Characteristics Of A Psychopath And The Making Of The Dark Tetrad

The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s conversation with Dr. Del Paulhus on the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and the newly added sadism. You can listen to or watch the full podcast on DailyWire+.

Podcast time: 10:54

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson:

I know that the Dark Triad has morphed into the Dark Tetrad to some degree, and I am also curious as to what you have to say about the overlap between the Dark Tetrad qualities and personality disorder categories, especially in the histrionic, antisocial, and narcissistic categories. Obviously, that shades into personality pathology. (to Dr. Del Paulhus) Can I define the three traits and have you correct my definitions, if you would?

As you pointed out, Machiavelli was an advisor to princes who was really interested in some sense in the outright maintenance of instrumental power. I would not say he was driven by any intrinsic ethic. Machiavelli gave advice to princes who wanted to maintain their position by hook or by crook. So Machiavellians are willing to use manipulation to obtain their personal ends, and narcissists seem to be driven by a high desire to obtain unearned status from others. The most important thing for them is not status in relationship to competence or in relationship to performance but just in status for its own sake.

Then the psychopaths. I spent a lot of time looking at Hare’s research and thinking about the relationship to the Big Five. Psychopaths seem to be something approximating parasitical predators. They are very, very low in agreeableness and that makes them callous and non-empathetic. Then they also seem to be very low in conscientiousness. That seems to accord reasonably well with the two factors of the psychopathy scale. So a real psychopath is someone who is willing to take what you have, and use it – that might be the predatory aspect – and also to live off the earnings and efforts of others. That is also an element of criminal behavior. 

You are looking at the nexus of all three of those: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Recently, you and other researchers have added – I think this is so interesting because I think it was a real lack – sadism to that, which is positive delight and pleasure-taking in the suffering of others. So, can you expand at all upon the definitions of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy? And we can segway into sadism.

Dr. Del Paulhus:

I agree with all of your definitions, although what we did was spent a lot of time trying to find what is different among each of the characters and what the overlap is. Why is it that the literature and the measures that were available always overlapped to a dangerous degree in trying to understand what is going on. The key thing for psychopaths, in our opinion, is impulsivity and sensation-seeking which is what gets them into trouble.

They may not have worse motives than the others, but they cannot help it. That is why they – at the extreme levels – spend their lives in prison. They cannot help responding to temptation. Whatever the temptation is, they go for it, and often they get what they want right away, and they keep on doing it until they get caught. And they do not seem to learn from it. That answers a qualification to the definition of psychopath. 

Now, what is underlying it, we think, is callousness for all of them. They are overlapping because at the core is a failure to have empathy. And if you have a deficit in empathy, it seems inevitable that you’re going to exploit other people in one way or another because you are not getting the feedback that people with empathy get in seeing other people suffer at your hands.

And the story of sadism is quite a long story, but if you want me to get into the details, I can do that.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson:

Please do. Please do.

Dr. Del Paulhus:

I do not know whether I am more sensitive to these things than other people, but I started seeing sadism in regular people. And not only is it there in everyday people, but people seem to wallow in it when the circumstances allow it. For example, violent sports: one of my favorite sports, hockey. It is kind of pathetic watching a hockey game. The cheers are larger for the fights than for the goals. People love to see their fighter pummel the fighter of the other team – or pummel anyone – and the cheers that go up in a hockey stadium are incredible.

The cheers only stop when the victim falls to the ice and starts twitching, and a hush falls over the crowd, showing the dual nature of positive and negative motivations that human beings have. But the fact that they love seeing the fighting no matter how much blood and teeth end up on the ice is disappointing in a way. We learned a long time ago from the Europeans, they do not have to do that to make hockey a wonderful sport. That was just one. But then watching the undergraduate students at UBC (University of British Columbia), what are they doing for fun?

Well, if you recall way, way back, they used to play these archived games, and there were some gentle ones – Pac-Man, Asteroids, I do not know if you remember those – but going down into the arcade, you see that people are gathered around one of the arcade games. So I wandered over to see it, and it was called Mortal Kombat, which by today’s standards is not that bad, but the heads are torn off and the blood spurts out. And that is why the crowd was there because it was so much more appealing than the silly little Mario Brothers. It just struck me as the beginning of my interest in what people do, especially young males, when they have time on their own. So if it’s not porn, then it seems like it’s violence, and it’s somewhat horrifying. But it has gotten worse.

I do not know if you have been following the video games that are now available on your home computer. You do not need to go to an arcade and be embarrassed by what you are playing because you can sit at home and play whatever games you want. So now, Grand Theft Auto, you can kill innocent bystanders, step on their heads, et cetera. And there are actual torture sites where you can go and torture people. You can torture animals. It is all there.

So people are paying to do this stuff. They pay for violent sports. They pay for violent movies. What is the most popular television program these days? It’s called ‘Game of Thrones,’ and it’s the most sadistic kind of television program that you have ever seen. People are paying for this in one way or another, and they’re attracted to it; they relay stories with their friends. So putting this picture together suggested to me that some, not all – in fact, the variance again is there which excites a personality researcher – some people are highly attracted to this stuff. Other people are horrified.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson:

I know that neurophysiological anger is a multidimensional emotion. It activates positive emotion systems and negative emotion systems simultaneously. So you can think about that, perhaps, as the core element of something like aggression – maybe both defensive and predatory aggression. Then you could imagine that people are wired differently as individuals so that for any given person, being angry might be associated with a predominance of approach motivation – positive emotion – and a relative decrement of negative emotion, and for other people that would be reversed.

I am trying to account for what the positive pleasure is in the observation or participation in the aggression. Hypothetically, you could associate it actually with predatory behavior, with hunting and with combat. But it also might be a consequence of differential wiring at the neurological level in relationship to the balance between positive and negative emotion experienced by any given person with anger.

You see this variation in people. I know some people who are real fighters, let’s say, on the political front, and some of them really enjoy a good scrap. It really seems to get them motivated. And this is not a criticism of them necessarily. Then other people – and I think I fall more into this camp – I am not really very interested at all in conflict. It bothers me a lot. Although I do not like delayed conflict, so I am likely to engage in it relatively upfront.

So we could go into that. What do you think is the fundamental biological and then also ethical difference between people who are taking positive delight in aggression and those who are not? Well, I guess we could start with those questions.

To hear Dr. Del Paulhus’s answer and the rest of the conversation, listen to or watch the full podcast on DailyWire+.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Daily Wire.

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