Doing Good Can Make You Good

some dude hanging precariously

When it comes to our personality types, many of us presume these are set in stone. Let’s face it, we all know friends and family members who have a consistent set of behaviors. Some tend to be overly dramatic while others are less emotional and logical. Some are naturally altruistic and charitable while others have more of a selfish tendency. But based on recent research, we might be able to improve those things we don’t necessarily like about our personalities. This may be especially true for those with the “dark triad” of personality traits. Apparently, there are benefits of doing good deeds that can positively change the more negative personality traits. And this might change the way psychologists approach those with more disruptive personality disorders.

In all likelihood, you probably never heard of the dark triad, but psychologists are usually quite familiar with it. As a concept, it refers to some less-than-desirable features like selfishness, manipulativeness, and anti-social behaviors. These tendencies underlie not just one personality type but actually several. For this reason, the recent studies showing the benefits of doing good deeds for these personality traits is noteworthy. If positive actions have beneficial effects on negative personality features, new strategies for personal growth can be tried. And rather than developing different approaches for several different personality conditions, a single recipe might be effective. Certainly, much more research is needed in these areas. But it’s worthwhile taking a look at current insights as it relates to the dark triad and the benefits of doing good deeds.

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Defining the Dark Triad of Personality Traits

As a concept, the dark triad was first introduced in 2002 by some psychology theorists. Based on their observations, it became increasingly apparent that many undesirable behaviors had common personality features. Some of these features were things like selfishness, a lack of empathy, manipulations and deceitfulness. They also often included a lack of remorse for negative behaviors. In this regard, the theorists identified three key personality tendencies that had these features, which they called the dark triad. These included narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. it was not so much that a person had to have a personality disorder labelled under these categories. They simply had to demonstrate many of the common features these personality types exhibited.

Each of the three personality trends linked to the dark triad can be better characterized by their tendencies. For example, narcissistic tendencies include selfishness, a hypersensitivity to criticism, and boastfulness. Machiavellianism tends to be manipulative, deceitful, and without a moral compass. Finally, psychopathy, which is not psychosis, engages in antisocial behaviors like bullying and violence. As you can appreciate, each of these engage in more negative behaviors, which is why they are described as “dark.” And it’s the same reason that researchers wondered if they were any benefits of doing good deeds among these individuals.

The Latest Dark Personalities Research

In a recent study conducted at Southern Methodist University, psychologist explored the benefits of doing good deeds. They selected 467 students around the age of 20 years. Then they assessed various personality traits among the group. Notably, some had narcissistic, Machiavellian, and psychopathic features. They then surveyed students to assess their level of desire to change negative traits. And they evaluated whether there were any benefits of doing good deeds on these specific negative personality features. Over the course of four months, they found some rather interesting results.

The most intriguing, and perhaps disappointing, things they found was that most students did not want to change. Those who tended to be more manipulative, selfish, and unempathetic did not necessarily want to alter their personalities. However, among those who did, charitable acts or listening to a stranger’s problems reduced their dark triad features. The simple act of doing something altruistic increased their ability to be empathetic and selfish. Thus, the benefits of doing good deeds seemed to reduce negative personality traits and bolster positive ones. Likewise, the researchers found that becoming more agreeable tended to promote kindness and concern for others. These findings are important because they may offer a way that psychologists might help those with antisocial personality traits.

Welcome to the Light Side

While there has been a recent focus on the dark triad of personality traits as of late, there is also a light triad as well. The light triad of personality features consists of the opposite of those darker tendencies. These individuals believe in the inherent goodness of others and are empathetic of their needs. They also value other people and appreciate their contributions. And they have a sense of personal responsibility to help others and be selfless in nature. Some individuals naturally have these tendencies as part of their personality. But the research suggests that performing these types of activities might be a way to cultivate these positive personality features. In other words, one of the benefits of doing good deeds may be shifting people from dark to light.

At the current time, psychologists and mental health professionals encourage other types of strategies. In dealing with individuals exhibiting the dark triad of personality traits, behavior management is more reactive. Strategies like conflict management and assertiveness training have been used. Likewise, training people to have greater emotional intelligence is also common. But this latest research could be much more fun and rewarding in the long run. If the benefits of doing good deeds reduces negative behaviors, a more proactive approach could be pursued. And as we all know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is why psychologists have found these recent research results quite optimistic.

A Low-Risk Approach to Positive Behavior

Notably, much more needs to be done before psychologists can guarantee these benefits of doing good deeds. However, at the same time, what do they have to lose in advocating for such approaches. If charitable acts and altruistic behaviors fail to show a positive change, then there’s little to lose in the effort. And if they do, they could help many embrace a more positive personality and lifestyle. However, as the researchers noted, many students had little interest in making any changes in their personalities. This included those who tended to have higher levels of the dark triad features. But for the rest who do, there appears to be significant benefits of doing good deeds. Even if the motivation for change is low, maybe a “fake-it-until-you-make-it” approach is the way to go.


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