Empathy at the heart of darkness: empathy deficits that bind the dark triad and those that mediate indirect relational aggression

Heym, N. ORCID: 0000-0003-2414-8854, Firth, J., Kibowski, F. ORCID: 0000-0002-8852-1278, Sumich, A. ORCID: 0000-0003-4333-8442, Egan, V. and Bloxsom, C.A.J., 2019. Empathy at the heart of darkness: empathy deficits that bind the dark triad and those that mediate indirect relational aggression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10: 95. ISSN 1664-0640

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Abstract

The dark triad (DT) traits–psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism–have collectively been linked to reduced empathy and increased aggression; however, their association with distinct empathic subtypes remains unclear; and unique links to indirect relational aggression (IRA) have not been delineated. Moreover, whether dark traits should be conceptualized individually, as a dyad or as a triad with a dark core centered around the absence of empathy is debated. The current study examines (i) whether impaired empathy indeed represents a common “dark core” binding Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy, and (ii) this core explains associations between the dark traits and IRA. Participants (N = 301, 262 F/39 M) completed measures of the DT traits, cognitive and affective empathy components and IRA (Social Exclusion, Malicious Humor and Guilt Induction). The individual traits model without links between narcissism and IRA showed the best fit, suggesting that, at least in the context of IRA, the DT traits are best viewed as three independent personality traits. Distinct cognitive and affective empathy deficits and capacities are seen in the DT. Peripheral responsivity was the only type of empathy deficit associated with all dark traits, but unrelated to IRA. Psychopathy was the strongest indicator of impaired empathy and all IRAs; however, only online simulation, an affect-related cognitive empathy facet, partially mediated the relationships of psychopathy and Machiavellianism with IRA. Whilst the unique pathways for the dark triad traits suggest stronger alignment of psychopathy and Machiavellianism in their empathic deficits and indirect aggression; the data do not support the notion that an unempathic dark core underpinning all three traits drives indirect aggression. This is the first paper delineating the specific empathic deficits involved using a facet approach and their link to indirect forms of aggression. Results therefore inform theoretical models of aggression in the DT and offer some clarity on the debates surrounding the unempathic dark core in the DT.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Frontiers in Psychiatry
Creators: Heym, N., Firth, J., Kibowski, F., Sumich, A., Egan, V. and Bloxsom, C.A.J.
Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation
Date: 12 March 2019
Volume: 10
ISSN: 1664-0640
Identifiers:
NumberType
10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00095DOI
Rights: © 2019 Heym, Firth, Kibowski, Sumich, Egan and Bloxsom. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Depositing User: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 12 Apr 2019 08:48
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2019 08:48
URI: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/36237

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