differences and respectfully challenging beliefs. Other challenges examined in this book include grading, textbook adoption, honor systems, online instruction, and conducting and using research on pedagogy to improve classroom practice. Infusing the undergraduate experience with ethics is the focus of chapters on supervising student internships, coauthoring research with students, and modeling appropriate professional boundaries.


APA book: Evidence-Based Teaching for Higher Education

Evidence-Based Teaching for Higher Education

Over the past two decades, a growing body of scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) has emerged. This empirical study of teaching methods, course design, and students’ study practices has yielded invaluable information about how teachers teach and learners learn. Yet, university faculty members remain largely unaware of the findings of SoTL research. As a result, they tend to choose their teaching techniques and tools based on intuition and previous experience rather than on scientific evidence of effectiveness.

This book synthesizes SoTL findings to help teachers choose techniques and tools that maximize student learning. Evidence-based recommendations are provided regarding teacher–student rapport, online teaching, use of technology in the classroom (such as audience response systems, podcasting, blogs, and wikis), experiential learning (such as internships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and in-class research projects), students’ study habits, and more.

In order to stimulate future SoTL research, the book also recommends numerous areas for future investigation. It concludes with advice for documenting teaching effectiveness for tenure review committees.