People with certain personality traits are more likely to exhibit the ‘seven deadly sins’

New research has found a link between particular personality traits and immoral behaviors like greed and envy. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, indicates that different pathological personality traits are associated with different types of immorality.

“Our interest in this particular topic stemmed from our broader interest in understanding the implications of pathological personality traits for various aspects of social behavior,” explained study author Virgil Zeigler-Hill of Oakland University.

“My collaborators and I have shown that pathological personality traits are associated with a wide range of phenomena including moral foundations, the ability to understand the mental states of others, interpersonal functioning, fundamental social motives, criminogenic thinking styles, emotion regulation difficulties, and utilitarian moral judgments. We thought it would be informative to examine whether these pathological personality traits were associated with various immoral tendencies such as greed, envy, and pride.”

In three studies, with 2,324 participants in total, the researchers examined the pathological personality traits of antagonism (aggressive tendencies), disinhibition (impulsive tendencies), detachment (social isolation and introversion), negative affectivity (a tendency to experience negative emotions), and psychoticism (irrational thinking and detachment from reality).

Zeigler-Hill and his colleagues found that antagonism had the strongest link to immorality. Antagonistic individuals tend to agree with statements such as “I often have to deal with people who are less important than me” and “It’s no big deal if I hurt other peoples’ feelings.”

“One of the important take-home messages of this research is that antagonistic individuals (i.e., individuals who have aggressive tendencies that are accompanied by assertions of dominance and grandiosity) reported higher levels for each immoral tendency that we examined,” he told PsyPost.

“We focused on ‘the seven deadly sins’ of greed, envy, anger, lust, pride, gluttony, and sloth. This pattern is consistent with the idea that antagonism is a reflection of the agenda protection system which motivates individuals to prioritize their own goals and desires over the goals and desires of other individuals in their social environment,” Zeigler-Hill added.

“These results suggest that antagonistic individuals may exhibit immoral tendencies because they are concerned about satisfying their own goals and desires and have relatively little concern about the implications of their actions for others. For example, antagonism was positively associated with malicious envy which involves the desire to deprive an envied person of his or her advantage by pulling that person down to one’s own level.”

The researchers also found that disinhibition was linked to greed, anger, lust, pride, gluttony, and sloth. Negative affectivity was linked to greed, envy, and anger. Detachment was only associated with malicious envy, while psychoticism did not have any significant associations with immoral tendencies.

But the study does have some limitations.

“One of the biggest caveats for this study is that we relied on simple self-reports regarding immoral tendencies,” Zeigler-Hill said. “It is possible that social desirability may have influenced whether individuals were willing to acknowledge their immoral tendencies.

“Further, it is possible that some individuals may have lacked adequate insight into their own thoughts and behaviors to recognize their immoral tendencies. It would be helpful for future studies to employ strategies that avoid relying exclusively on self-report instruments (e.g., behavioral assessments of immoral tendencies in the laboratory).”

“I would also like to use this opportunity to draw attention to the broad efforts of various researchers who are interested in gaining a clearer and more nuanced understanding of the implications that pathological personality traits have for how individuals think about themselves and how they interact with other individuals,” Zeigler-Hill added. “This is a very exciting time to be a researcher who is interested in the darker aspects of personality.”

The study, “Pathological personality traits and immoral tendencies“, was authored by Jennifer K. Vrabel, Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Gillian A. McCabe, and Angela D. Baker.