Narcissistic Psychopaths More Likely to Major in Business and Economics, Study Finds

Researchers surveyed 487 undergraduates to figure out whether people with "dark" personalities are more likely to self-select into certain fields.

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May 8 2017, 5:30am

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

This article originally appeared on Broadly.

Thanks in part to lobbying by US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, a truly horrific healthcare bill passed the House of Representatives yesterday. In the past, Trump has lauded his deal-making skills, (though all of that came under question when he failed to get the Affordable Care Act repealed two months ago), and in 2015, gave Business Insider a peek at his approach. "It's give-and-take," he told the media outlet. "But it's gotta be mostly take. Because you can't give. You gotta mostly take."

The unfiltered response raises a question: Was Trump born a narcissistic negotiator, or was he socialized to be that way?

A new study, published last month in Personality and Individual Differences, indicates that the corporate world doesn't take decent people and twist them into becoming greedy, manipulative, and cynical—they're actually already like that before they go into that kind of work.

Researchers have long documented the impact of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (better known as the Dark Triad) on the workplace. Not only do psychopaths "have diminished levels of corporate responsibility" and Machiavellians tend to "focus on maintaining power and using manipulative behaviors," but narcissism has been linked to unethical behavior.

Aware of all the stereotypical characterizations of businessmen and corporate lawyers, researchers in Denmark were interested in finding out if people with "dark" personalities self-selected into these fields. In order to do that, they analyzed how people's choices of academic major correlated with their personality.

The study surveyed 487 newly enrolled students at a Danish university who were majoring in psychology, economics/business, law, or political science and had yet to begin their studies and be influenced by them. Participants were asked to fill out assessments that took stock of where they fell in terms of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism) as well as the Dark Triad personality traits. (In a previous research review, Anna Vedel, lead author on the current research, determined that law, business, and economics students were less agreeable than students in other majors.)

Unsurprisingly, students majoring in economics/business were considered "the darkest group," the study's authors write; they scored higher on all Dark Triad traits than psychology and political science students. Law students scored "substantially higher" on all Dark Triad traits than psychology students, but were more similar to political science students than expected.

When the authors broke the data down by gender, they found that male participants scored significantly higher on all Dark Triad traits than the women; meanwhile, women scored higher on neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. While it may appear that gender impacted the differences in the Dark Triad traits across majors, (since, for example, more men majored in business/economics than in psychology), the study's authors insist that didn't happen because the sample included more female law students than male, and they also scored higher in the Dark Triad traits than psychology students.

Therefore, the authors conclude, personality traits do play a part in educational choices. "The desire for power, status, and money characterizing Dark Triad individuals may steer them towards, for example, economics, business, and law educations because these educations pave the way for a career in the corporate world," they write, "and the corporate world generally rewards self-serving behavior and provides an environment in which individuals with dark personalities can make use of their qualities and succeed."

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that President Trump has a degree in business: a Bachelor of Science in economics.

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