How does the Dark Triad manifest in women?

Alexandra Plesner
7 min readNov 14, 2021

I recently looked at the Dark Triad, a collection of the three personality traits: a) narcissism, b) Machiavellianism, and c) psychopathy (Miller & Lynam, 2019) and could not help but question whether it manifests differently in men and women.

In their study “Does the Dark Triad Manifest Similarly in men and Women? Measurement Invariance of the Dirty Dozen across sex.”, Chiorri, Garofalo, and Velotti (2017) concluded that the Dark Triad seems to manifest in the same way in women and men, although women scored with lower levels.

“To date, tests for sex differences in observed DD scores typically found that men score higher than women on all scales (values of Cohen’s d ranged from .09 to .79), although this finding seems most robust with respect to psychopathy” (Chiorri et al., 2017, para. 6).

Image: Table 3. Dominance styles mediate sex differences in Dark Triad traits. Scott W. Semenyna.

Bias

There still is a lack of research on female deviance, aggression, and crime compared to their male counterparts. Our stereotypical expectations of women are primarily positive. “We expect women to be nurturing, kind, and non-threatening, to men” (Honey, 2017, p. 147).

Women are perceived as less dangerous (Honey, 2017). When researchers focus more on the number of aggression acts perpetrated by intimate partners, rather than the focus on consequences of violence, they “find that women commit more aggression, and men are more frequent recipients of those aggressive acts (Archer, 2000).

Research in cognitive and behavioural science has demonstrated that our biases often blind us to objective reality. Our experiences, environment, and expectations constrain our view of the world.

For example, probation officers are more likely to focus on female offenders’ emotional and social instability, but male offenders are described as more intentional and autonomous (Mallicoat, 2007).

The Dark Triad in Women

There are slight but consistent sex differences in scores of various measures in regards to the Dark Triad.

There are marginal differences in scores of narcissism (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Men tend to have slightly higher scores for Machiavellianism (Christie & Geis, 1970). The most significant difference between sexes can be found on measures of psychopathy (Forth et al., 1996).

Dark Triad Female Toolbox

Gossip

Those scoring higher on the dark triad use gossip to negatively influence another person’s reputation to achieve their goals. Women scoring high on the dark triad traits use gossip-among other strategies to belittle and diminish potential competitors (Carter et al., 2015).

Lying

Among adults, women tell more lies about other people, whereas men tell more lies about themselves (DePaulo et al., 1996).

Indirect aggressive antisocial behavior

In general, the distinction between danger associated with physical violence and other forms of aggression often diminishes the damaging impact of female-typical aggression, characterized by manipulations and cunning (Vaillancourt, 2013).

Sexuality as a tool

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr Vaillancourt said, “Men covet sex. Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining an advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous (Tiernye, 2013, para. 13)”. However, research suggests that the stigmatizing of female promiscuity (aka slut-shaming) “is enforced mainly by women” (Tiernye, 2013, para. 12).

Case Study Examples of Women of the Dark Triad

Serena Nicotine, repeat offender

Serena Nicotine was awaiting a hearing regarding a series of violent offences. At the age of 12, Nicotine was charged in the death of a 3-year-old who drowned after Nicotine repeatedly held her head underwater, and at the age of 15, she took part in a murder of a 58-year-old woman running the group home Nicotine was living (Pruden, 2013). Imprisoned, she continued to be involved in several violent incidents and took another woman hostage in 2000.

Mr Grabowsky, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, stated, “If she were a man, she’d be in a special handling unit and she’d never be given the opportunity to … continually do what she does” (Monchuk, 2005, para. 12).

Lindsay Moran, international spy

“I would later learn, a foreign man/potential source rarely, if ever, turns down the opportunity to have lunch, dinner, or drinks with a young female American ‘diplomat’” (Moran, 2005, p. 7).

To impress women, men are often eager to show off their status and share information, which makes them vulnerable to a woman who conceals her true motives (Buss & Duntley, 2008).

Female spies have an advantage over men based on reading and manipulating people and situations (Ziegler, 2012).

Coco Chanel, fashion design icon

Gabrielle Chanel was born into poverty and grew up in an orphanage after their mother passed away. She climbed to high status because of her ability to read the world around her and adapt. She used to be the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time (Jacobs, 2011).

Chanel had spent the war at the Ritz with her lover, an aristocratic German intelligence officer, and there is evidence she was also an intelligent Nazi operative. (McAuley, 2011).

“Chanel is an icon, an idol in France — never mind the details of her life, her anti-Semitism, her dealings with the Nazis. … she didn’t kill anybody; she didn’t torture anybody. Madame Gabrielle Labrunie — Chanel’s grand-niece — said something to me that I found fascinating. She said to me: “You know, Mr Vaughan, these were very difficult times, and people had to do very terrible things to get along.” Chanel was, very simply put, an enormous opportunist who did what she had to do to get along. (McAuley, para. 9, 2011).

We should not forget that male ideas about moral behaviour set the parameters for women’s lives. Women faced extraordinary difficulties, and access to education, apprenticeship, and work was limited to non-existent (Fuchs, 2005).

Conclusion

  • High dark traits in leaders show a negative correlation with employee satisfaction and long-term productivity.
  • Sex differences in the impact of dark traits on empathy are present but not yet conclusive.
  • Women commit crimes at substantially lower rates than men and are far less likely to commit violent crimes.
  • There are a variety of antisocial behaviours that allow some people to gain benefits at the expense of others.
  • Both men and women benefit from exploitation and control over others to acquire status, resources, or reproductive benefits.
  • “A woman with Dark Triad traits may benefit from those traits, just as would a man with the same traits” (Fuchs, p. 161, 2005).

> My name is Alexandra. I am a creative strategist and currently studying to earn my second Masters, this time around, in Applied Psychology because I believe understanding human nature will help me be a better designer. Let’s connect on LinkedIn and have a chat!

References

Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression in real-world settings: A meta-analytic review. Review of General Psychology, 8, 291–322.

Carter, G. L., Montanaro, Z., Linney, C., & Campbell, A. C. (2015). Women’s sexual competition and the Dark Triad. Personality and individual differences, 74, 275–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.10.02

Christie, Rl, & Geis, F. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York Academic. 2https://doi.org/10.1016/C2013-0-10497-

Chiorri, C., Garofalo, C., & Velotti, P. (2017). Does the dark triad manifest similarly in men and women? Measurement invariance of the dirty dozen across sex. Current Psychology, 38, 659–675. doi:10.1007/s12144–017–9641–5

DePaulo, B., Kathy, D. A. Kirkendol, S. E., Wyer, M. M., & Epstein, J. A. (1996). Lying in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 249–259.

Fuchs, R. G. (2005). Gender and poverty in nineteenth-century Europe. Cambridge University Press.

Forth, A. E., Brown, S. L., Hart, S. D., & Hare, R. D. (1996). The assessment of psychopathy in male and female non-criminals: reliability and validity. Personality and Individual Differences, 20, 531–543.

Honey, P., L. (2017). The element of surprise: Women of the Dark Triad. The Oxford handbook of women and competition. Oxford University Press.

Jacobs, L. (19. November 2011). The enduring Coco Chanel. The Wall Street Journal. 7https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1000142405297020432390457703857281860125

Mallicoat, S. L. (2007). Gendered justice: attributional differences between males and females in the juvenile courts. Sage Journals. 2https://doi.org/10.1177%2F155708510629634

McAuley, J. (2011). The exchange: Coco Chanel and the nazi party. The New Yorker.

9https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-exchange-coco-chanel-and-the-nazi-part

Miller, J. W., & Lynam, D. (Eds.). (2019). The Handbook of antagonism: Conceptualizations, assessment, consequences, and treatment of the low end of Agreeableness. Academic Press.

Monchuk, J. (2005). Killer foils policy designed just for her. Canadian Press.

Moran, L. (2005). Blowing my cover: my life as a CIA spy. Penguin Press.

Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36(6), 556 — 563. yhttp://doi.org/10.1016/s0092-6566(02)00505-

Pruden, J. G. (1. June 2013). Killer faces hostage charges. Pressreader.

Tierney, J. (2013). A cold war fought by women. The New York Times.

Vaillancourt, T. (2013). Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy? Royal Society Publishing. 6https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.008

Ziegler, M., & Borders, C. (30. September 2012). Why the best spies in Mossad and the CIA are women. Forbes. 0https://www.forbes.com/sites/crossingborders/2012/09/30/why-the-best-spies-in-mossad-and-the-cia-are-women

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