A study comparing students of different university majors on the trait of Machiavellianism reported that the highest average scores were among students of politics and law, while students of social work, nursing and education scored the lowest. Across all majors, males had much higher Machiavellianism scores than females. The study was published in Personality and Individual Differences.
The choice of a college major is probably one of the most important choices a person makes in life. Studies have shown that this choice is largely affected by vocational interests, but also by personality traits. People with different personality profiles tend to prefer different vocations and thus different college majors.
The link between vocational choice and personality has been a focus of extensive study throughout the world in the past decades. However, studies mostly considered the Big Five personality traits and did not focus on the so-called Dark personality traits. The inclusion of these traits came only recently. Studies so far indicate the individuals with pronounced Dark traits seem to choose college majors and vocations with high potential to acquire power and status, such as business and economics.
The authors of the new study wanted to study the relationship between the dark personality trait of Machiavellianism and the choice of college major. Machiavellianism is a personality trait that predisposes a person to act in a duplicitous way, manipulate others, focus solely on own self-interest and act without emotion or consideration of morality. It was found to be more pronounced in men than in women.
“We thought this study is interesting because it sheds light on how personality traits can impact a student’s choice of college major, which can have long-term implications for their career prospects and success,” said study authors Dritjon Gruda and Issa Khoury of the National University of Ireland Maynooth and Jim McCleskey of Western Governors University. “The study’s findings on the relationship between Machiavellianism and academic major selection are particularly intriguing, as this personality trait is associated with manipulation and self-interest.”
The researchers analyzed data of 35,025 participants from 177 countries found in the OpenPsychometrics database. They divided college majors into 50 different categories and analyzed data on Machiavellianism (MACH-IV scale), college major, post graduate degrees, professional degrees, gender and age.
Results showed that students of social work, nursing and education had the lowest average Machiavellianism scores. Students of politics and law had the highest average scores. This was followed by students of information technology, economics, physics, economics and computer science whose average Machiavellianism scores were quite a bit above average. The study authors noted also that while students of medical majors had relatively low average scores, students of medicine had scores that were a bit above average.
“Personality traits can influence our academic and career choices,” the researchers told PsyPost. “Specifically, highly Machiavellian individuals may be drawn to majors that offer opportunities for personal power and status, and this could impact their future success. It is also important for educational institutions to consider the personality traits of their students when designing course curricula and teaching methods.”
Interestingly, majoring in business was unrelated to Machiavellianism.
“Initially, we did not expect that individuals who majored in business would score quite average on Machiavellianism,” the researchers explained. “That is in contradiction with the manipulative corporate leaders portrayed on TV or social media. Yet, the results make a lot of sense too. A lot of people study business or business-related subjects (e.g., Accounting, Finance etc.) for many different reasons. And most business students just want to get a good business education, most are not driven by self-interest or manipulation.”
When males and females were compared, males scored much higher on Machiavellianism than females across all college majors. There was not a single college major where males had lower scores than females. Additionally, scores of females of all majors were below the average of the whole sample. In males, this was the case only with students of social work, while male students of all other majors had average scores that were above the average value of the whole sample. The researchers report finding no differences between countries.
The paper provides a valuable contribution to the study of relationships between personality and vocational choice. However, it has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, researchers did not examine whether males and females understood Machiavellianism test items in the same way (measurement invariance). If they did not, their raw test scores might not be comparable.
“It would be interesting to examine the long-term career outcomes of individuals with different personality traits and academic majors,” the researchers told PsyPost. “The link between career choices and academic major selection is not necessarily straightforward. For example, just because someone majors in biology, does not mean they will have a career as a biologist.”
The study, “Cause we are living in a Machiavellian world, and I am a Machiavellian major: Machiavellianism and academic major choice”, was authored by Dritjon Gruda, Jim McCleskey, and Issa Khoury.