Dark Triad Test: How It Works & 5 Most Recognizable Features

The Dark Triad test is a self-report inventory that explores three non-pathological yet negative and potentially harmful personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

This test can include anywhere between 15 and 130 questions designed to detect malevolent traits and behavior patterns. Rather than assigning a specific personality type, the results of the Dark Triad test reveal to what extent you possess and exhibit each trait.

Read along to learn more about the Dark Triad test and its uses, as well as to find out how to recognize dark traits in yourself and others.

Key Takeaways

  • The Dark Triad test is a psychological assessment designed to identify three distinct yet often overlapping negative traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
  • The key difference between the Dark Triad and the Light Triad is that the Dark Triad explores socially aversive traits, whereas the Light Triad focuses on prosocial behaviors.
  • The main traits of the Dark Triad are a lack of empathy, attention-seeking, hunger for power, deceptiveness, arrogance, and self-centeredness.
  • The Dark Triad test is mostly used in academia, and though it can be utilized for self-discovery, it cannot be used to diagnose mental health conditions like NPD and ASPD.

What Is the Dark Triad Test?

What Is the Dark Triad Test?

The Dark Triad test is a personality assessment tool that measures the extent to which you personify three dark traits: subclinical narcissism, subclinical psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. This test is based on the work of Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams, researchers from the University of British Columbia.

In their 2002 report on the Dark Triad of personality, Paulhus and Williams described subclinical narcissism, subclinical psychopathy, and Machiavellianism as “offensive yet non-pathological” traits. The term “subclinical” essentially means that the Dark Triad test assesses traits that are not pronounced enough to grant a clinical psychiatric diagnosis.

Moreover, Paulhus and Williams found a correlation between the Dark Triad and the Big 5 personality traits.

Specifically, all Dark Triad traits are linked to low agreeableness, but only psychopathy is linked to low neuroticism. Moreover, psychopathy and narcissism are associated with higher openness and extraversion, whereas psychopathy and Machiavellianism correlate with low conscientiousness.

Though the Dark Triad traits often overlap, each of them describes a distinct construct.

On that note, let’s discuss the facets of the Dark Triad test—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism—in greater detail:

#1. Narcissism

Associated with the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, narcissism is primarily characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, superiority, and dominance. Those who score high on narcissism on the Dark Triad test have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Since they genuinely believe they are superior to other people, highly narcissistic people have an air of arrogance about them and expect special treatment from others. They also react poorly to criticism, expect praise and admiration, as well as show little to no consideration for others. As such, they are usually regarded as self-absorbed, conceited, and boastful.

#2. Psychopathy

Psychopathy is considered the most malevolent trait of the Dark Triad, as people with this trait are more likely to harm others than those who score high on narcissism or Machiavellianism. This is because a high psychopathy score on the Dark Triad test suggests a lack of empathy and remorse, as well as an inclination toward impulsivity and antisocial behaviors.

People displaying psychopathic tendencies tend to come across as reckless, selfish, unemotional, and unsympathetic. They usually crave constant stimulation and struggle with low impulse control, making them prone to risk-taking.

#3. Machiavellianism

Originating from the Italian diplomat, philosopher, and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by self-interest, deception, manipulation, and a lack of morality.

A high Machiavellianism score on the Dark Triad test indicates a tendency to exploit others for personal gain. People exhibiting this trait put their goals and interests above those of others and employ various tactics, such as lying, taking credit for other people’s work, and so forth, to gain power and achieve their objectives.

The Dark Triad vs. The Light Triad: 4 Key Differences

The main difference between the Dark Triad and the Light Triad lies in their focus: the Dark Triad is concerned with antisocial attitudes and traits, whereas the Light Triad refers to prosocial outlooks and behaviors.

Inspired by the Dark Triad, the Light Triad measures three traits:

  • Humanism (believing in the inherent worth and dignity of other people)
  • Kantianism (treating people as ends in themselves rather than as a means to an end)
  • Faith In Humanity (believing that people are fundamentally good-natured)

The Dark Triad and the Light Triad traits exist on a spectrum, with people possessing traits from both scales, albeit at varying levels. And though the Light Triad describes positive traits, an overabundance of any of them can be too much of a good thing; it’s not uncommon for those scoring high on all Light Triad traits to lack assertiveness or ambition, for example.

Dark Triad Test

Let’s explore other key differences between the Dark Triad and the Light Triad:

  • Demographics. Anyone can display both the Dark Triad and the Light Triad traits. Nonetheless, a study by Scott Barry Kaufman et al. suggests that the Dark Triad is slightly more associated with the younger and male population, whereas the Light Triad is correlated with the older and female portion of the populace.
  • Empathy. A lack of empathy is a tell-tale sign of a Dark Triad personality, whereas those exhibiting Light Triad traits have no difficulty identifying with other people. The Dark Triad traits are also largely negatively correlated with emotional intelligence. The only exception to this rule is narcissism, which is associated with higher emotional intelligence.
  • Ethics. The Dark Triad is associated with a tendency toward self-serving, socially undesirable, and unethical behavior, whereas the Light Triad is linked to socially acceptable, ethical behaviors.

Looking for a Dark vs. Light Triad test? Explore the depths of your personality with our Dark and Light Side of Personality test!

5 Dark Triad Recognizable Traits & Features

The most easily recognizable Dark Triad traits include a lack of empathy, deceptiveness, arrogance, self-centeredness, and a hunger for power and attention.

Here’s how they manifest:

  • Arrogance. People with Dark Triad traits believe that they are more important, smarter, and better than other people. Because of this, they tend to lack respect for others.
  • Deceptiveness. Manipulation, superficial charm, and lying are inseparable from the Dark Triad. People with these traits tend to disregard ethical considerations, so they don’t hesitate to deceive others to get ahead.
  • Lack of empathy. People who score high on the Dark Triad test have trouble understanding and relating to other people’s feelings, so they show little remorse for their actions and often come off as callous.
  • Self-centeredness. Those with Dark Triad traits prioritize their needs above those of others. Since they are selfish, inconsiderate, and deceptive, it’s not uncommon for them to exploit others for personal gain.
  • Hunger for power and attention. Dark Triad personalities crave and seek attention, status, power, and admiration. A study done by Ashton Southard and Virgil Zeigler-Hill from Oakland University reveals that narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism are associated with various aspects of fame interest, such as a desire for a celebrity lifestyle. Therefore, celebrities with Dark Triad traits may be more common than you think.
5 Dark Triad Recognizable Traits

Moreover, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto found a positive correlation between eyebrow thickness and narcissism.

That said, a more recent study states that faces only contain valid narcissism cues as opposed to all three Dark Triad traits. As such, you might have better luck discerning the Dark Triad by paying close attention to the personality traits and behavioral patterns listed above rather than facial features.

Now, let’s discuss the uses of the Dark Triad test.

Who Uses the Dark Triad Test & Why?

The Dark Triad test is most commonly used in academia. Researchers often use it to conduct research into the malevolent traits and behaviors people display and understand their influence on relationships, mental health, life satisfaction, and other aspects of life.

Moreover, some companies use the Dark Triad test in much the same way as the 16 personality test. Recruiters may use it to sift through candidates, identify their negative or undesirable personality traits, and otherwise facilitate the hiring process.

Using the Dark Triad test in law enforcement and forensic settings (e.g., as a tool for risk assessment) is also not unheard of. In some cases, it can also be used for psychiatric evaluation.

Importantly, narcissism and psychopathy have their equivalents in psychiatry. They share similarities with the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

Though taking a Dark Triad test online can give you valuable insight into your personality, only a licensed professional can officially diagnose the above-mentioned disorders. Since the Dark Triad test measures subclinical, non-pathological traits, it is not a reliable tool for diagnosing these mental health conditions.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that even though the Dark Triad test can be a great tool for self-exploration and personal growth, you shouldn’t take the results too seriously. The words “narcissist” and “psychopath” are being thrown around quite a lot these days, but only a licensed professional can diagnose these conditions.

Nonetheless, if you score particularly high on one or more traits on the Dark Triad test, it’s a good idea to consult a licensed mental health professional. Learning how to manage these traits can do wonders for your and your loved one’s well-being.

Dark Triad Test FAQ

#1. How do you know if you have the Dark Triad?

You can find out if you have the Dark Triad traits by taking a Dark Triad test. However, keep in mind that the Dark Triad test only assesses subclinical traits. So, for example, if you score high on narcissism, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a narcissistic personality disorder. Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose and treat such clinical conditions.

#2. How rare is the Dark Triad?

The Dark Triad is quite rare, with only around 7% of the human population having a Dark Triad personality. Meanwhile, the Light Triad is present in around 50% of the human population. The rest—43%—fall somewhere in the middle between these two personality subtypes.

#3. Is the Dark Triad genetic?

The Dark Triad is partially genetic, though environmental factors also play a role in the development of dark traits. Although all three Dark Triad traits have a genetic component, narcissism, and psychopathy are more inheritable than Machiavellianism, which is more commonly shaped by the environment.

#4. Is the Dark Triad attractive?

The Dark Triad is not inherently attractive, even though a 2014 study by researchers from Durham University does suggest that women find high Dark Triad personalities more attractive in men than low Dark Triad characters.

Conversely, a more recent study by researchers from the University of Liverpool found that women perceive high Dark Triad facial features as less attractive and more dangerous than low Dark Triad faces.

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