02.10.2020 |

Episode #3 of the course Psychology of evil by Psychology Insights Online


Welcome back! In this lecture, we are going to discuss Machiavellianism.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Even if you haven’t seen the cinematic masterpiece, The Godfather, you likely still have heard this line before. Vito (Don) Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) is the mafia boss and patriarch of the Corleone family. If you watch the movie, there are clear indications that Don Corleone would score high on measures of Machiavellianism. Corleone would stop at virtually nothing in his quest for money and power. He would lie, cheat, steal, and even murder those who stood between him and his goals. While this may be an extreme example, it provides a flavor for what Machiavellianism can look like.

In 1513, the Italian diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a treatise called The Prince. In his book, Machiavelli outlined strategies that leaders can use to gain power and influence by deceiving and manipulating others. Eventually, his name became closely associated with manipulation, and the book went on to inspire numerous famous politicians and leaders.

The term Machiavellianism became widely adopted beginning in the 1970s with the introduction of a self-report measure created by researchers at Columbia University. As with other personality traits, people can score anywhere on a continuum from low to high. People who score low on Machiavellianism are described as “low Machs” and are generally seen as honest, trustworthy, and have a favorable view of people. In contrast, “high Machs” are individuals who are highly manipulative, have a cynical view of other people, and believe that the ends justify the means. On average, men tend to score higher on Machiavellianism, but women high Machs also exist.

How do high Machs treat other people? Simply put, not well. They typically have a goal in mind when interacting with others and are known for employing several manipulation tactics. Unlike psychopaths, which will be discussed in a later lecture, high Machs have reasonable impulse control and are strategically focused on their goals.

One technique commonly used by high Machs is impression management. They want other people to perceive them as being accomplished and frequently use self-promotion. In particular, they often rely on ingratiation, which means using flattery, finding similarity, and projecting modesty. For example, a high Mach may tell a work colleague that they are impressed with their presentation. However, in reality, they say these things to gain favor with the person to make a request at a later time.

In addition, high Machs are prone to using self-disclosure; that is, they open up to people knowing that the other person will likely reciprocate. Sharing personal information makes us feel connected to others. For a high Mach, this new information can be used to manipulate their victim more effectively. Not surprisingly, high Machs are commonly habitual liars and will embellish their status and importance at every opportunity.

Interestingly, research suggests that other people will see value in teaming up with high Machs in situations where their skillset is beneficial, such as in a competition. However, on a personal level, many people see through the façade and will distance themselves from high Machs when possible. High Machs can become predictable in how they behave, making their tactics easier to identify. Other people begin to recognize the pattern and often become angry toward them and may try to get even.

How can you protect yourself from high Machs? If a high Mach has you in their sights, there are some things you can do to avoid becoming a victim.

First, be aware of the signs of high Machiavellianism. For instance, if you believe that someone is superficial, trying extra hard to make a good impression, or is inquiring too much to gain personal information, it’s best to avoid them entirely if you can. If this isn’t an option, then you need to be cautious in your interactions. Take what they say with a grain of salt; in other words, assume that they are trying to manipulate you. Set firm boundaries with them and do not divulge sensitive personal information. In the workplace, assume that they are talking to other people behind your back. In this scenario, be professional but document your interactions with them and keep verifiable records.

In tomorrow’s lesson, we are going to delve deeper into the Dark Triad model by examining narcissism. See you then!


Recommended book

Machiavellianism: The Psychology of Manipulation by Tamás Bereczkei


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