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What is Machiavellianism in Psychology?

What is Machiavellianism?

MachiavellianismMachiavellianism in psychology refers to a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.

Machiavellianism is one of the traits in what is called the ‘Dark Triad’, the other two being narcissism and psychopathy.

The term itself derives from a reference to the infamous Niccolò Machiavelli, a diplomat and philosopher in the Renaissance whose most well-known work became ‘The Prince” (Il Principe). This notorious book espoused his views that strong rulers should be harsh with their subjects and enemies, and that glory and survival justified any means, even ones that were considered immoral and brutal.

By the late 16th century “Machiavellianism” became a popular word to describe the art of being deceptive to get ahead.

But it wasn’t a psychological term until the 1970s, when two social psychologists, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis, developed what they called “the Machiavellianism Scale”. A personality inventory that is still used as the main assessement tool for Machaivellianism, this scale is now called ‘the Mach-IV test”.

Machiavellianism has been found to be more common in men then women.  It can, however, occur in anyone – even children.

Signs of Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism in psychologySomeone with the trait of Machiavellianism will tend to have many of the following tendencies:

  • only focused on their own ambition and interests
  • prioritise money and power over relationships
  • come across as charming and confident
  • exploit and manipulate others to get ahead
  • lie and deceive when required
  • use flattery often
  • lacking in principles and values
  • can come across as aloof or hard to really get to know
  • cynical of goodness and morality
  • capable of causing others harm to achieve their means
  • low levels of empathy
  • often avoid commitment and emotional attachments
  • can be very patient due to calculating nature
  • rarely reveal their true intentions
  • prone to casual sex encounters
  • can be good at reading social situations and others
  • lack of warmth in social interactions
  • not always aware of the consequences of their actions
  • might struggle to identify their own emotions

The Machiavellianism Scale

The Machiavellianism scale is a score of up to 100 resulting from a test that consists of a series of questions. People who score above 60 are considered ‘high Machs’ and those scoring below 60, ‘low Machs’.

High Machs are focused on their own wellbeing. They believe that to get ahead, one must be deceptive. They don’t trust human goodness and think depending on others is naive. Prioritising power over love and connection, they don’t believe that humankind is by nature good.

A low Mach, on the other hand, tends to show empathy to others, and is honest and trusting. They believe in human goodness and that if you abide by good morals you will do well in life. Too low on the scale, however, can see people being submissive and too agreeable.