The Dark Triad across academic majors?

by on April 23, 2017 at 3:17 am in Data Source, Economics, Education | Permalink

In general, I am skeptical of such results and their typical interpretations, still economics plays a role in this paper and perhaps it is worth at least a casual ponder:

The Dark Triad traits (i.e., narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) have been associated with the desire for power, status, and social dominance in the workplace, and these desires have been hypothesized to draw Dark Triad individuals towards occupations affording such outcomes. Following this reasoning, the Dark Triad may also influence educational choices. Research in other personality traits has shown that Big Five traits impact educational choices: Students in different academic majors differ on Big Five traits at enrollment. The aim of the present study was to explore whether there are also pre-existing Dark Triad differences across academic majors. Accordingly, the Big Five and the Dark Triad traits were measured in a sample of newly enrolled students (N = 487) in different academic majors (psychology, economics/business, law, and political science), and mean scores were compared. Group differences in the Big Five personality traits largely replicated previous findings. Group differences in the Dark Triad traits were also found and included medium and large effect sizes with the largest differences being between economics/business students (having high Dark Triad scores) and psychology students (having low Dark Triad scores). These findings indicate that Dark Triad as well as Big Five traits may influence educational choices.

That is from Anna Vedel and Dorthe K. Thomsen, via Rolf Degen.

So which group is more rational?

1 Thursday April 23, 2017 at 3:25 am

Libertarian economics is predicted by two factors: high IQ and low Big 5 Agreeableness. The so-called Dark Triad are really just a bunch of ways to be low Agreeableness. Psychopathy is just low Agreeableness/low Conscientiousness. Narcissism is low Agreeableness/high Extraversion.

Some people are led to libertarian economic positions by extreme smarts, but others just by not giving a tinker’s damn about other people. C’est la vie.

2 Chadtech April 23, 2017 at 4:37 am

You are way too confident in that statistical reasoning fam. Firstly, the IQ and libertarian correlation is weak and heteroskedastic. Secondly, correlations arent exactly transitive. A and B, and B and C, can be positively correlated, while A and C are negatively correlated.

3 Paul April 23, 2017 at 8:01 pm

The sample for what it’s worth is:

“487 newly enrolled students at a Danish university in September 2016”

Aren’t Danes the world’s gloomiest people to begin with?

4 Axa April 23, 2017 at 4:23 am

Bryan Caplan posted about something similar. It’s very interesting to read Caplan’s post with this article’s perspective

5 Anonymous April 23, 2017 at 11:55 am


6 Lanigram April 23, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Friggin’ scary!

I wonder how the “social Darwinists” fit in….

7 Pipsterate April 23, 2017 at 4:41 am

This seems to contradict previous research indicating that women are more attracted to men who exhibit dark triad traits.

8 cournot April 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

Those who major in economics at the undergrad level are rarely the sort who become Phd economists. The latter are more heavily drawn from pure math or the overlap between econ and math. Undergrad econ majors tend to be the straight businessmen/Donald Trump types.

9 Frederick Colbourne April 23, 2017 at 4:57 am

Weird discussion. I’m not sure about my own IQ, but as I recollect, one test result was 155. I did the GRE test in 1962 and scored in the 99th percentile for both numeracy and language. GRA for my M.A. was 3.9 and for the M.S. 4.0.

But I have never believed that intelligence is was makes a human being a worthwhile human being. I have no idea how the idea entered my mind, but somehow I came to think that high intelligence imposes an obligation to serve those who have lower intelligence.

10 Thiago Ribeiro April 23, 2017 at 8:23 am

We must serve them by ruling them, they can not rule themselves.

11 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:21 am

I think we have a new subject of debate.

But it should also be mentioned that intelligence does not serve as a protection against brainwashing. Instead, it may serve as a source of overconfidence trending towards outrageous delusion. (This is mostly prevented among academics, because they routinely gather to shred each other up and give each other a pat on the back after.)

12 Yancey Ward April 23, 2017 at 11:29 am

Do you own the book To Serve Man?

13 Anonymous April 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

I was told 98th percentile in high school, and I remember thinking that my smart friends weren’t always right. Average kids weren’t always wrong. You have to actually listen.

A lot of years later I still try to listen, and I still hear fairly screwy things from otherwise smart people. I still hear simple truths from anyone.

But not often from this guy.

That guy is an idiot.

14 Thiago Ribeiro April 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Impeach him! #notmypresident

15 Anonymous April 23, 2017 at 1:27 pm

I don’t think you can impeach for idiocy, but I do think Trump voters will wake up at some point and realize they are fleeced condo investors.

That will be an interesting moment.

16 Potato April 23, 2017 at 4:04 pm

I think you’re wrong. This is the fundamental fallacy of assuming politics is about policy. It’s not, and has never been. What’s that meme? Y’all need Hanson (Robin).

His supporters already won, by giving all of us a giant middle finger in the form of a bloated orange potato. The childlike manifestations of impotence and rage we see in the streets means they won already. March for science? What the fuck does that mean?

Politics is, and always will be, about who stands to rise or fall in status. Ergo the march for science. Ergo the woman’s pussy hat march, even though they had no actual positions.

They won already.

17 Anonymous April 23, 2017 at 4:18 pm

What you are saying is certainly true in the short run, but I think the pendulum swings on results.

18 Lanigram April 23, 2017 at 6:51 pm

I voted for him knowing he’s an egotistical narcissist without a clue. I knew and know he’ll never build a stupid wall, can’t bring back industrial blue-collar jobs. Automation, AI, big data, porous borders, and global trade can’t be stopped. All that said, Gorsuch was a big win. I love the idea of denying all those HC donors their political plums. It was delightful to give the cognitive elite and the 1% a nice big middle finger. The tax cuts for the rich are unfortunate, a very bad idea, just like all of Trumps’s ideas.

I still love Trump! He’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole!

Go ahead and cry, and don’t forget the pink pussy hat.😈

19 Anonymous April 23, 2017 at 11:58 pm

Maybe next time Lanigram, vote your better nature. Find a constructive candidate with genuine answers to automation and outsourcing.

Don’t bet so much on a “stupid wall” as a “middle finger,” and non-solution.

20 Potato April 24, 2017 at 12:42 am


Sorry for the weird reply location.

The clean air act was passed 275 to 104 in the house and by a voice vote in the senate. As societies get richer, their revealed preference (demand curve) for air quality increases (shifts to the right).

I don’t see the connection, and that doesn’t seem like a rebuttal whatsoever. Stretching back 54 years for a non example should be a red flag for your thought processes.

21 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:26 am

Voting for billionaires to give the finger to the elites?

Trumpistas never cease to amaze …

22 The Anti-Gnostic April 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm

I couldn’t imagine voting for the greedy oligarch who lives off pure influence-peddling, so I voted for the real estate developer.

23 The Other Jim April 23, 2017 at 9:14 pm

>Impeach him! #notmypresident

Find her a job!!! #notanyonespresident

24 Potato April 24, 2017 at 12:19 am


There’s no such thing as a “constructive candidate.” Politics is not about “solving problems.” What problem are we trying to solve? -crickets-

Automation and outsourcing are not problems and they certainly have nothing to do with the government. There is no “policy fix” because there is no problem to begin with.

You’re halfway right about one thing. The political pendulum does swing one way or the other, thanks to a small set of swing voters (5-10% of the electorate) who change their vote entirely based on random fluctuations in national GDP growth. It’s not entirely random, of course, since the federal reserve ultimately sets the path of nominal GDP.

If you take a step back and look at it dispassionately, you’ll save yourself years of frustration and disappointment. This entire system is based on playground fights about who should rise and fall in status, but in reality is a semi stochastic system determined by swing voters who throw ballots one way or the other to parties that have absolutely no control over the one thing (GDP growth) that they make their decision upon.

Who cares, the federal bureaucracy is still going to do what they want. The figurehead presidency has much less impact than you think. Which makes the entire thing even more stupid and vapid.


25 Anonymous April 24, 2017 at 12:25 am

I have nothing against “alternative views” of politics, but they go too far when they suggest that American history is policy, and solution, free.

The Clean Air Act was more benefit than signal, certainly more beneficial than harmful.

26 dearieme April 23, 2017 at 5:50 am

In a college town, never let your property to students or teachers of Law, Economics or Business.

We’ve found that students and teachers of Engineering, Vet Science, and Archaeology are, as tenants, good to excellent.

27 mikeInThe716 April 23, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Any experiences with Journalism or Poly Sci majors? (Outside of being notably dumber)

28 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:30 am

Measured by what, a test that considers abstract thinking to be defined by mathematical rotations?

These are dumb and pointless arguments. Different people have different strengths. And anyways, it will be a lot easier to train robots to do math problems than to figure out ways to determine priorities at diverse levels (for example).

I once met an engineer who thought the world would be better if everyone were engineers. So … which form of retarded is that? But I bet you he had IQ of 150 or so.

29 Lee A. Arnold April 23, 2017 at 6:44 am

How did the word “rational” come to be so misused by economists? It has almost nothing to do with the original meaning of the word.

30 CIP April 23, 2017 at 7:52 am

It’s a result of the concentration of Dark Triad traits.

31 CIP April 23, 2017 at 7:56 am

It’s a result of the concentration of Dark Triad traits.

32 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:33 am

Back to basics.

If A > B and B > C, then A > C.

And we prefer more stuff to less stuff. More abstractly, more utility to less utility. We seek pleasure and avoid pain.

As for how it came to be misused? Not sure … “Homo economicus” is a curious species, however.

33 BenK April 23, 2017 at 6:59 am

Headline: Psychologists find psychologists morally superior, even at matriculation.

34 rayward April 23, 2017 at 7:27 am

I have spoken many times to groups of physicians on the merits of large, multi-specialty group practices. I include a handout with a list of the pro and cons. At the bottom of the con list is the “Narcissist Problem”, which I cover last. I ask the physicians to look around the room and pick out the biggest asshole in the place. I tell them that he (or she, though unlikely) will in all probability end up in the leadership role for the group practice, and if any of them has a problem with that, don’t join the group. The joke among those who advise physicians is that leading physicians is like herding cats. Only the biggest asshole in the room is capable of herding cats. Placing him in charge is rational. What shouldn’t be missed, however, is that the narcissist is capable of herding cats only because he is herding cats rather than narcissists. God made the narcissist the exception rather than the rule, so that the narcissist could rule over the rest of us. It’s an arrangement that benefits most of us most of the time. But not all of the time.

35 Alan April 23, 2017 at 7:34 am

To heard cats;

Go where you want them to be.

Open a can of cat food


36 rayward April 23, 2017 at 8:02 am

The largest multi-specialty group practice in my area (with hundreds of physicians) is ruled by one person, who decides on his own how much cat food to feed each of the cats. It’s the antithesis of a democracy. And it works. People claim they want democracy, but they don’t. Indeed, Mr. Jefferson preferred the Greek/Roman “household” structure (with him in charge) for his own realm, including slaves.

37 steve April 23, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Not true in our practice. The guy in charge is one of the most decent people I have ever known. Adam Grant’s work suggests that psychopaths don’t do as well as you think. It does appear that the psychopath running the group is a phenomenon seen more often across the border in New Jersey, but when the labor market tightens, they tend to end up in trouble.


38 P Burgos April 23, 2017 at 11:15 pm

If you want to hear cats, take a can of food and don’t open it. (My apologies, I couldn’t resist the pun).

39 rayward April 23, 2017 at 8:24 am

Aristotle’s Slave and Hero.

40 Edward Burke April 23, 2017 at 7:37 am

Povero Machiavelli! –whom I’ve always found open, conscientious, and agreeable, and suitably extroverted even after his expulsion from Firenze.

41 Bill April 23, 2017 at 7:37 am

The Dark Triad


The Deep State.

News at 11.

42 Dale April 23, 2017 at 8:10 am

This type of research is fraught with problems – but perhaps the most severe is that it sometimes does not adjust for gender. I can’t tell about this paper – and I’m not going to spend $36 to find out – but they make no mention of adjusting for gender. The majors they look at are by no means gender-neutral, nor are the traits.

43 philemon April 23, 2017 at 8:31 am

Yes, they did include gender effects

44 besh April 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

…. but they did not use anything near a ‘random sample’ — nor even define the statistical ‘population’ under study. This “research” is a joke, but apparently valuable as blog fuel.

45 chuck martel April 23, 2017 at 10:31 am

The latest study seems to indicate that the more gray hairs an individual has, the more likely that person is to have a stroke, heart attack, or attention lapse. Further investigation is needed.

46 Scott Sumner April 23, 2017 at 8:18 am

Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of econ majors are interested in fields like business. Only a small fraction become economists. I have not read this study, but I’d expect the psychological traits of business majors and econ majors to be almost identical.

Whether these traits apply to professional economists is an entirely different question. FWIW, most of the academic economists I’ve known tend to have somewhat different personalities from the students I’ve taught.

47 rayward April 23, 2017 at 8:27 am

Having made the distinction between teacher and student, how would you describe Aristotle’s own traits.

48 GU April 23, 2017 at 10:53 am

Similarly, lawyers and pre-law majors are not synonymous. Only clueless proles major in pre-law.

49 Jan April 23, 2017 at 8:32 am

No shit.

50 Noumenon72 April 23, 2017 at 8:45 am

No shitposting.

51 The Other Jim April 23, 2017 at 9:15 pm

Sorry, but shitposting is all Jan has. Stop being an anti-Jan bigot.

52 Ironman April 23, 2017 at 9:13 am

Tyler asks:

“So which group is more rational?”

It depends what you mean when you say “rational”. Most people wouldn’t consider it to be rational to engage in either unprofessional or dishonest conduct to advance themselves within their careers, but there are those who do because they get great utility from doing so. And the sad part is that such people can get away with quite a bit of damage to their fields before they’re caught.

Multiple examples from the field of economics and finance are presented here, but the series isn’t strictly limited to those fields.

53 Hopaulius April 23, 2017 at 11:21 am

Are desires rational? I’ve always considered them emotional. “The Dark Triad traits (i.e., narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) have been associated with the desire for power, status, and social dominance in the workplace, and these desires have been hypothesized to draw Dark Triad individuals towards occupations affording such outcomes.”

54 M April 23, 2017 at 9:25 am

Seems pretty dumb to measure the subfacets, take a trait mean and then say “Oh, they have higher Dark Triad scores”.

If you’re doing it properly, you measure all the subfacets, run a Linear Discriminant Analysis between the business / econ and psychology groups and then see if the resulting axis loads on any particular Dark Triad traits.

This way you can measure whether either is really any more (Dark Triad trait) or there is a different axis of separation between the two groups.

(Preferably might be nice to throw in the Honesty / Humility measure and Systematizing / Empathising indexes. Might help explain some of those tendencies towards dishonest / political in group serving / sloppy non-replicable results in psych.).

55 TheNewHumeanBeing April 23, 2017 at 2:01 pm

No one here understand factor analytic personality models.

56 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:41 am

On a relatively small and certainly fairly biased sample? Maybe for practice …

57 Mark Thorson April 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

Isn’t just calling it the “Dark Triad” indicating that you’re going into this research with a strong emotional bias? On that basis alone, isn’t this research trivially dismissable?

58 Curt F. April 23, 2017 at 11:19 pm


59 P Burgos April 23, 2017 at 11:20 pm

The whole “Dark Triad” nomenclature appears to be jargon for researchers in psychology. So, perhaps you could argue that the field of psychology as a whole is biased against those traits, but it would seem to me difficult to determine if any particular researcher or research group is biased against those traits or simply using the jargo prevalent in their field because they are expected to do so.

60 Mark Thorson April 24, 2017 at 10:34 am

Is the field of psychology as a whole trivially dismissable?

61 P Burgos April 24, 2017 at 11:56 am

As a laymen, it is difficult for me to say. My impression is that results in all of the social sciences need to be taken with a grain of salt, as the ability of social scientists to reproduce results can be shaky. Another way to put this is that firm scientific knowledge is difficult to achieve without the ability to relatively cheaply and affordably reproduce experiments in a lab. Personally, I don’t find the phrase “Dark Triad” to be really all that objectionable, if for no other reason than it reflects popular prejudice that people who are narcissistic, psychopathic, and Machiavellian are bad people. Maybe the research appears to confirm that opinion, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, you could view it as something of a marketing trick to get a research agenda. Both results that confirm popular prejudice and results that run counter to popular prejudice will receive a lot more attention than if the three traits were named something more neutral, perhaps using an abbreviation like MNoP or something like that. Researchers need to get paid just like everyone else, so such behavior is to be expected whenever researchers need to compete with each other for funding.

62 Dain April 23, 2017 at 12:12 pm

I once knew a shy, introverted guy who majored and received a degree in econ. Apparently he was some kind of extreme outlier. He was so upset by unethical behavior that he even thought it immoral to embellish on your resume. Not coincidentally, after years of unemployment he sadly drank himself to death.

63 Troll Me April 24, 2017 at 1:45 am

So the moral of the story is that alcohol will kill you if you don’t lie on your CV?

64 The Engineer April 23, 2017 at 12:14 pm

This is a “just-so story” (i.e. “personality research”) used to justify a “just-so story” (economics and businesspeople are psychopaths like Trump).

65 The Cuckmeister-General April 23, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Engineers ARE cucks however and that ain’t no story, it’s simply just so

66 The Engineer April 24, 2017 at 9:10 am

Yet another just-so story. Ask your wife about me.

67 Paul April 23, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Narrow range of majors, small sample. Psychologists studying themselves. No doubt lots of other problems.

68 bellisaurius April 23, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Weird feeling. Walked into a marginal revolution article, left feeling like I read something out of peter watts.

69 Aretino April 24, 2017 at 9:15 am

This explains why I had trouble getting into MBA school, despite having very high GMAT scores and a high undergrad GPA.

70 David Moore April 24, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Some of the analysis here is unnecessarily complex. In order to move up the ranks in economic firms and corporations you need to be ruthless. That includes morally objectionable behavior such as backstabbing, lying, manipulating the weak, etc…. The exception is inventors and innovators such as Steve Jobs or arguably Bill Gates. If you see a “successful” businessman you’re looking
Some of the top salesmen exclusively target seniors with dementia. No one knows or cares because technically the senior signed away his money on the dotted line with disclosures. So it was “voluntary”. As margins for almost all business activity become smaller, the unethical behavior only increases. You reach a certain point in which if you don’t act immorally you’re liable to die of hunger.

“Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” – Honore de Balzac

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