Adolescents with heightened “dark triad” personality traits — psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism — are more likely to have sexist attitudes, according to new research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
“We were interested in this topic because social policies need research to better understand how to reduce these sexist attitudes in adolescents,” explained researcher María Patricia Navas Sánchez, a PhD student at University of Santiago de Compostela and member of the UNDERISK Research Group.
“There is little literature that studies the dark triad in adolescents and the communality of these three traits represents a general and stable way of moving through life. We think that the manifestation of sexist attitudes in adolescence could be a specific domain where these basic personality tendencies are manifested.”
In the study, 367 adolescents from six public high schools in Spain completed a measure of dark triad traits and questionnaire about sexism.
The questionnaire was based on ambivalent sexism theory, which holds that sexism is comprised of both benevolent and openly hostile attitudes. Benevolent sexism refers to patronizing, paternalistic, and chivalrous beliefs about women. This type of sexism “has been associated with myths of romantic love, such as considering jealousy as a sign of love and care,” the researchers said.
Navas Sánchez and her colleagues found that both male and female participants who scored higher the global measure of dark triad traits tended to exhibit higher levels of both hostile and benevolent sexism.
Some of the individual traits were also independently associated with sexism. Among male participants, high levels of narcissism were associated with higher levels of benevolent sexism. Among female participants, on the other hand, high levels of psychopathy were related to higher levels of hostile sexism.
“Sexist attitudes are the result of multiple factors,” Navas Sánchez told PsyPost. The literature highlight the process of differential socialization that teaches boys to be for themselves – autonomous, rational, successful, strong, etc. — while girls are taught to be for others — through submission, obedience, dependence, renunciation and reproductive tasks.”
“However, knowing the individual differences of adolescents through the dark triad while taking into consideration gender differences can help to know and implement more effective intervention strategies to eradicate them.”
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“One of the caveats of this study is that non-probabilistic sampling methods were used for the selection of participants, which limits the representativeness of the sample and, consequently, the generalization of the results to the entire population. Future longitudinal studies should clarify the temporal sequences of determining the traits of the dark triad and sexist attitudes throughout the socialization process,” Navas Sánchez explained.
“We believe that working with these personality traits at an early age can influence not only their sexist belief systems, but also the values underlying these personality traits (manipulation, selfishness, and emotional coldness), modifying patterns of maladjustment for others that are more functional in their interpersonal relationships.”
The study, “Associations between Dark Triad and Ambivalent Sexism: Sex Differences among Adolescents“, was authored by María Patricia Navas, Lorena Maneiro, Olalla Cutrín, Jose Antonio Gómez-Fraguela, and Jorge Sobral.