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“Dark personality theory” reveals the 9 traits of evil people in your life

For years I thought that everyone is ultimately “good”, deep down.

Even if someone treated me badly, I would always try to understand it from their perspective.

Here’s what I would say to myself:

  • They had a different upbringing to me.
  • Their values are different.
  • They just don’t understand the full situation.

Yet no matter how much I tried to always find the good in people around me, I always encountered someone who just seemed to have a “dark core” to their personality.

I thought it was an unusual anomaly but some new psychology research has forced me to shift my perspective.

A research team from Germany and Denmark have put forth “the general dark factor of personality” (D-factor), positing that some individuals have a “dark core” to their personalities.

It’s the closest anyone has come to scientifically defining the extent to which someone is “evil”.

If you want to figure out if there’s an “evil person” in your life, check out the 9 traits the researchers identified below.

The D-factor identifies the extent to which someone will engage in questionable ethical, moral and social behaviour.

The research team defined the D-factor as “the basic tendency to maximize one’s own utility at the expense of others, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications for one’s malevolent behaviors.”

Those who score high in the D-factor will try to achieve their goals at all costs, even if they harm others in the process. In some cases, their goals may even specifically be to harm others.

The research team also predicted that these individuals would only help others if they predicted their would be some utility in doing so.

That is, they needed to benefit from helping others before they would consider doing it.

Measuring malevolence the way we measure intelligence.

The scientists who worked on the study were from Ulm University, the University of Koblenz-Landau and the University of Copenhagen.

They proposed that it’s possible to measure malevolence the same way we measure intelligence.

The scientists based their insights on Charles Spearman’s work on human intelligence, which showed that a general factor of intelligence exists (known as the G-factor).

The G-factor suggests that people who score highly on one kind of intelligence test will invariably score highly on other types of intelligence tests.

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Here’s how Scott Barry Kaufman explains the G-factor in Scientific American:

“The G-factor analogy is apt: while there are some differences between verbal intelligence, visuospatial intelligence and perceptual intelligence (i.e. people can differ in their pattern of cognitive ability profiles), those who score high on one form of intelligence will also tend to statistically score high on other forms of intelligence.”

The D-factor works in a similar way.

The scientists identified the D-factor by conducting 9 different tests across four major research studies. They were able to identify 9 traits of people who are high in D-factor.

These are the 9 traits that evil people will likely exhibit. It’s also interesting to note that the scientists suggest that if someone exhibits one of the traits, they’ll likely exhibit many of the others.

The 9 traits of malevolence which supposed “evil people” possess

Here are the 9 traits which comprise the D-factor, as defined by the scientists:

1. Egoism: “the excessive concern with one’s own pleasure or advantage at the expense of community well-being.”

2. Machiavellianism: “manipulativeness, callous affect, and a strategic-calculating orientation.”

3. Moral disengagement: “a generalized cognitive orientation to the world that differentiates individuals’ thinking in a way that powerfully affects unethical behavior.”

4. Narcissism: “ego-reinforcement is the all-consuming motive.”

5. Psychological entitlement: “a stable and pervasive sense that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others.”

6. Psychopathy: “deficits in affect (i.e., callousness) and self-control (i.e., impulsivity).”

7. Sadism: “a person who humiliates others, shows a longstanding pattern of cruel or demeaning behavior to others, or intentionally inflicts physical, sexual, or psychological pain or suffering on others in order to assert power and dominance or for pleasure and enjoyment.”

8. Self-interest: “the pursuit of gains in socially valued domains, including material goods, social status, recognition, academic or occupational achievement, and happiness.”

9. 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.”

How high do you rank in D-factor?

You may be wondering the extent to which you rank highly in D-factor.

There’s a way to immediately test where you rank. The scientists developed the following 9-item test to quickly evaluate where you stand.

Read through the statements below and see whether you strongly agree with them or not. If you strongly agree with only one of the statements, it’s unlikely that you rank highly in D-factor. However, if you’re in extreme agreement with all 9 statements, there’s a high likelihood you rank highly.

Here are the 9 statements:

1. It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.

2. I like to use clever manipulation to get my way.

3. People who get mistreated have usually done something to bring it on themselves.

4. I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.

5. I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others.

6. I’ll say anything to get what I want.

7. Hurting people would be exciting.

8. I try to make sure others know about my successes.

9. It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.


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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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