The Dark Triad.png
Machiavellianism is one of the traits in the dark triad model, along with psychopathy and narcissism.
SpecialtyPersonality psychology
CausesGenetic and environmental

In the field of personality psychology, Machiavellianism is a personality trait centered on manipulativeness, callousness, and indifference to morality.[1] Though unrelated to the historical figure or his works, the trait is named after the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, as psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis used edited and truncated statements inspired by his works to study variations in human behaviors.[2][3][4] Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool and scale of the Machiavellianism construct. Those who score high on the scale (High Machs) are more likely to have a high level of deceitfulness and an unempathetic temperament.[5]

It is one of the dark triad traits, along with narcissism and psychopathy.[6][7]

Core features

Under the recently devised Five-Factor Model of Machiavellianism,[8] three characteristics underly the construct :

Origin of the construct

In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis wanted to study the thought processes and actions of those who manipulated others, and developed a test using a selection of statements, including a few truncated and edited sentences from Machiavelli's works as test items, naming the construct "Machiavellianism" after him.[9][1] They wanted to assess whether or not those who were in agreement with the statements would behave differently than others who disagreed, specifically in regards to manipulative actions. Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool of the Machiavellianism construct. Using their scale, Christie and Geis conducted multiple experimental tests that showed that the interpersonal strategies and behavior of "high Machs" and "low Machs" differ.[10] People scoring high on the scale (high Machs) tend to endorse manipulative statements, and behave accordingly, contrary to those who score lowly (low Machs). Their basic results have been widely replicated.[11] Measured on the Mach IV scale, males score, on average, slightly higher on Machiavellianism than females.[10][12] Mach IV test influenced the creation of assessment scaled like the Dirty Dozen, which contains 12 items and the Short Dark Triad, composed of 27 items.[13]

More recently, in response to criticisms of Mach-IV, researchers developed the Five-Factor Machiavellianism Inventory (FFMI), which attempts to include concepts (like calculatedness and planfulness) that are not adequately captured by Mach-IV.[14]


A behavioral genetics study noted that Machiavellianism has both significantly genetic and environmental influences.[15][16] There has also been extensive research on Machiavellianism in young children and adolescents, via a measure dubbed the "kiddie Mach" test.[17][18] Peer reports suggest that children higher in Machiavellianism exhibit inconsistent behaviors due to the fact that they use both cooperative and manipulative strategies based on how much is to be gained in a situation. Teachers report that children higher in Machiavellianism exhibit a passive-aggressive nature.[19]


A 1992 review described the motivation of those high on the Machiavellianism scale as related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, sociality) in duplicitous ways. More recent research on the motivations of high Machs compared to low Machs found that they gave high priority to money, power, and competition and relatively low priority to community building, self-love, and family commitment. High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost.[20][21]


In general, people high in Machiavellianism will attempt to achieve their goals by whatever means necessary. This includes things such as bending and breaking rules, cheating, and stealing. People high in Machiavellianism are able to easily switch between working with others and using others to achieve their goals. People high in Machiavellianism are more willing to do things others see as terrible or immoral. In the pursuit of their goals, people high in Machiavellianism will even go so far as to hurt and manipulate others if they think it would be beneficial.[22]


Due to their skill at interpersonal manipulation, there has often been an assumption that high Machs possess superior intelligence, or ability to understand other people in social situations. Recent research provides some support for this assumption.[23] However, other research has established that Machiavellianism is unrelated to IQ.[24]

Furthermore, studies on emotional intelligence have found that high Machiavellianism is usually associated with low emotional intelligence as assessed by both performance and questionnaire measures.[25] Both emotional empathy and emotion recognition have been shown to have negative correlations with Machiavellianism.[26][27] Additionally, research has shown that Machiavellianism is unrelated to a more advanced theory of mind, that is, the ability to anticipate what others are thinking in social situations. There has not been enough research yet to show whether or not high machs are skilled at manipulation. However, it has been found thus far that it is unrelated to cognitive abilities as such.[20]

Relations with other personality traits

Narcissism and psychopathy

Machiavellianism is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad, along with narcissism and psychopathy. Some psychologists consider Machiavellianism to be essentially a subclinical form of psychopathy, as they both share manipulative tendencies and cold callousness as their primary attributes.[28][29][30] The approach to testing variables for the dark triad can affect the results of the list of traits. Looking at raw versus residual data, in other words, looking at data for traits that are not predicted, versus those that are, can affect dark triad study results. Traits like narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism are predicted for dark triad personality traits. When these traits are not already predetermined or listed as personality traits for dark triad, certain researchers believe data for unpredicted traits can be viewed more clearly. Using this approach, researchers have reported the dark triad is strongly correlated with less predicted traits like depression and anxiety.[31] Dark triad has been found to be correlated with loneliness and stress as well. Traits like narcissism and psychopathy have been linked to addictive behavior, including substance abuse. The desire to self treat mental health and being more likely to be compulsive promotes the addictive behavior.[32] More recent research suggests that while Machiavellianism and psychopathy overlap heavily, they are distinct personality constructs.[20][33] Both personality traits share more personal and social costs compared to narcissism. Psychopathy differs from Machiavellianism only in impulsivity, a lack of long term planning and self control, as psychopaths tend to be reckless.[34]

Big Five

Mach-IV scores are negatively correlated with agreeableness (r = −0.47) and conscientiousness (r = −0.34), two dimensions of the "big five" personality model (NEO-PI-R).[34] The FFMI corrects for this by including aspects of high conscientiousness in the scale (e.g. order, deliberation).[35] Additionally, Machiavellianism correlates more highly with the honesty-humility dimension of the six-factor HEXACO model than with any of the big five dimensions.[20] Machiavellianism has also been located within the interpersonal circumplex, which consists of the two independent dimensions of agency and communion. Agency refers to the motivation to succeed and to individuate the self, whereas communion refers to the motivation to merge with others and to support group interests. Machiavellianism lies in the quadrant of the circumplex defined by high agency and low communion.[20] Machiavellianism has been found to lie diagonally opposite from a circumplex construct called self-construal, a tendency to prefer communion over agency. This suggests that people high in Machiavellianism do not simply wish to achieve, they wish to do so at the expense of (or at least without regard to) others.[20][36]

Game theory

In 2002, the Machiavellianism scale of Christie and Geis was applied by behavioral game theorists Anna Gunnthorsdottir, Kevin McCabe and Vernon L. Smith[12] in their search for explanations for the spread of observed behavior in experimental games, in particular individual choices which do not correspond to assumptions of material self-interest captured by the standard Nash equilibrium prediction. It was found that in a trust game, those with high Mach-IV scores tended to follow Homo economicus' equilibrium strategies while those with low Mach-IV scores tended to deviate from the equilibrium, and instead made choices that reflected widely accepted moral standards and social preferences.


Although there have been myriad proposed factor structures, two dimensions emerge most consistently within factor-analytic research – differentiating Machiavellian views from behaviors.[37] Although the Mach IV scale is unable to reliably capture the two dimensions, a 10-item subset of the scale known as the "two-dimensional Mach IV" (TDM-V), reproduces the views and tactics dimensions across countries, genders, sample types, and scale category length.[38][39] The "views" dimension appears to capture the neurotic, narcissistic, pessimistic, and distrustful aspects of Machiavellianism, while the "tactics" component captures the more unconscientious, self-serving, and deceitful behavioral aspects.

Hot and cold empathy

There are two distinct types of empathy which people use to relate to each other which are referred to as hot and cold empathy. Cold empathy refers to the understanding of how others might react to one's actions or a certain event. Hot empathy refers to the emotional reaction others might have to an event. People high in Machiavellianism tend to have a better understanding of cold empathy and do not feel hot empathy which explains why they are so cold and uncaring.[22] This way of acting is referred to as a cold to hot empathy gap where someone with cold empathy does not realize the full effect of their actions on others.[40] Instances of adult bullying or mate poaching have been correlated with the lack of empathy seen in individuals with high Machiavellianism. These traits can be seen in different environments including online/internet space. Studies have shown trolling behavior like cyberbullying, non consensual behavior like sexts and unsolicited explicit images or technology based infidelity can be associated with Machiavellianism and its traits.[41]


Alexithymia is considered a key trait associated with Machiavellianism. It is the lack of awareness of one's own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Alexithymics are also unable describe their emotional states.[42] This can lead to problems figuring out one's own feelings as well as connecting to how others feel. Alexithymia can manifest in various degrees, depending on the individual and their environment. It may be product of a limited understanding of an emotion after a shallow experience of said emotion.[22] Alexithymia is suspected to be the reason why Machiavellians focus so much mental energy towards manipulating people and situations. They do not recognize the feeling of guilt and empathy so there is little to no consequence.

In the workplace

Main article: Machiavellianism in the workplace

Machiavellianism is also studied by organizational psychologists, especially those who study manipulative behaviors in workplace settings. Workplace behaviors associated with this concept include flattery, deceit, coercion, workplace cheating behaviors, and abusive supervision.[43][44] Manipulative behaviors in the workplace encompass cheating behaviors because they are ultimately done to advance personal interests through being deceptive.[45][46] Machiavellianism is highly associated with cutting corners in work environments to complete tasks as well[47]

Machiavellianism can also have a moderating effect on job pursuit intentions. This is because job seekers have access to so many internet resources that can provide information and background on potential employers. This wide availability of information about an organization's political climate can have a huge effect on the recruiting process. Machiavellianism can be a moderator in this relationship because "this trait reflects the extent to which an individual would 'fit' into a highly political work environment".[48] Research has found individuals with Dark Triad traits are drawn to entrepreneurship. qualities of confidence, charisma and risk taking found in Dark Triad traits are associated with successful entrepreneurship execution.[49]

See also


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