In the field of personality psychology, Machiavellianism is a personality trait centered on manipulativeness, callousness, and indifference to morality. The psychological trait derives its name from the political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, as psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis used edited and truncated statements inspired by his works to study variations in human behaviors. Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool and scale of the Machiavellianism construct. Those who score high on the scale (High Machs) are more likely to have a high level of deceitfulness and a cynical, unempathetic temperament. In this article, we shall discuss the Machiavellian personality traits.
Someone who has a Machiavellian personality may ruthlessly deceive or manipulate others in order to meet their own goals.1 They may treat other people as mere objects that can help them get what they want and discard them when they no longer have use for them.
This article explores the signs of a Machiavellian personality, discusses the Machiavellian scale, and suggests some strategies that can help you cope with a Machiavellian person in your life.
Table of Contents
- 1 Where Did the Concept of Machiavellianism Come From?
- 2 Traits of a Machiavellian Person
- 3 How Can You Tell If Someone Is Machiavellian?
- 4 Machiavellianism and the Dark Triad
- 5 How to Deal With Someone Who Has a Machiavellian Personality
Where Did the Concept of Machiavellianism Come From?
The concept of Machiavellianism was first introduced during the Renaissance period by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, and political strategist.
In his book, “Il Principe” (The Prince), Machiavelli posits that rulers who are brutal in their quest for power and glory are more likely to survive, succeed, and pass their genes onto future generations than those who are honest or moral.
Machiavellianism, became a term to describe behavior where a person will do anything to get ahead, believing that the end result justifies the means.
Traits of a Machiavellian Person
Someone with a Machiavellian personality may display the following traits:
- Focusing only on their own goals and interests
- Prioritizing success, power, money, and fame above all else
- Manipulating or exploiting others for their own gain
- Having no qualms about deceiving or lying to others
- Being charming and using flattery to their advantage
- Believing the end result justifies the means
- Having a cynical view of human nature
- Having a negative attitude toward everything
- Believing themselves to be superior to others
- Not being able to empathize with others
- Having difficulty trusting other people
- Being disconnected from their own emotions
- Struggling to identify and express their feelings
- Staying aloof and lacking genuine warmth in social interactions
- Avoiding emotional attachments with others
- Being able to read people and social situations, and using this insight to their advantage
While any person of any age may have a Machiavellian personality, research shows that Machiavellian personality traits tend to be more common in men than women.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is Machiavellian?
If you’re wondering if someone is Machiavellian, there is a test that can be used to determine whether or not they are.
The Mach-IV Test
A scale known as the Mach-IV test is used to assess whether or not someone has Machiavellian personality traits.7
The test has a list of 20 statements and participants have to give each statement a ranking from 1 (completely disagree) to 7 (completely agree).
Half of the statements on the test demonstrate Machiavellian attitudes, such as “The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear,” or “Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble.” The other 10 statements convey anti-Machiavellian attitudes, such as “One should take action only when one is sure it is morally right.”
Possible Test Results
The test is scored out of 100 points. People are categorized based on their scores:
- High Machs: People who score above 60 points on the test are considered high Machs as they demonstrate Machiavellian personality traits.
- Low Machs: People who score below 60 points are considered low Machs as they are more trusting, empathetic, and positive. People who score very low on this test may have submissive tendencies.
A separate scale known as the Kiddie Mach has also been developed to assess Machiavellianism in children.
Machiavellianism and the Dark Triad
Machiavellianism often goes hand in hand with other negative personality traits, forming what is known as the dark triad personality.
What Makes Up the Dark Triad Personality?
The dark triad personality includes the following traits:
- Machiavellianism: Being cunning, manipulative, and dishonest in order to achieve one’s goals
- Narcissism: Being incredibly self-centered and having an inflated sense of self-importance
- Psychopathy: Being anti-social and lacking empathy and remorse
People with dark triad personality traits tend to exploit others’ vulnerabilities and may harm them physically or emotionally.
How to Deal With Someone Who Has a Machiavellian Personality
These are some strategies that can help you cope with a Machiavellian personality in your life:
- Recognize Machiavellian traits: The person may come across as confident and charming and pay you lots of compliments. However, if you see them express Machiavellian traits in their relationships with others, it’s important to understand that they will probably treat you the same way someday.
- Don’t personalize their behavior: Whether it’s a friend, colleague, or partner, interacting with a Machiavellian personality can leave you feeling insecure, angry, disappointed, or used. Try to avoid taking the person’s behavior personally and thinking there’s something wrong with you. Understand that their behavior is a reflection of who they are, rather than of who you are.
- Prioritize self-care: People with Machiavellian tendencies only look out for themselves and have no consideration for others’ needs. Practice self-compassion and self-care, to ensure your physical, emotional, or professional needs are being met. Don’t let your needs go ignored.
- Limit your interaction with them: If someone has a Machiavellian personality, try to limit your interaction with them in order to protect yourself. Instead of trying to outplay them or get back at them for something they did to you, it’s best to stay out of their way.
- Rely on your support system: Surround yourself with loved ones you can trust and count on for support. They can help you recognize Machiavellian behavior, see through the gaslighting, and provide the encouragement and resources you need to end your relationship with the person.