The Dark Tetrad personality traits of sadism, narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism have long been associated with perpetrating negative behavior, but can they also put someone at higher risk for victimization? A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggest that these traits may be associated with higher rates of being the victim of bullying.
Bullying is a serious and pervasive problem that can be associated with many negative outcomes for victims, including depression, anxiety, substance use, and even suicidality. Due to these potentially grave outcomes, research has attempted to delve into the dynamics surrounding bullying, including what makes people more likely to become a perpetrator and/or a victim of bullying.
The Dark Tetrad traits are typically linked with antisocial and criminal behaviors. They are personality traits that are frequently associated with a lack of empathy, increased manipulation, and a disregard for other people.
Though these tendencies seem to go along with perpetrating bullying, there is some evidence suggesting that they can also be linked to victimization, although the research is limited. This study seeks to extend and expand upon this previous research by exploring how these four “dark” personality traits may be linked to being bullied.
In their study, David Pineda and colleagues utilized 393 adolescents recruited from four high schools in Spain. Participants ranged in age from 12 to 18-years-old. Participants were given the option of completing measures on paper or online during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years. Participants completed self-report measures on peer bullying, dark personality traits, and demographic information.
The bullying assessment included seven subscales that measured physical abuse, verbal abuse, direct social exclusion, indirect social exclusion, threats, cyberbullying, and object-based aggression.
Results showed that all aspects of the Dark Tetrad showed significant relationships with some aspects of being bullied. Machiavellianism was related to being physically and verbally abused, as well as directly and indirectly excluded. Narcissism was the personality trait least associated with victimization and was correlated with being physically abused only. Sadism and psychopathy were both correlated with all bullying dimensions. The Dark Tetrad traits are estimated to explain 14% of the variance of being a victim of bullying, with the most predictive power being for experiencing verbal abuse.
This study took important steps into further exploring an under-researched concept that people who exhibit antisocial personality traits may be more likely to be victimized. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that though relationships were significant, many of them were weak. Additionally, some of the factors utilized showed low internal consistency, which could affect the validity of results. Lastly, self-report is vulnerable to bias, especially for sensitive topics such as undesirable traits and bullying.
“A sociocultural shared belief is that ‘being bad’ or presenting negative or dark personality tendencies usually determines malevolent behaviors, such as bullying, but it is less usual to expect that these same traits are related to suffering victimization,” the researchers concluded.
“Given the cross-sectional nature of this study, it cannot be concluded with certainty whether victimization caused individuals to develop dark personalities or whether victims were already predisposed to these darker traits, but the need to know the personality of these victims is just as relevant as knowing the personality of bullies in order, for example, to design prevention and intervention programs aimed at all actors in bullying (perpetrators and victims). For now, this study shows that some of the traits of the Dark Tetrad, mainly sadism and psychopathy, are related to being a victim of bullying.”
The study, “Dark tetrad personality traits also play a role in bullying victimization“, was authored by David Pineda, Pilar Rico-Bordera, Ana Martínez-Martínez, Manuel Galán, and José A. Piqueras.