The article was last updated by Sofia Alvarez on February 5, 2024.

Machiavellianism, a term derived from the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, is not just a historical reference but also a key concept in psychology. This article delves into the history of Machiavellianism in psychology, its key characteristics such as manipulative behavior and lack of empathy, and how it is measured through tests like the Mach-IV.

We explore how Machiavellianism interacts with narcissism and psychopathy in the Dark Triad, and its implications in various contexts such as the workplace, relationships, politics, and criminal behavior. Join us on this intriguing exploration of Machiavellianism in different contexts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by manipulative behavior, lack of empathy, and strategic thinking, often seen in those who prioritize their own gain over others.
  • This trait can be measured through tests such as the Mach-IV, MACH-IV-SF, and MACH-IV-AS, and often correlates with other dark personality traits like narcissism and psychopathy.
  • Machiavellianism can manifest in various contexts, including the workplace, relationships, politics, and even criminal behavior, making it a key concept in understanding human behavior and interactions.
  • What is Machiavellianism?

    Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by manipulation, deception, and strategic exploitation of others, drawing its roots from the philosophical works of Niccolò Machiavelli, especially ‘The Prince.’

    Individuals high in Machiavellianism tend to prioritize their own interests above all else, often using calculated and cunning tactics to achieve their goals. The term emanates from Niccolò Machiavelli’s teachings on political strategy and leadership, wherein he emphasized the pragmatic use of power and manipulation to maintain authority.

    In psychology, Machiavellianism plays a crucial role in the study of human behavior, shedding light on how certain individuals navigate social interactions through charm, manipulation, and calculated actions. This trait is often associated with traits such as narcissism and psychopathy, forming what is known as the Dark Triad of personality characteristics.

    History of Machiavellianism in Psychology

    The history of Machiavellianism in psychology traces back to the pioneering research of Florence L. Geis and Richard Christie, who contributed to the understanding of this trait and its connection to the broader concept of the Dark Triad in psychology.

    Geis and Christie were instrumental in delineating the key characteristics of Machiavellianism, which includes manipulativeness, strategic thinking, and a cynical worldview.

    Their work shed light on how individuals high in Machiavellian traits tend to prioritize their own interests over communal goals, often engaging in deceptive and exploitative behaviors to achieve personal gains.

    This research paved the way for further exploration of Machiavellianism within the framework of the Dark Triad, alongside narcissism and psychopathy, forming a trinity of socially aversive personalities.

    Key Characteristics of Machiavellianism

    The key characteristics of Machiavellianism include manipulative behavior, a lack of empathy, strategic thinking, and a calculated approach to relationships, reflecting a complex blend of traits essential to understanding this personality dimension.

    Machiavellian individuals often exhibit a capacity for charming persuasion, using their manipulative skills to achieve personal goals without regard for the feelings or well-being of others. This lack of empathy allows them to make tough decisions and advance their interests unhindered.

    Strategic cognition guides their every move, enabling them to anticipate outcomes, adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, and maintain a sense of control in their interactions. Their calculated approach to relationships involves forming alliances and connections based on mutual benefit, viewing social bonds as transactional resources rather than emotional attachments.

    Manipulative Behavior

    Manipulative behavior is a central feature of Machiavellianism and is often intertwined with traits from the Dark Triad, reflecting a strategic and calculated approach to influencing others.

    Individuals high in Machiavellianism are adept at utilizing manipulation as a tool for achieving their goals, often displaying cunning and deceitful behaviors to gain advantages in various situations. This strategic nature of manipulative tendencies is rooted in the desire for dominance and control over others, allowing Machiavellians to maneuver social interactions to their benefit.

    In the context of the Dark Triad, manipulative behavior is closely linked to narcissism and psychopathy, forming a trifecta of malevolent traits that enable individuals to exploit others for personal gain.

    Lack of Empathy

    The lack of empathy is a defining characteristic of Machiavellianism, often manifesting as an emotional detachment and a focus on self-interest and personal gain, showcasing a core trait within this personality dimension.

    Individuals with Machiavellian tendencies lacking empathy may struggle to comprehend or relate to the emotions or experiences of others, leading to challenges in forming genuine connections or maintaining meaningful relationships.

    This deficiency in empathetic understanding can result in a manipulative and exploitative approach to social interactions, where the individual may prioritize their own advantages over the well-being of others, impacting the ethical considerations and moral compass of their actions.

    The absence of empathy within the framework of Machiavellianism could contribute to a cycle of mistrust and conflict within personal and professional environments, as genuine emotional connections and trust are essential components of fostering healthy relationships.

    Strategic Thinking

    Strategic thinking is a hallmark of Machiavellianism, characterized by a calculated approach to decision-making, planning, and goal achievement, showcasing a cognitive trait that underpins Machiavellian behavior.

    This strategic cognition is evident in individuals who exhibit Machiavellian traits through their ability to assess situations strategically, manipulate circumstances to their advantage, and anticipate both short-term gains and long-term consequences.

    For instance, a person with Machiavellian tendencies may carefully plan their interactions to extract information or resources from others while simultaneously building alliances that serve their objectives.

    Such individuals are adept at recognizing opportunities for advancement and utilizing strategic thinking to achieve their goals, even if it involves deception or coercion.

    Calculated Approach to Relationships

    A calculated approach to relationships is a key feature of Machiavellianism, where individuals prioritize personal power, manipulation, and strategic interactions over genuine emotional connections, reflecting a distinctive trait within this personality dimension.

    Those who exhibit Machiavellian traits often view social interactions as opportunities to further their own agendas, utilizing charm and persuasion to manipulate situations in their favor. This strategic mindset allows them to navigate interpersonal dynamics with precision, carefully assessing each move to maximize personal gain. In relationships, Machiavellians are adept at wielding influence and establishing connections that serve their self-interests, often at the expense of authentic emotional bonds.

    How is Machiavellianism Measured?

    Machiavellianism is assessed through measures such as the Mach-IV test and the Machiavellian Personality Scale, which provide insights into an individual’s Machiavellian traits and characteristics.

    The Mach-IV test, developed by psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis, is a widely used assessment tool that measures the extent to which a person exhibits traits associated with Machiavellianism, such as manipulation, strategic thinking, and a cynical worldview. On the other hand, the Machiavellian Personality Scale, based on the work of researchers Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams, focuses on specific behaviors like deceit, callousness, and the inclination to exploit others for personal gain. These instruments help to quantify and evaluate the complex nature of Machiavellian tendencies in individuals through a series of structured questions and scenarios.

    Mach-IV Test

    The Mach-IV test is a widely used instrument to measure Machiavellianism, focusing on signs related to personal power, manipulation, and strategic thinking, providing a comprehensive assessment of individual tendencies.

    Designed by psychologist Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis, the Mach-IV test comprises a set of statements that individuals rate based on their level of agreement. These statements delve into characteristics associated with Machiavellianism, such as the tendency to prioritize one’s interests over others, the willingness to manipulate situations for personal gain, and a strategic approach to social interactions.

    The key indicators of Machiavellian traits in this test include measuring an individual’s willingness to deceive others, the extent to which they value power and influence, and their inclination towards using cunning tactics to achieve their goals.

    Insights from the Mach-IV test offer valuable information about how individuals perceive power dynamics, navigate relationships, and utilize strategies to advance their agendas. For example, a high score on Machiavellianism could indicate a person who is adept at influencing others, skilled in negotiating complex situations, and inclined towards utilizing manipulation tactics to achieve desired outcomes.

    MACH-IV-SF Test

    The MACH-IV-SF test is designed to evaluate Machiavellian traits related to relationships, empathy deficiency, and strategic interactions, offering insights into how individuals navigate social connections and emotional dynamics.

    This test delves into measuring the extent to which individuals prioritize their own interests over others’ well-being, gauging their willingness to manipulate situations for personal gain. For instance, it probes how likely someone is to deceive others to achieve their goals or to exploit relationships for their advantage.

    The MACH-IV-SF test can reveal patterns of behavior such as charming behavior to gain an upper hand in social scenarios, a lack of remorse when harming others for personal gain, or a proclivity towards viewing relationships as merely transactional.

    MACH-IV-AS Test

    The MACH-IV-AS test evaluates Machiavellian traits related to coping mechanisms, adaptive strategies, and behavioral signs, shedding light on how individuals respond to challenges, setbacks, and interpersonal conflicts.

    By exploring the responses of individuals with Machiavellian tendencies, the MACH-IV-AS test provides valuable insights into the strategies they employ when navigating complex social dynamics.

    Through a series of carefully designed questions and scenarios, this assessment tool delves into the nuanced ways in which these individuals handle power struggles, manipulation tactics, and ethical dilemmas.

    The test assists in identifying patterns of behavior that may indicate a preference for calculated risk-taking, self-preservation, and goal-oriented decision-making.

    The Dark Triad: Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy

    The Dark Triad comprises Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy, representing a cluster of malevolent personality traits characterized by personal power-seeking, manipulation, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and antisocial tendencies.

    These traits often manifest in individuals who display a high level of cunning, self-absorption, and a callous disregard for others. Machiavellianism refers to a manipulative, strategic approach to social interaction, where individuals prioritize their own interests above all else, often using deceptive tactics to achieve their goals.

    Narcissism, on the other hand, is marked by an excessive sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others’ feelings. Those high in Narcissism often seek validation and praise, while displaying little regard for the well-being of those around them.

    Psychopathy involves a lack of remorse, impulsivity, and a tendency towards antisocial behavior. Individuals with psychopathic traits may exhibit deceitfulness, shallow emotions, and a disregard for social norms, often engaging in risky or unethical behavior without guilt or regret.

    Similarities and Differences

    Understanding the similarities and differences between Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy within the Dark Triad framework is essential to delineating the unique traits and behavioral patterns associated with these malevolent personality dimensions.

    While all three traits encompass manipulative tendencies, they differ in their core motivations. Machiavellians are strategic and cunning, using manipulation for personal gain and power. Narcissists, on the other hand, exhibit an excessive need for admiration and lack empathy towards others. Psychopaths, characterized by their callousness and impulsivity, display a disregard for social norms and consequences.

    These traits can manifest in various ways, influencing how individuals approach relationships and decision-making. Machiavellians may excel in leadership roles due to their calculated nature, while Narcissists’ self-centered focus can lead to conflicts and friction in interpersonal dynamics. Psychopaths may engage in risky behavior and struggle with impulse control, impacting their personal and professional lives.

    How They Interact

    The interactions among Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy influence personal and professional relationships, shaping individuals’ behavior, communication styles, and ethical boundaries in various social contexts.

    Machiavellianism, characterized by manipulation, deceit, and strategic thinking, can lead individuals to prioritize personal gain over ethical considerations, fostering an environment of distrust and opportunism.

    Narcissism, with its focus on self-importance and lack of empathy, often results in difficulties in forming genuine connections, as individuals with this trait may struggle to see beyond their own needs.

    Psychopathy, marked by impulsivity, lack of remorse, and interpersonal detachment, can disrupt communication and erode trust within relationships, as individuals with this trait may exhibit manipulative tendencies and disregard for social norms.

    Machiavellianism in Different Contexts

    Machiavellianism manifests differently in various contexts such as the workplace, relationships, politics, and criminal behavior, showcasing the adaptability and versatility of this personality trait across different domains.

    In the workplace, Machiavellianism may be observed through individuals who prioritize personal gain over teamwork, using tactics like manipulation and deceit to climb the corporate ladder. In relationships, this trait can surface as individuals who prioritize their own interests above the well-being of their partners, often displaying narcissistic tendencies.

    In politics, Machiavellianism can be seen in leaders who prioritize power and control, using strategic maneuvers to maintain authority and influence. In criminal environments, this trait may manifest in individuals who engage in calculated criminal activities without remorse, exploiting others for personal gain.


    In the workplace, Machiavellianism influences behaviors, relationships, and decision-making processes, with genetic and environmental factors playing a role in shaping individuals’ Machiavellian traits within professional settings.

    Machiavellianism, derived from the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, entails manipulation, deceit, and a strategic approach to gaining power or control. When this trait manifests in the workplace, it can lead to a range of behaviors such as manipulation of colleagues, exploitation of relationships for personal gain, and a lack of ethical consideration in decision-making.

    This often results in toxic work environments characterized by distrust, office politics, and a high level of competition over cooperation. Individuals high in Machiavellianism may prioritize achieving their own goals over teamwork and collaboration, leading to fractured professional relationships and inhibiting effective teamwork.

    The development of Machiavellian traits in individuals within work environments can be influenced by both genetic predispositions and environmental factors. Genes associated with personality traits related to manipulation and deceit, coupled with experiences of power dynamics and competitive environments, can further enhance these Machiavellian tendencies in individuals.


    In personal relationships, Machiavellianism can stem from childhood experiences, environmental influences, and unique developmental pathways, shaping individuals’ approach to intimacy, trust, and emotional connections.

    These early encounters and environmental stimuli can mold an individual’s perception of relationships, leading to a complex interplay of manipulation, deceit, and strategic behaviors. Such individuals may struggle with forming genuine emotional bonds, often prioritizing self-interest and power dynamics in their interactions.

    The developmental trajectories influenced by these factors can fuel a sense of skepticism towards others, fostering a pattern of distrust and emotional disengagement in personal connections. The intricate blend of these components gives rise to a distinct relational style marked by calculated actions and a strategic outlook on social interactions.


    Machiavellianism in politics is influenced by a blend of genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and childhood experiences, shaping politicians’ decision-making, negotiation styles, and power dynamics in the political arena.

    These traits, rooted in Machiavellianism, often manifest in politicians’ strategic maneuvers, calculated risks, and adaptive responses to changing political landscapes. The interplay between nature and nurture in the development of these traits is a complex phenomenon that underscores the intricate psychology behind political behavior.

    The influence of genetic predispositions can predispose individuals to certain personality traits that align with Machiavellian principles, such as a strong drive for power, a penchant for manipulation, and a strategic mindset.

    Criminal Behavior

    Machiavellianism’s association with criminal behavior and the Dark Triad traits, including psychopathy, underscores the link between malevolent personality dimensions and antisocial actions, highlighting the role of Machiavellian tendencies in deviant behaviors and harmful actions.

    Individuals high in Machiavellianism often exhibit manipulative behaviors, prioritizing their own interests over ethics and morality. These traits, along with tendencies towards deceit and strategic exploitation, can lead to a disregard for societal norms and the well-being of others. The convergence of Machiavellian tendencies with psychopathic traits further amplifies the likelihood of engaging in illicit activities and exploiting individuals for personal gain.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is Machiavellianism in psychology?

    Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by a manipulative and cynical approach to social interactions. It is named after Niccolò Machiavelli, a political philosopher who famously wrote about the use of manipulation and deceit in achieving power.

    How is Machiavellianism measured?

    Machiavellianism is typically measured using a personality assessment tool called the Machiavellianism Scale, which measures people’s level of cynicism, lack of morality, and tendency towards manipulation and exploitation.

    Are all Machiavellian individuals inherently evil?

    No, not all Machiavellian individuals are inherently evil. While they may possess traits that are often associated with manipulation and deceit, it does not necessarily mean they are evil or have ill intentions. In psychology, Machiavellianism is simply seen as a personality trait, not a moral judgment.

    Do Machiavellian individuals lack empathy?

    Research has shown that individuals high in Machiavellianism may have lower levels of empathy compared to others. This means they may have difficulty understanding and relating to the emotions of others and may be more focused on their own self-interests.

    What are the potential consequences of high Machiavellianism?

    People high in Machiavellianism may have a greater tendency towards manipulation and deception, which can lead to problems in relationships and social interactions. They may also have difficulty developing and maintaining genuine connections with others.

    Can Machiavellianism be beneficial in certain situations?

    Some studies have found that Machiavellian individuals may be more successful in certain careers, such as politics or business, due to their strategic and manipulative nature. However, these benefits may come at the cost of damaging personal relationships and trust.

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