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“Dark” Personality Traits Less Likely to Lead to Success in the Corporate World, Study Finds

  • Psychologists test the idea that “nice guys finish last” by measuring success of those with dark personality traits against those with light personality traits
  • Dark traits associated with advantages in some areas, but poorer performance in cooperative tasks
  • Report notes that many people have a mix of dark and light traits

Seeking to determine if the “nice guys finish last” maxim holds any truth, a pair of psychologists analyzed the success of those with “dark” personality traits against those with “light” traits. They found that while dark traits are associated with some competitive advantages, they are more than offset by negative results.

Craig Neumann and Scott Barry Kaufman define dark traits as things like narcissism and Machiavellian qualities, saying those with dark traits are broadly defined as people who use others for their own personal gain. They say about 1 to 2 percent of the population has dark traits severe enough to qualify as a personality disorder, while 10 to 20 percent have more mild traits.

Light traits primarily involve empathy for other people, including respecting their dignity and applauding their success. Thirty to 50 percent of the population has prominent light traits, while about 40 percent has a mix of dark and light traits.

Neumann and Kaufman found that those with prominent dark traits were successful in some areas, such as having a competitive edge in negotiations. Yet they were also found to be poorer team players in the business world, were more prone to negative behaviors such as theft or abusive supervision, and had less satisfaction in their personal lives. They also did not have higher than average incomes.

The duo found similar results in other fields. Politicians with dark traits were more successful in getting elected, but less able to win support for legislative proposals. Hedge fund managers with dark traits usually had lower returns than those with light traits.

Those with mixed traits were typically closer in their behaviors to those with prominent light traits, showing empathy and good interpersonal relations. However, Neumann and Kaufman also found that they struggled in some areas due to their darker traits, such as being seen at times as callous or dishonest.

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