There is no happiness for dark personalities: only grandiose narcissists are an exception

Dark personality traits

Dark personality traits represent behavioral dispositions for immoral and antisocial behavior, violation of social norms, and inflicting physical or psychological suffering on others. They are most often described through the Dark Tetrad, which consists of four personality traits: narcissism – the experience of oneself as a privileged person, selfishness and high opinion of oneself; Machiavellianism – fulfillment of one’s own goals without consideration for the needs of others; psychopathy – lack of empathy, fear and guilt accompanied by manipulative behavior; sadism – enjoying in inflicting pain on another person or watching another person suffering. Dark personality traits are an important subject of study in psychology because they are related to various aspects of criminal behavior (early onset of criminal behavior, violent types of crime, criminal recidivism), aggression and violence (including violence against a romantic partner and domestic violence in general), manipulation and fraud in various spheres of life. Therefore, research of dark personality traits has not only theoretical value but can help prevent suffering and negative life outcomes for people who interact with dark personalities and society as a whole when it comes to criminal behavior.

Dark personality traits and life satisfaction

Dark personality traits are associated with different outcomes in everyday life, one of them is quality of life and subjective well-being: researchers were interested in whether selfishness, emotional coldness and manipulativeness make such people more or less happy in life. The results of the research mostly show that Machiavellianism and psychopathy are associated with a lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being – it seems that personality characteristics related to inflicting pain on other people make dark personalities themselves dissatisfied and unhappy. However, things are different with the other two personality traits. Research on sadism is scarce so far, but existing findings show that it is not related to life satisfaction – sadists can obviously be both happy and unhappy, their levels of life satisfaction probably depend on other personality traits and circumstances. However, narcissism is positively associated with life satisfaction – people who have a high opinion of themselves, put themselves first, and primarily think of their interests experience greater well-being and life satisfaction on average. This primarily refers to grandiose narcissism (the belief that a person is better than others, entitlement, elevated sense of importance) while persons characterized by vulnerable narcissism (high self-esteem accompanied by fear of incompetence, anxiety and sensitivity to other people’s attitudes about them) show lower life satisfaction similarly to psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Dark personality traits and life satisfaction within the PrisonLIFE project

As part of the PrisonLIFE research project, for the first time we will have the opportunity to explore the relationship between the Dark Tetrad of personality and life satisfaction among convicts, since such research has not been done so far. The issue of these relations in the context of serving a prison sentence is important from both theoretical and practical aspects because we can assume that both dark personality traits and life satisfaction are related to the adaptation of convicts to conditions in penitentiary institutions and the production of problematic behaviors that hinder resocialization. In this way, practitioners working on the re-socialization of convicted persons can better understand and predict the outcomes of the re-socialization process and perform an adequate risk assessment when it comes to problematic behavior in the institution.

Janko Međedović