Study: Narcissism and Machiavellianism not necessarily linked to short-term sexual behaviors

New research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science suggests that the Dark Triad of personality traits does not reflect a common social or sexual strategy.

The two-party study of 1,116 adults examined the relationship between Dark Triad traits and sociosexuality. The “Dark Triad” refers to the three menacing personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Sociosexuality refers to individual differences in people’s willingness to engage in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship or without an emotional connection.

The researchers found that Machiavellianism was negatively associated with short-term sexual behaviors. In other words, people who were more Machiavellian tended to report less short-term sexual encounters. Narcissism also showed an unexpected positive association with long-term relationships, while psychopathy was negatively associated with long-term relationships — but only among men.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Daniel N. Jones of the University of Texas, El Paso. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Jones: There is a lot of misinformation out there about the Dark Triad and sexuality. Many people believe that individuals high in any of the three traits will engage in more short-term sexual behaviors, and are exclusively short-term in their relationship focus. Although these assertions are consistent with the theoretical understanding of psychopathy, they are inconsistent with the theoretical understanding of Machiavellianism and narcissism. Machiavellianism is a trait that is associated with caution, flexibility, and goal focus, whereas narcissism is a trait associated with seeking social praise.

Thus, there are definitely situations where individuals high in both Machiavellianism or narcissism will not to engage in short-term sexual behavior. For example, we surmise that a cautious individual, such as someone high in Machiavellianism, would be not likely to engage in short-term casual sex. This reluctance may be out of concern for reputation, disease, pregnancy, or in the service of some larger goal. Similarly, narcissistic individuals may seek long-term relationships because successful relationships may be a source of praise. Although none of these traits would object on moral or attachment grounds to short-term sexual encounters, the actual behaviors (for example) may be too risky for someone high in Machiavellianism.

What should the average person take away from your study?

That the Dark Triad traits are different, even when it comes to sociosexuality. Specifically, individuals (both men and women) high in Machiavellianism are not short-term focused in their sexual behaviors. In fact, when taking the other Dark Triad traits into account, they are comparatively less short-term in their sexual behaviors. All three Dark Triad traits, however, are associated with permissive sexual attitudes. So none of them object to the act of short-term sexual behavior, but caution appears to differentiate Machiavellianism from the other two.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

We analyzed men and women separately and had reasonable sample sizes for our analyses. However, as is the case with any self-reported study, we have no knowledge of the veracity of behavioral claims, because we did not study actual behaviors. Future research should examine short-term sexual behavior under different contexts. For example, if it brings social praise, narcissistic individuals should be most likely to engage in such behaviors. However, if it would bring social scorn, they should be least likely. Perhaps there is a condition where short-term sexual behavior would be beneficial to a Machiavellian’s long-term goals. Under such circumstances, the results may change.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

There is a lot of media attention focused on the Dark Triad. Specifically that bad boys are attractive, get the girl, are better in bed, and so forth. I think we need to be extremely careful about disseminating empirically unsupported claims of this nature. For example, in our research that is forthcoming, we have found that only certain types of women are attracted to Dark Triad men. Further, there is no evidence (to my knowledge) that Dark Triad individuals are better lovers or better in bed.

Finally, these traits still differ, and we need to stop referring to individuals as “high in the Dark Triad.” Yes, when you are high on one trait you are (generally) high on the others. However, in most cases, one trait is more pronounced than others. For example, an individual either has caution (Machiavellianism) or not (psychopathy), one cannot be both at the same time (e.g., a Machiavellian-psychopath).

The study, “Differential Reproductive Behavior Patterns Among the Dark Triad“, was also co-authored by Melissa S. de Roos.