The dark triad is made up of three malevolent qualities. Machiavellianism shows itself as a disregard for morality with these individuals often doing only those things that are in their best interest. If you meet a person with psychopathy, then you will probably never see a sign of remorsefulness regardless of what the individual may have done.

Finally, the narcissist has no feelings of empathy for anyone else and often has grandiose ideas. Psychologists know that individuals with all three of these characteristics are often seen in the same individual. Many studies suggest that this is true because it is in their genes to act that way.

The First Twin Study to Examine the Dark Triad


The first twin study to examine the dark triad was carried out at London Psychometric Laboratory at the University College London. Dr. K.V. Petrides and others studied whether a person’s emotional traits leading to self-efficacy. The study which looked at whether sets of twins would perform in the same way given a moral dilemma found a strong correlation between narcissism in twins regardless of the circumstances where they were raised.

The study reported in February 2012 did not find the same correlation between twins and Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In conclusion, the studies authors suggested that narcissism was caused by genes while the other two character traits were caused by the environment.

A Look at Humor

Researchers led by Dr. Philip A. Vernon of the Department of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, took a different approach to try to determine if genes played a role in the dark triad and in the Big 5 personality traits.

His team’s study of 456 pairs of adult twins found that there was no correlation between twins when it came to having a good sense of humor or the type of humor enjoyed by different individuals in twin sets. It did find, however, a strong correlation between self-defeating and aggressive humor in twin sets. The correlation could not be attributed to environmental factors. Therefore, the researchers concluded that genes must play an important role in humor that is often seen in people with dark triad personalities.

A Third Twin Study

Dr. Vernon and a team then carried out an additional twin study examining the role of genetics in twins. In this study of 278 individuals, he found a direct correlation between many of the dark triad and the big 5 personality traits. Furthermore, he and his team found correlated genetic factors. Yet, only Machiavellianism showed that it could be influenced by one’s environment.

If you notice that you or your child have personality traits consistent with the dark triad, then you may want to consider having DNA testing done. Understanding how your genes cause your personality can lead to important insights in helping you to build on positive character traits and helping to minimize negative ones. Remember, however, that having a dark triad personality can actually be beneficial when jobs that others find difficult to carry out, such as firing someone, need to be carried out.