In fact, in the second book of the trilogy what is directly referred to is MacDonald’s Homicidal Theory, according to which three behaviors appear in childhood that make one suspect a future serial killer: animal abuse, enuresis and pyromania. This theory is handled, for example, in series such as Criminal Minds and gives a lot of play to build the plot, I will not deny it. However, recently there have been advances in research in this branch of psychology that lean towards other types of theories that seem to have more scientific basis, as is the case of the one that gives title to this entry.
According to the book Psychopathy, a multidisciplinary approach by Francisco J. de Santiago Herrero, the Big Five have dominated research in personality psychology for 60 years. What are the Big Five, you may ask, and what are they? Well, they are personality traits. These five traits are based on the concepts that people most often use to describe each other (openness, neuroticism, extroversion, conscientiousness and agreeableness). However, over time it has been seen that this was a model with limitations, so other contributions have been made.
The Dark Triad Model of Personality was designed by Paulhus and Williams (2002) to assess the three most socially aversive traits that can be found in the literature of personalities without any type of pathology. Often, studies are done with subjects from clinical populations. However, the Dark Personality Theory is done with a normative, therefore, non-clinical population and hence part of the novelty. It speaks specifically of three basic components to be taken into account in this dark personality that some human beings have: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism. Next, we are going to see briefly what is included in the book Psychopathy about these three traits.
It comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a mythological character who drowns when he falls in love with his own reflection and tries to kiss it in a lake. The first authors to develop this construct at a «subclinical» level were Raskin and Hall (1979) with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory NPI for a normalized population with the typical narcissistic traits of dominance, superiority, ego reinforcement and grandiosity. But this subclinical aspect was fully developed with Morf and Rhodewalt (2001), creating a model of narcissistic self-regulation with the combination of the traits of grandiosity and vulnerability.
The main components of narcissism are the following:
- Deficits in the elements of self-control/impulsivity and affective/insensitivity.
- Thrill-seeking and recklessness
- Insensitive manipulation as a consequence of criminal behavior.
- Antisocial behavior
- Absence of morality
- Lack of remorse for actions that may harm others.
Other typical characteristics of these subjects when the level is very high is that they believe they are superior to others, have a high self-esteem and confidence level, considering the rest of people as inept beings, with excessive ideas about love, beauty or success about themselves (Emmons, 1987). An important fact to mention is the link with aggressiveness and self-esteem, i.e., when self-esteem is stable, this aggression (attitudinal) will correlate positively with narcissism, and with an unstable self-esteem, negatively.
Its theoretical basis is based on Cleckey’s book, The mask of Sanity (1941). Hare (1991) relied on this classic text to develop the first scientific measurement instrument for psychopathy for the first time with the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. As key features of this construct we find deficits in affect with callousness and poor self-control with impulsivity (Paulhus and Jones, 2014).
This disorder is described as emotionally disturbed with an increased risk of acquiring antisocial behavior and reduced capacity for empathy and guilt. The definition of psychopathic individuals would be to have very little empathy and superficial charm, undervaluing others, so their self-concept is idealized and unrealistic feeling superior (grandiosity), with a continuous search for new sensations. They would be violent and insensitive and very impulsive people who are able to self-control some traits such as fear/anxiety. This construct is the most estimated as dark or aversive in this model because of its great affinity with the criminal area.
This trait has the peculiarity of being the only one of the three that was developed for social research, so it did not have to be adapted from any clinical population. It has its roots clearly in the work of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, a reading which, by the way, I highly recommend. By definition, Machiavellian people are understood to be cynical and manipulative.
Therefore, Machiavellianism would correspond to some opportunistic, calculating beings who greatly enjoy manipulating others, interpersonal manipulation as the crux of success in life, to reach a goal that is usually the satisfaction of the same process, emotionally insensitive, with a certain social charm to carry out their plans and a way to dominate the rest, unprincipled and cold and cynical, as well as the banal attempt to maintain a reputation to prevent their position from being compromised. Machiavellian personalities possess superior impulse regulation, but lack special cognitive abilities.
In a future post I will tell you about the Tyrarchic Model of Psychopathy.
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