Many factors can contribute to a person’s eating habits, including personality traits. The Dark Triad personality traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism have been linked to many negative outcomes, but their relationship to disordered eating has been underexplored. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looks at how these traits related to uncontrolled, restrained, and emotional eating.
Eating disorders have been linked to personality traits before, such as high neuroticism, perfectionism, lower self-esteem, and introversion. Despite this, research focusing on the eating patterns of people high in Dark Triad personality traits has been minimal. Dark Triad personality traits have been linked to many negative behaviors and outcomes for people, including impulsivity, manipulation, and selfishness.
Previous research has explored meat eating habits of Dark Triad personality traits using German samples, and this research aims to delve deeper into how these personality traits relate to disordered eating and eating disorders.
“The Dark Triad is a hot topic in personality psychology, clinical psychology, and evolutionary psychology. Researchers have examined various intrapersonal, interpersonal, and behavioral correlates. In current study, we conducted an exploration study to examine the associations between the Dark Triad and eating behaviors,” wrote Liping Shi and colleagues.
For their study, the researchers utilized a sample of 361 participants recruited online over several social media platforms. Participants were predominantly college educated and majority women. Participants completed online measures assessing Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, eating behaviors, and demographics. Male participants showed higher rates of narcissism and primary psychopathy than female participants, which is consistent with previous research.
Women who showed high levels of Machiavellianism showed lower levels of uncontrolled eating, suggesting that Machiavellianism may be beneficial for protecting people from disordered eating patterns. “The fact that Machiavellianism was associated with lower uncontrolled eating behaviors deserves attention,” Shi and colleagues wrote.
The researchers noted that Machiavellianism has been associated with strategic planning and a longer-term orientation. “Perhaps these characteristics may promote a slow life strategy and thereby diminish uncontrolled eating behaviors. Another possible hypothesis is that dieting may work primarily as a female strategy in mating and status competition. Dieting and the resulting thinness can increase one’s attractiveness and enhance status in female groups, especially when cultural and fashion emphasis on thinness is strong.”
Secondary psychopathy was associated with higher uncontrolled eating in both sexes, and higher emotional eating for men only. “Previous research has revealed that, compared to primary psychopathy (emotionally stable psychopathy), secondary psychopathy (neurotic psychopathy) is a better predictor of uncontrolled behaviors such as substance abuse, aggression, and criminality,” Shi and colleagues noted.
Narcissism, meanwhile, was associated with higher uncontrolled eating and higher emotional eating among men. “These results suggest that narcissism uniquely predicted reckless eating behaviors in men,” the researchers said. “An explanation for the obtained results is that narcissism is positively associated with impulsivity.”
This study took significant steps into addressing the gap in literature that existed around the Dark Triad and eating behaviors. Despite this, there are limitations to note. Firstly, all measures were self-report, which leaves the possibility of bias and/or lying. Additionally, only one form of narcissism was assessed; future research could include multiple forms of narcissism. Lastly, the sample was Chinese-speaking; future research could focus on using a broader sample that includes Western and non-Western participants.
The study, “Differential Eating Behavior patterns among the Dark Triad“, was authored by Liping Shi, Shijin Sun, and Yaoguo Geng.