None of us are perfect, and all of us occasionally do things that hurt other people. But, some people do things that hurt other people far more often, and with far more serious consequences, than the rest of us do. Psychologists have been interested for many years in understanding people who regularly harm other people – whether through dishonesty, greed, manipulation, irresponsibility, treating others unfairly, criminal behavior (such as stealing, aggression, and sexual assault), or otherwise hurting people who don’t deserve it.
Since the 1950s, researchers have studied a large number of “dark” personality traits that include disregard of other people’s well-being as a central component. This research has shown not only that some people are predisposed to behave in ways that hurt others but has also identified particular traits that are associated with specific patterns of harmful behaviors. For example, patterns of unethical, anti-social behavior can arise from low empathy, manipulativeness, moral disengagement, narcissistic entitlement, impulsivity, and a number of other dark traits. Not all bad people are the same.
A team of European psychologists has recently completed a program of research showing that, despite their differences, all of these antisocial traits share a common core, which they called the Dark Factor of Personality, or just D for short. This personality characteristic involves the degree to which people single-mindedly focus on achieving their goals – whatever those might be at the moment – while callously disregarding the fact that their actions hurt other people or even by intentionally hurting other people to get what they want.
– Mark Leary Ph.D.
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