Empathy In The Dark Triad: Definition

Personality research reveals a new psychological construct: empathy in the dark triad. We are talking about people who are apparently cold, but who are actually capable of kindness, compassion and emotional connection.
Empathy in the dark triad: definition

In general, it is assumed that the psychopath, the Machiavellian and the narcissist lack genuine empathy. However, this discourse is more complex than one might think. So much so that from the field of personality there is already talk of a new variable as interesting as it is revolutionary: empathy in the dark triad.

What is it about? It is a new psychological construct that defines a very small slice of the population. These are individuals who, although they have some traits of the classic dark triad of personality, reveal a less dark and even compassionate side. The data has attracted the attention of experts and it seems that research in this direction is destined to continue.

Some call them anti heroes. Most of them are men who, although they display somewhat cold behavior and even some mastery of the art of manipulation, hide talent, personal responsibility and even kindness.

What is the dark triad?

Evolutionary psychology has advanced the hypothesis that the traits of the dark triad may give humanity a certain impetus. Skills such as resolution, the ability to lead others, make quick decisions in complex conditions, or not backing down when you have a goal in mind are clearly beneficial.

But what do we mean when we talk about the dark triad? It is a psychological theory, formulated in 2002 by Paulhus and Williams, which contains three characteristics of the personality: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. These traits define a clearly malign personality in which emotional coldness, aggression and falsehood stand out.

But what would you answer if we told you that the broad spectrum of traits that defines a dark profile also includes a more compassionate and civic part? Recent studies reveal that a new personality trait called dark empathy has been discovered which, in some ways, represents the more positive side of the dark triad. Let’s see it in detail.

dark empathy in the triad: intense connection and dark traits

The research was published in July 2020. The Universities of Nottingham and Bishop Grosseteste (UK), together with Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand), conducted a study to better understand the role of empathy in the dark triad. It emerged that:

  • Neither the psychopathic nor the narcissistic and Machiavellian personality show dark empathy. They feel empathy if they perceive the emotional reality of others, but it is a resource they use to better manipulate. Their empathy is clearly instrumental.
  • Nevertheless, thanks to this research conducted on a sample of almost a thousand people, an extraordinary fact was discovered. While showing obscure traits, 19.3% showed a different type of empathy, very high. They were able to connect and feel the reality of each other and even feel compassion. This empathy has been called dark empath (DE) or dark empathy.

So can there be empathic psychopaths? Are there any compassionate narcissists? In fact, the study shows that people with “certain” psychopathic, Machiavellian or narcissistic traits may experience a dark form of empathy.

Man in profile.

What are the characteristics of empathy in the dark triad?

These are mostly men. In the world of cinema and literature they are presented as the classic mysterious or malevolent characters who reveal that they have a good heart. He is the vampire who does not drink blood, the cold, shrewd and antisocial detective, but who always defends and cares for the needy. The calculating thief, who leads his group and who commits a criminal act only for a good cause.

These prototypical images demonstrate that at times the characteristics of the dark triad can be oriented towards a noble end, hence the interest of psychology. After all, these personalities embody a number of traits that can be useful in some professional careers : spies, soldiers, doctors, and even public officials.

Extroversion and neurosis

Dark empathy is accompanied by dynamic and clearly extroverted behaviors, which do not make it difficult to express their feelings to others.

Likewise, these people exhibit neurotic traits . In other words, they can show emotional ups and downs (anxiety, depression, phobias, etc). Very often they become trapped in their own emotional pain.

Friendly, sociable and pleasant in social relations

Kindness is genuine. The person does not fake his feelings and enjoys relating to others, creating an authentic connection with them.

Man looking through a window.

Participatory leadership

One of the common traits in the dark triad is a thirst for power. These individuals like it, define them and feel satisfied with their leadership.

Empathy in the dark triad makes that leadership more human. These people are capable of bringing out the best in others for the good of all. They are leaders who inspire, participate and improve the psychological health of others.

Empathy in the dark triad: a vulnerable narcissism

Another trait of this highly empathic personality is narcissistic vulnerability. He is easily offended. She understands and respects the reality of others, but is strongly influenced by negative comments or certain behaviors.

Imperfect, but brilliant

This profile tends to show great expertise in many areas. He is talented, he is a good leader, he interacts very well with the people around him. Although, of course, he continues to display complex traits, such as a certain narcissism and clear manipulative skills.

Studies on this personality variable will continue over the next few years. Thanks to that, we will be able to learn more about these fascinating figures.

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