Can Donald Trump's personality be linked to the Dark Triad?

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2017 11 Pages

Psychology - Personality Psychology



Can Donald Trump's personality be linked to the dark triad?

Personality and Dark Triad







Can Donald Trump's personality be linked to the dark triad?

His hair is aloft. While he is verbally attacking his adversaries, his fingers jab the air. Donald Trump has been forceful, offensive and loud in almost every public debate he participated in. His success gives rise to questions such as these: How could someone like him win the presidency? Why have Americans elected someone who seems to be politically unqualified? How could someone gain acceptance by bullying his competitors as well as denigrating Muslims, Mexicans and women? When Donald Trump announced that he would run for presidency on 16th June 2015, neither Republicans nor Democrats took him seriously, and some of them saw him as a laughing stock. What was initially perceived as "freak shows" soon turned out to be the main attraction in the media coverage on the presidential campaign the only show (Gökariksel & Smith, 2016, p. 1). One of the interesting aspects of the American election campaign is that, given their approval and honesty ratings, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is viewed positively (Visser, Book, & Volk, 2016, p. 1).

As Donald Trump is now President-elect of the United States, it is of interest to analyze his controversial personality. Therefore the research question focusses on elaborating if Donald Trump's personality can be linked to the Dark Triad, especially to narcissism.

Personality and Dark Triad

Robbins and Judge define the term personality in Organizational Behavior (2015) as the entirety of an individual’s way of interacting with and reacting to other people (p.133). One can easily glean from Mr. Trump’s behavior that he may own socially undesirable traits. This is confirmed by several media headlines: "Ralph Nader says Trump's 'unstable personality' means trouble" (CBC News, 2016), "Donald Trump: Faded Diva Or Aging Lothario?" (Huffington Post, 2016), and The New York Times’ (NYT) "Donald Trump Is Making America Meaner" (2016), to name just one example out of many of this newspaper’s frequently negative Trump coverage.

This paper aims at giving a deeper insight into these socially undesirable traits. It is worth a mention, that we all have these traits, although present to a varying extent. Researchers have found three antisocial traits, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and labeled them the Dark Triad (Robbins & Judge, 2015, p. 93). According to Furnham, Richards and Paulhus (2013), who investigated clinical and subclinical personality characteristics, the elements of the Dark Triad represent the most frequent maladaptive personality traits (p. 199). In a general sense, each of these three elements may be characterized by unique attributes, which do not apply to the other two. Yet, they have some features in common, such as a tendency toward exploitation, manipulative, a high level of self-importance and aggressiveness (Ashton & Lee, 2005, p. 1572). As a detailed description of each element of the Dark Triad would go beyond the scope of this paper, Machiavellianism and psychopathy will be described here only in brief. Since the main focus of this paper is on narcissism, this trait will be discussed more extensively.


The first component of the Dark Triad is Machiavellianism, which entails a strong intention to manipulate others and interpersonal coldness (Veselka, Schermer, & Vernon, 2012, p. 419). A typical Machiavellian story sounds as follows: "Hao is a young bank manager in Shanghai. He's received three promotions in the past four years and makes no apologies for the aggressive tactics he's used to propel his career upward. ‘My name means clever, and that's what I am – I do whatever I have to do to get ahead,’ he says." (Judge, 2015, p. 93). Individuals with strong Machiavellian traits are more likely to manipulate others, are not easily persuaded by others, and tend to behave aggressively. They are often perceived as clever, bold and ambitious (Fehr, Samsom, & Paulhus, 1992, p. 79).


In Robbins and Judge’s (2015) theory, psychopathy refers to a lack of concern for others. Therefore, individuals with a high degree of psychopathy will not feel guilty, even when they hurt others' feelings; both the degree of remorse and the ability to empathize are thus below average (p. 95). Symptomatic for a high level of psychopathy are sentences such as this one: "People often say I'm out of control". In contrast, a statement individuals with a low psychopathic degree would typically agree with is: "I avoid dangerous situations" (Stenason, 2014, p. 6).


"Sabrina likes to be the center of attention. She often looks at herself in the mirror, has extravagant dreams, and considers herself a person of many talents" (Robbins & Judge, 2015, p. 94). Sabrina is exemplary for narcissism. Main activities of individuals like Sabrina include fantasizing about coming into power, beauty, brilliance and limitless success. Therefore, narcissists are often perceived as arrogant and impersonal (Kanske, Sharifi, Smallwood, Dziobek, & Singer, 2016, p. 1).

In psychology, narcissists are understood to be individuals with a strong sense of self-importance, entitlement and need for admiration. Much of the evidence suggests that narcissists tend to be more charismatic than others. It therefore does not come as a surprise that leaders and managers usually score higher in narcissism than their followers, which suggests that a certain extent of self-importance is crucial to success (Robbins & Judge, 2015, p. 94). Narcissists tend to be warm, subtle and gentle to get what they want. They can convey a good first impression and can impress others with the stories they tell. Thus, narcissists are at least initially respected and often occupy positions of authority (Bogdanovic & Cingula, 2015, p. 31). An executive of the company Oracle described his narcissistic CEO, Larry Ellison, by saying: "The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry" (Maccoby, 2004, p. 94). It is not surprising that most people associate narcissism with something negative. However, narcissism can be useful. In a historical review, especially at the beginning of this century, narcissistic individuals such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison or Andrew Carnegie shaped the future by making use of technology and restructuring American industry. Furthermore, individuals with narcissistic traits can win over the masses with their specific rhetoric and outstanding congeniality. They can convince others of being 'personalities'. Nevertheless, narcissists can become dangerous, for example by pursuing unrealistic dreams. They tend to be emotionally isolated and relatively distrustful, and certain achievements can add to their self-assessment as superb (Maccoby, 2004, pp. 93). Narcissistic individuals are rather likely to be morally disengaged, which may facilitate antisocial behavior (Jones, Woodman, Barlow, & Roberts, 2016, p. 3). As an example of antisocial behavior, Sage, Kavussanu & Dadu mention the often-strong urge of narcissists to put their opponents at a disadvantage (p. 455f.). They are highly sensitive to provocations and are out for revenge when they encounter criticism or social rejection (Baumeister, Bushman, & Campbell, 2000, p. 29).

The concept of narcissism is complex. In literature, narcissism has so far been considered as both a personality trait and a personality disorder. Currently, there are indications that narcissism is situation-specific, which means that individuals can become completely absorbed in a narcissistic role, which then makes them more vulnerable and aggressive in case they receive negative feedback, even if they are less sensitive under normal circumstances (Li, Sun, Ho, You & Shaver, 2015, p. 10).

The following seven traits of narcissistic personalities will aid in assessing Donald Trump’s propensity for narcissism (Jones et al., 2016, p. 5):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


From a psychological point of view, it seems almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without mentioning the term narcissism. Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, was asked to summarize Donald Trump's personality. He answered that Trump was "remarkably narcissistic" (Alford, 2015). George Simon, a clinical psychologist, was quoted saying about Trump: "He's so classic that I'm archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there's no better example of narcissism. Otherwise I would have had hire actors and vignettes" (McAdams, 2016). In her three-generation biography of the Trump family, Gwenda Blair describes Donald Trump's behavior at the funeral of his father Fred in 1999. When it was Donald Trump's turn to speak, he predominantly spoke about himself. He began to mention that the day on which he died was the most difficult in his life, and continued with what he considered his father’s greatest achievement: bringing up Donald Trump. Whereas other guests spoke about special memories with Fred, Donald exploited the opportunity to distinguish himself. To sum up, Blair concludes that the day of Fred Trump's funeral did not belong to the deceased, but that Donald Trump had rededicated it to himself and his success as developer of real-estate projects such as Trump Place, Grand Hyatt, Trump Tower, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Castle (Blair, 2001, p. 455).

Several clinicians agreed to discuss whether Donald Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder, and offered examples of possible symptoms. More than one of them cited the tweet Trump published after the massacre in a nightclub in Orlando: "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism. I don't want congrats. I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart". Assessing this statement, the most important aspect seems to be that he was right. Moreover, he failed to express his condolences to the families of the victims and showed a lack of ability to empathize. Other experts referred to the tweet Trump sent out regarding his intelligence quotient: "Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure, it's not your fault" (The Washington Post, 2016).



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Title: Can Donald Trump's personality be linked to the Dark Triad?