Manipulators who are classified as being part of the Dark Triad (DT) — people with narcissistic, psychopathic, or Machiavellian tendencies — tend to lose their personal powers of persuasion when they must negotiate online rather than face-to-face, according to a new study at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
In fact, when there isn’t a live person to persuade or manipulate, high-ranking DT people tend to do even more poorly in negotiations than the average person.
“The results of this study are pretty clear — once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier,” says UBC’s Michael Woodworth, a professor of psychology.
“We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate, or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience.”
Each branch of the DT spectrum features distinct traits. Psychopaths tend to lack empathy and behave in an antisocial manner, narcissists lean toward grandiosity and self-adoration, and people with Machiavellian qualities are goal-oriented, calculated manipulators.
The research involved more than 200 Canadian university students, a portion of whom were identified as having various qualities on the DT spectrum. Students’ placement on the spectrum varied depending on individual characteristics and attributes.
After being randomly assigned to either a face-to-face or computer-mediated contact group, the participants were asked to negotiate for concert tickets, either as a buyer or a seller, with the ultimate goal of achieving maximum financial benefit for themselves.
Consistent with other studies, the findings showed that those who ranked higher on the DT spectrum were more successful in face-to-face negotiations than they were online. Surprisingly, the researchers also found that higher-ranking DT students were 12.5 percent less successful in online negotiations than those ranking lower on the spectrum.
“While there has long been a fascination with DT personalities and how they can impact ‘ordinary’ people, little has been studied as to how these people behave online,” says Woodworth.
“What this research tells us is that if you want to be confident in your ability not be taken in by these types of known manipulators, you’re probably better off dealing with them online.”
Working with Woodworth on the project were honors student Lisa Crossley, graduate student Pamela Black and UBC Professor Emeritus Bob Hare. Woodworth and Crossley are now conducting similar DT research involving deception.
The study, titled “The Dark Side of Negotiation,” is published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences.