This Personality Trait Can Predict Unethical Behavior

What do Frank Underwood of “House of Cards,” Cersei Lannister of “Game of Thrones” and Blair Waldorf of “Gossip Girl” have in common?

They’re some of TV’s most unscrupulous characters, and they’re the epitome of Machiavellian leaders who rule by fear and manipulation.

Machiavellianism, the tendency to be manipulative and dishonest in one’s interactions with others, is a defining characteristic of some people. The trait has been relatively overlooked when assessing personality, but a new study by psychologists from Carnegie Mellon University argues that a new dimension of personality that relates to that characteristic should be studied.

Psychologists have traditionally looked to the “Big Five” personality traits — which consist of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience — as a means of taking a thorough assessment of a person’s attitudes and behaviors.

But the study’s authors say a sixth dimension, Honesty-Humility, should be added to the Big Five to help account for behavior that’s unethical, manipulative and self-serving. The dimension is taken from the HEXACO personality inventory, a six-factor model that expands on the Big Five. Presumably, people who are low in Honesty-Humility — i.e., those who are dishonest and self-serving — would be the most Machiavellian.

The only Big Five trait that might come close to measuring Machiavellian behavior is agreeableness, as a person very low in agreeableness is likely to behave in an undesirable way toward others, although not necessarily to be manipulative.

In the new study, the Carnegie Mellon researchers asked a group of participants to complete the HEXACO personality test. Then, the participants played games in which it was possible to cheat. They found that the participants who cheated in a dice-rolling game in order to win a small cash reward scored lower in Honesty-Humility. Cheating did not, however, correlate with any other Big Five —> Read More