Machiavellianism and the Dark Triad of Personality

Alexander Pearson
Machiavellianism and the Dark Triad of Personality

In the 16th century, Nicholas Machiavelli published a political treatise that changed the way subsequent generations understood politics to this day. We are talking about "The Prince", a work in which the author shows his political vision, laying the foundations and explaining those psychological and behavioral aspects that make a leader successful. As a result of this publication, the concept of "Machiavellianism" was born, a term associated with the manipulative and strategic personality. Today, from a psychological perspective we analyze the traits and characteristics of Machiavellian people.


  • The prince of Machiavelli
  • What is Machiavellianism?
  • Characteristics of Machiavellian people
  • The Dark Triad of Personality
    • Links of interest

Machiavelli's prince

Until the publication of "The Prince", politics had been idealized and magnified by a philosophical vision of it, however, for the first time, Machiavelli shows a totally different face of power, a revolutionary vision in his proclamation, perhaps more honest , in which morality and ethics take a back seat when there are certain interests. "Never try to win by force what can be won by lying," explained the author among many other lessons..

With this influential and controversial work, the name of Machiavelli was connected to a concept whose meaning is associated with manipulation, cunning and deception: Machiavellianism, a term that centuries later continues to be used to determine the characteristics of certain people..

What is Machiavellianism?

Psychologically speaking, Machiavellianism is a term that refers to a personality trait that denotes an absolute prioritization towards one's own interests, a preference such that people come to see others as means to achieve ends and for this they do not hesitate to manipulate and exploit others at will to achieve these goals. The vision of the Machiavellian person is completely strategic and succumbs to personal interests over empathy or consideration for others..

Some research has proven that Machiavellian people can understand the emotions and feelings of others, but are able to put them aside when it comes to achieving success. While traits such as psychopathy or narcissism are associated with higher levels of behavioral activation, Machiavellianism is more associated with inhibition, that is, unlike in the previous cases, Machiavellian people tend to have withdrawn and more cognitive behaviors how emotional.

This fits the profile of the astute and strategist individual that we can observe in popular stories, both in reality and in fiction. Some fictional characters with Machiavellian personalities that you may be familiar with are Viscount Valmont in the novel "Dangerous Friendships", Tony Soprano in The Sopranos or Lord Baelish, aka the Little Finger in Game of Thrones. Manipulative characters who do not hesitate to break any moral norm to achieve their selfish interests.

Characteristics of Machiavellian people

  • Excessive focus on one's own ambitions and interests
  • Charming and confident appearance
  • Prioritize money or power over personal relationships
  • Exploiting and manipulating others to get ahead
  • Lie when necessary
  • Lack of ethical principles and social values
  • Use flattery
  • They are often difficult people to know in depth
  • They usually have a cynical attitude towards morality
  • They have low levels of empathy although they understand the feelings of others
  • They tend to avoid emotional attachment and commitment but seek casual encounters
  • They are usually patient people
  • Identifying their own emotions may have difficulties

Given these characteristics, some of these signs and situations are more in line with these types of personalities:

  • Machiavellian people do much better in jobs and social situations in which the rules and limits are not clear and strict.
  • They tend to use manipulative tactics such as superficial charm, friendly behavior or self-disclosure, subtle tactics that manage to mask the true intentions while also being an excuse for rejection. But in some situations, they can also use threats and psychological pressure.
  • Emotional distance and cynical vision make them better control their impulses.
  • They are often chosen in competitive situations such as negotiations or debates, but are not normally desired friends or companions.

The Dark Triad of Personality

The terms narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism are often confused, as they are quite similar traits that are part of the so-called Dark Triad. The Dark Triad is a psychological concept that names this set of personality traits that act from the same axis in which there is selfishness, lack of empathy and self-centeredness. However, each of these traits denotes different behaviors and ways of being..

In the psychopathy trait, harm to others can be sought for the simple pleasure of hurting or even for the pursuit of emotions, but the Machiavellian person usually has a specific goal that he intends to achieve and this serves as a basis for acting in this way..

A Machiavellian person does not have to be narcissistic and vice versa, although it is also very possible that a person presents both traits to some extent, since these two characteristics can be found in psychopathic personalities. Narcissism is based on the personal ego, on a distorted view of oneself that makes the person feel above everyone else..

In Machiavellianism, the version of oneself is much more realistic and manipulation is sought with the ultimate goal of winning, above anyone else. While narcissism is somewhat more emotional and even impulsive, Machiavellianism is more detached from emotions and the person is not so interested in excessive attention or delusions of grandeur as in achieving their ends. A Machiavellian person is something like a "master of manipulation" and not for that reason his vision of himself is excessively high.

Links of interest

  • Meet the Machiavellians. Dale Hartley. 2015.
  • What is Machiavellianism? Harley Therapy. 2015.
  • Machiavellianism, Cognition, and Emotion: Understanding how the Machiavellian Thinks, Feels, and Thrives. Ben Taylor. 2018.
  • Are You Mistaking Machiavellianism For Narcissism ?. 2016.

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