The Machiavellian Personality

The term Machiavellian originates from an Italian diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote a classic treatise, The Prince, in 1513 (Machiavelli,1966/1513). Machiavelli observed, in his diplomatic role, that leaders come and go, rising and falling as they gain and lose power. The Prince is a book of advice on acquiring and maintaining power, which Machiavelli wrote to ingratiate himself with a new ruler after the one that he had served had been overthrown. The advice is based on tactics for manipulating others and is entirely lacking in traditional values, such as trust, honor, and decency. One passage in the book, for example, notes that "men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack for victims for his deceptions" (Machiavelli, 1966/1513, p. 63). The adjective


Machiavellian eventually came to be associated with a manipulative strategy of social interaction and with a personality style that uses other people as tools for personal gain.

Intrigued by the possibility that an important personality type might be contained within this classic work, two psychologists—Richard Christie and Florence Geis—developed a self-report scale to measure individual differences in Machiavellianism (Christie & Geis, 1970). The following are some sample items from the test, with the Machiavellian direction noted in parentheses:

Niccolo Machiavelli, after whom the trait of Machiavellianism was named, wrote a book on strategies for manipulating others.

The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear (true). Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble (true). Honesty is the best policy in all cases (false).

• Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so (true).

• Most people are basically good and kind (false).

• Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives (false).

• The biggest difference between most criminals and other people is that criminals are stupid enough to get caught (true).

• It is wise to flatter important people (true).

As you can see from these items the high scorer on the Machiavellianism scale (called a "high Mach") is manipulative, has a cynical worldview, treats other people as tools to be used for personal ends, does not trust other people, and lacks empathy. The low scorer on the Machiavellianism scale

(called a "low Mach") is trusting, em-pathic, believes that things are clearly either right or wrong, and views human nature as basically good.

According to a review of the literature on Machiavellianism, high and low scorers represent two alternative strategies of social conduct (Wilson, Near, & Miller, 1996). The high Mach represents an exploitative social strategy—one that betrays friendship and uses other people opportunistically. Theoretically, this strategy works best in social situations when there is room for innovation, rather than those that are highly constrained by rules. For example, political consulting or the world of an independent entrepreneur might be relatively unconstrained, allowing much latitude for the high Mach to operate. The more structured world of universities, on the other hand, might allow fewer opportunities for the high Machs to ply their skills.

The low Mach, in contrast, represents a strategy of cooperation, sometimes called tit-for-tat. This strategy is based on reciprocity—you help me, and I'll help you in return, and we will both be better off as a result. This is a long-term social strategy, in contrast to the short-term strategy of the high Mach.

According to this view, the success of the high Mach should depend greatly on the context, rather than being uniform across contexts. One study examined this prediction in a real-world setting by studying the sales performance of stockbrokers from two different organizational contexts (Shultz, 1993). One organizational context, the NYNEX, is a highly structured stock brokerage and rule-bound, with little room for the salespeople to innovate or improvise. Employees are required to follow a two-volume manual of rules. The second organizational context, represented by stock brokerages such as Merrill Lynch and Shearson, Lehman, and Hutton, is more loosely structured and allows more opportunities for wheeling and dealing.

The sales success of stockbrokers who were high and low Machs was evaluated by the size of the commissions earned by the individuals in the two organizational contexts. In the loosely structured organizations, such as Merrill Lynch, the high Machs had more clients and earned fully twice as many commissions as the low Machs. On the basis of this impressive finding, one might be tempted to conclude that Machiavellianism is a successful strategy of social influence in general. However, in the more tightly structured organizations, the low Machs earned twice as much money on commissions as the high Machs. This study illustrates a key point about the Machiavellian social strategy of influence—its success is highly context-dependent. Thus, Machiavellianism is not a social strategy that works all the time. Social situations with lots of rules do not allow high Machs to con others, tell lies, and betray those who trust them with impunity. In these situations, the high Machs get caught, sustain damage to their reputations, and are often fired. In more fluid occupational contexts, high Machs succeed because they can wheel and deal, move quickly from one situation to another, and exploit the opportunities available in these less rule-bound settings.

A number of studies suggest that Machiavellianism is a social strategy in which practitioners are quick to betray others (Wilson et al., 1996). Is there direct evidence that high Machs betray more often than other people do? In one laboratory study, participants were given an opportunity to steal money in a worker-supervisor situation (Harrell & Hartnagel, 1976). The participants played the role of workers. They were supervised by a person who acted trustingly and who stated that he or she did not need to monitor the workers closely. In this study, the high Machs were far more likely to steal from the trusting supervisor than were the low Machs. A full 81 percent of the high Machs stole money, as contrasted with only 24 percent of the low Machs. Furthermore, the high Machs who did steal took a larger amount of money than those few low Machs who stole, they tended to conceal their theft, and they lied more often to the supervisor when questioned about the theft.

Not only do high Machs lie and betray others' trust more than low Machs, but there is also evidence that they make more believable liars (Exline et al., 1970; Geis & Moon, 1981). In one study, high and low Machs were instructed to cheat on a task and then to lie to the experimenter about having cheated (Exline et al., 1970). The experimenter then became increasingly suspicious and questioned the participants about whether they had cheated. The high Machs were able to maintain greater eye contact than the low Machs. Fewer of the high Machs than the low Machs confessed. Finally, when rated by judges who had no prior knowledge of the participants' scores on the Machiavellianism scale, the high Machs were judged to be better liars than the low Machs.

The manipulative tactics used by the high Machs extend to the romantic and sexual domains. High Machs, compared to their low Mach peers, are more likely to feign love in order to get sex (e.g., "I sometimes say 'I love you' when I don't really mean it to get someone to have sex with me"), get a partner drunk in order to induce the partner to have sex, and even express a willingness to use force to achieve sex with an unwilling partner (McHoskey, 2001). And as in other types of relationships, high Machs are more likely to cheat on their romantic partner and to be sexually unfaithful with other people. Interestingly, all of these links between Machiavellianism and specific tactics of manipulation are stronger for the male than for the female sample.

The Machiavellian strategy has many advantages, but it also has costs. By betraying, cheating, and lying, the high Mach runs the risk of retaliation and revenge by those who were exploited. Furthermore, the high Mach is more likely than the low Mach to incur damage to his or her reputation. Once people acquire reputations as exploitative, other people are more likely to avoid them, and refuse to interact with them. In short, the high Mach strategy seems most effective in contexts that are loosely structured and perhaps short-term, so that the manipulator can quickly escape to another social context before incurring the costs associated with reputational damage.

This in-depth discussion of the Machiavellian strategy also illustrates the three key processes by which personality affects social interaction, bringing us back full circle to the three central processes of personality and social interaction. First, the high Mach tends to select situations that are loosely structured, untethered by rules that would restrict the deployment of an exploitative strategy. Second, the high Mach tends to evoke specific reactions from others, such as anger and retaliation for having been exploited. Third, the high Mach tends to manipulate other people in predictable ways, using tactics that are exploitative, self-serving, and deceptive.

Sex Differences in Tactics of Manipulation

Do men and women dif fer in their usage of tactics of manipulations? Buss (1992) found that, by and large, the answer is no. Women and men equally performed almost all of the tactics of social influence. There was only one small exception: the regression tactic. In samples of dating couples and married couples, the women more than the men reported more frequent use of the regression tactic, including crying, whining, pouting, and sulking to get their way . The difference, however, was quite small, supporting the overall conclusion that men and women, in general, are similar in their performance of tactics of manipulation.

Personality Predictors of Tactics of Manipulation

The next interesting question is whether people with certain personality traits are more likely to use certain tactics of manipulation. A sample of more than 200 participants (Buss, 1992) rated each act of influence on the degree to which they used it in each of four rela tionships—spouse, friend, mother, and father. Then, correlations were computed between the personality traits of the participants and their use of each tactic of manipulation.

Those scoring relatively high in sur gency (dominance, extraversion) tended to use coercion, such as demanding, threatening, cursing, and criticizing in order to get their way. The highly surgent people also tended to use responsibility invocation, getting others to make commitments to a course of action and saying that it was their duty to do it.

Those scoring low in sur gency (relatively submissive individuals) used the self-abasement tactic as a means of influencing others. They lowered themselves, for example, or tried to look sickly to get others to do what they wanted. Interestingly, these submissive individuals also tended to use the hardball tactic more often than their sur gent counterparts. That is, they used deception, lying, degradation, and even violence to get others to do what they wanted.

The two primary tactics of influence used by highly agreeabl people are pleasure induction and reason. That is, these agreeable individuals tell and show others how enjoyable the activity will be, explain the rationale for wanting others to engage in particular behaviors, and point out all the good things that will come from doing them.

Those who are disagreeable, in contrast, frequently use coercion and the silent treatment. Not only do they threaten, criticize, yell, and scream in order to get their way , they also give the stony silent look and refuse to speak to the other until he or she complies. Low-agreeable individuals are also likely to seek revenge on people whom they have perceived to have wronged them in some way , supporting the general use of cost-inflicting rather than benefit-bestowing tacti of manipulation (McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001). Interestingly, low-agreeable individuals tend to be more selfish in thei use of collective resources, whereas high-agreeable individuals exercise more self-restraint when the group' s resources are scarce or threatened (Koole, Jager, van den Ber g, Vlek, & Hofstee, 2001).

The personality disposition of conscientiousness is associated with only one tactic of social influence—reason. Conscientious indi viduals explain why they want the other person to do something,

The "silent treatment" is a manipulation strategy often employed by persons high on the trait of disagreeableness.
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  • celendine
    What is a machiavellian personality?
    2 months ago
  • priscilla
    How to use machiavellian tactics?
    10 days ago

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