Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Franklyn Graham, Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D.

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The Dark Triad and Love: A Correlational Study of Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy, and the Use of Deception

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Throughout evolutionary history the use of deception has provided a means to help individuals appear more desirable and increase their number of potential mating partners (Tooke & Camire, 1991). Mate poaching, the act of stealing another person’s romantic partner, is another tactic that has been show to increase an individual’s pool of potential mates (Schmitt & Buss, 2001). Are there some people who possess personality traits that make it more likely for them to use these behaviors to acquire potential romantic partners? Little research has focused on specific personality types that may be more likely to use deception and mate poaching to increase their reproductive fitness. Previous research has identified the Dark Triad; a constellation of inter-correlated personality constructs including psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism as a group of personality traits that are characterized by a selfish, callous, and manipulative nature (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Due to the importance of interpersonal relationships and the negative psychological consequences associated with being involved in an uncaring relationship (Carnelley, Pietromonaco, & Jaffe, 1994; Vangelisti, Daly, & Rudnick, 1991), it is important to identify the types of personalities that are more likely to utilize deceitful and manipulative tactics to gain access to potential mates. By better understanding the types of behaviors used by dark triad personalities and the possible experiences that may occur between partners in close relationships, mental health professionals will be better able to ameliorate the symptoms of those who present for treatment. Further, increased research in this area will add to the current lack of research regarding the Dark Triad and deceptive and mate poaching techniques, providing a possible explanation as to why the Dark Triad constellation has persisted throughout time.    

This correlational study (N = 159) will be one of the first studies to directly assess the relation between mate poaching, use of deception, and the Dark Triad personalities. Linear regression was used to assess the ability of each of the personality constructs to independently predict the use of mate poaching and deception tactics. Independent samples t – tests were conducted to evaluate gender differences between measures of the Dark Triad as well as group differences within eight  separate categories of deception. 

Consistent with our expectations, our results indicated that for the total sample, all three measures of the Dark Triad were predictive of frequency of mate poaching attempts and use of total deception tactics. When assessed by gender, only Machiavellianism was predictive of mate poaching for men while both psychopathy and Machiavellianism were predictive of deception. For women all three personality constructs were predictive of both mate poaching and deception. Gender differences were also identified within the choice of deceptive tactics, with men reported higher use of deceptions relating to dominance, resources and interpersonal involvement. Women were found to utilize deceptions involving body enhancement and clothing enhancements at a higher frequency than men. Over all these results confirmed our hypotheses that individuals who rate high on the measures of the Dark Triad are more likely to utilize deception and mate poaching tactics to attract romantic partners. This information helps increase our understanding of the Dark Triad and the manipulative techniques they use in romantic relationships.










Carnelley, K. B., Pietromonaco, P. R., & Jaffe, K. (1994). Depression, working models of others, and relationship functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 127-140. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.66.1.127

Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556-563. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6

Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 894-917. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.80.6.894

Tooke, W., & Camire, L. (1991). Patterns of deception in intersexual and intrasexual mating strategies. Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, 345-364. doi:10.1016/0162-3095(91)90030-T

Vangelisti, A. L., Daly, J. A., & Rudnick, J. R. (1991). Making people feel guilty in conversations: Techniques and correlates. Human Communication Research, 18, 3-39. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1991.tb00527.x