Saints and Psychopaths

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Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin Everyone I have ever worked with has, at some point, called another colleague or coworker "crazy. Here's the list, originally published online by Eric Barker : 1. CEO 2. Lawyer 3.

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Salesperson 5. Surgeon 6.

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Psychology researchers have flipped their focus away from narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism to explore what characteristics are present in people who are the everyday saints around us. Maybe you're one of them? Yet our culture is fascinated by psychopaths and narcissists.

A Daily Dose of Violence

And with good reason. People high in the "dark triad" — the well-studied threesome of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism — tend to cause substantial harm to others. They also make interesting and colourful TV characters, so we're exposed to a lot of them on our screens. This dark triad of personality was first proposed in , and since then research and public fascination with these antisocial traits has flourished. To fight for the light side, Dr Kaufman and his colleagues set out to discover the traits of a loving human being with an orientation towards others.

After testing thousands of people they proposed the "light triad" — three traits they found to be most in contrast, although not opposite, to the traits of the dark triad. According to Dr Kaufman and colleagues , the light triad consists of the traits of Kantianism, humanism and a faith in humanity. Kantianism is when we treat people as means to themselves, as opposed to a means to an end.

Basically, we're not out to use them. It's pretty much the opposite of Machiavellianism, and is based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

The dark triad sums up psychopaths, but the light triad defines saints

These traits are not so much about the self, but about our attitude to others. And the light triad theory says that people high in all three of these traits are the "everyday saints in our midst". Nick Haslam, a personality researcher at University of Melbourne, argues that some of the characteristics of the light triad are covered in mainstream personality psychology in the Big Five personality test, which assesses agreeableness, conscientiousness, open-mindedness, extraversion and neuroticism.

Four of those traits are generally thought to be good things, he said. Want to know how you fare? You can take the 12 question light triad test. While positive psychology over the past 20 years has looked at how to be happier and live a more meaningful life, researchers are only just turning their focus towards looking at the characteristics of what makes a "good" person.


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But can simply developing the concept of a light triad actually change the amount of light in the world? Light versus dark triad scores for people - there is plenty of variation, but most people tend towards the light side with extreme malevolence being rare. Some of the features of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism can be seen in successful politicians, business leaders and celebrities and you may recognise them in your bosses, families and colleagues.

The dark triad is positively correlated with low life satisfaction, as well as a range of aversive psycho-social outcomes, including aggression, violence, low empathy and a heartless "love style".

There are plenty of stories about psychopaths in the workplace. But there are many reasons why a colleague is behaving badly. The light triad hasn't yet amassed the body of research that the dark triad has, but the researchers found a strong link between the light triad and the characteristics of a "quiet ego" — perspective-taking, inclusive identity, detached awareness, and growth-mindedness — which are generally seen as desirable. Although the researchers didn't find any obvious downside to scoring high in the light triad, there still may be some disadvantages of being too light. Someone with a lot of faith in humanity may also have problems with setting boundaries, and end up being taken advantage of by others, for example.

One reason we're intrigued by the dark side of humanity is because of the insidious threat they can pose to us. These are the people who treat us badly.

And it makes perfect sense that human beings would be fascinated with the sorts of unpleasant characters that make their lives difficult. The intriguing story of the neuroscientist with the brain scan of a psychopathic killer, and can we stop 'callous and unemotional' kids from becoming adult psychopaths? Dr Kern suggests a slightly different angle on why we're so interested in psychopaths and narcissists.

One of the most common misconceptions about personality is that it's fixed throughout our lifetime. There is lots and lots of evidence that these things can change," said Professor Haslam. If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC.

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