Offensive defenses: the mind beneath the mask of the dark triad traits

Emma N. Richardson*, Simon Boag

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Those high in the Dark Triad traits, i.e. narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism are often painted as either the "villains" or the "perpetrators". The consensus of personality research thus far is that these traits function by playing offense. Nonetheless, there is scope to understand the defensive stance of these traits. In this online questionnaire design study (= 244) the relationship between the Dark Triad traits, defensive strategies and stress were investigated by correlational analysis. Unique associations with stress and defensive functioning depict individual differences in the Dark triad traits. Acting out, dissociation and splitting were the defenses that all three traits had in common; and all three traits were correlated with the use of an immature defensive strategy. An important novel finding of this present study was that an immature defensive strategy was found to mediate the relationship between Machiavellianism and stress. This brings us closer to understanding the psychological makeup of this trait. Applications are discussed within a clinical framework and the case is presented for a focus on theory of psychological defense to be adopted when working with such clientele.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)148-152
    Number of pages5
    JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


    • narcissism
    • psychopathy
    • Machiavellianism
    • dark triad
    • defensive strategies
    • stress


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