Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities

by Ben Smith1 min read26th Aug 20213 comments


PsychologyIncentivesWorld Modeling

A recent paper at the University of British Columbia describes five studies which, taken together, provide evidence that tendency to engage in victimhood signalling is correlated across individuals with Dark Triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy).

Results were robust across the general US and Canada population gathered on mTurk as well as within a sample of Canadian undergraduates.

A link to the full study is provided in this post.

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Perhaps a followup study can investigate if trying to sneak culture war topics into ostensibly non-political spaces also maps to dark triad.

Every society will have some non-zero number of topics associated with the “culture war” of the day.

To cater to the stigma and ignore those topics would mean subjecting discussions and experimentation to the whims of the worst political actors on any given day.

However, the callout is probably warranted. NOT discussing these to avoid culture war issues is the wrong solution, but pretending they’re not politically fraught is also incorrect. Doing so would likely lead to forgoing proper precautions for discussion of these topics, and result in worse outcomes.

It does sometimes feel like the best conversations come out of topics that no one strongly identifies with in the moment.

I know it's a touchy topic. In my defense, the research is solid, published in social psychology's top journal. I suppose the study deals with rhetoric in a political context. This community has a long history of drawing on social and cognitive psychological research to understand fallacies of thought and rhetoric (HPMOR), and I posted in that tradition. Apologies if I have strayed a little too far into a politicized area.

One needn't see this study as a shot at any particular political side--I can imagine people engaging 'virtuous-victimhood-signalling' within a wide range of different politicized narratives, as well as in completely apolitical contexts.

It also shouldn't be read to delegitimize victims from speaking out about their perspective! But perhaps it does provide evidence that sympathy can be weaponized in rhetorical conflict. We can all recognize this in political opponents and be blind to it amongst political allies.