Thursday, April 3, 2008

Braiker on the Machiavellian Personality

From Harriet Braiker in
"Who's Pulling Your Strings"

The Machiavellian Personality
One of a few manipulative “Usual Suspects”
(Pg 85-87)

In the early 1970s, psychologist Richard Christie and his colleagues identified a distinct personality style that is characterized by manipulativeness, cynicism about human nature and shrewdness in interpersonal behavior. Named after the sixteenth-century political philosopher and Italian Prince Machiavelli, this personality style is very nearly synonymous with being a manipulator. Machiavellian personalities are committed to the proposition that a desired end justifies virtually any means. Machiavellianism is defined as a manipulative strategy of social interaction and personality style that uses other people as tools for personal gain.

Christie developed a test that measures the tendency to be Machiavellian. People who score high on this measure are referred to as “high machs.”… High machs influence or manipulate others in predictable ways, using tactics that are exploitative, self-serving, and nearly always deceptive.

Prince Machiavelli deduced these rules from the political practices of his time:
  • Never show humility; it is more effective to show arrogance when dealing with others.
  • Morality and ethics are for the weak; powerful people should feel free to lie, cheat, and deceive whenever it suits their purpose.
  • It is better to be feared than loved.
In contemporary terms, high machs tend to endorse the following statements:
  • The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear.
  • Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble.
  • It is safest to assume that all people will have a vicious streak and that it will come out when they are given a chance.
  • Most people will work hard only when they are forced to do so.
  • It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners and bending the rules.
And high machs tend to disagree with the following statements:
  • When you ask someone to do something for you, it is best to give the real reason for wanting it rather than giving reasons that might carry more weight.
  • It is never right to lie to someone else.
  • Most people are basically good and kind.
  • One should take action only when it is morally right.

High machs tend to constitute a distinctive type. They tend to be charming, confident, and glib; but they are also arrogant, calculating and cynical, prone to manipulate and exploit.

In the context of laboratory experiment games, high machs display a keen and opportunistic sense of timing, and they appear to capitalize especially in situations that contain ambiguity regarding the rules.