Saints and psychopaths, light and dark: Which personality type is more likely to succeed?

Credit: Melitas/Shutterstock
Credit: Melitas/Shutterstock

There is an oft-touted saying that ‘Nice guys finish last’ and, on the face of it, this might seem correct. If you’re always expending your energy caring about others, perhaps you’re bound to get left behind. If you’re willing to deceive and exploit others without worrying about their feelings, you can look after ‘number one’ and rise faster to the top. But does the research back this up?

In corporate settings, those with dark personality traits are slightly more likely to emerge as leaders and are seen as charismatic but, when it comes to getting the job done, they tend to achieve less and are considered poor team players. Our recent study also found that political figures with dark personality traits are more likely to get elected and hold their positions, but other studies show that they are much poorer at getting legislation passed… Overall, individuals with dark traits engage in more counterproductive work behaviour, such as theft and abusive supervision. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they don’t end up with higher average incomes than their peers with light personalities.

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As a species, we’re fundamentally built for social connectedness, and we depend on cooperation and trust. When those with dark personalities try to take advantage of this for their own personal gain, they do so at their own peril.


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