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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Jay Jackson


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


Aggression may be defined as any behavior intended to hurt another person. Researchers have recently emphasized the importance of integrating personality variables into social psychological models of aggression (Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Bettencourt, et al., 2006; Caprara, et al., 2013). This study was designed to examine the role of personality, with a particular focus on the Dark Triad (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism), in determining aggressive behavior under provoked and unprovoked experimental conditions. It was hypothesized that individuals with dark personalities would react more aggressively in response to provocation versus no provocation, and this relationship would be mediated by anger.

Participants (N=117) completed measures of personality and exchanged essays with an online partner. They then received insulting, neutral, or positive feedback from their partner before completing the positive-and-negative-affect scale. Finally, to assess aggression, participants played a “competitive reaction time game” with their partner that involved the administration of noise blasts that could range from 1 (extremely mild) to 10 (extremely harsh).

The data were analyzed using analysis of variance, regression, and moderated mediation analyses (Hayes, 2012). Our results were generally consistent with our predictions. Under provocation, dark triad scores predicted higher levels of aggression, and this relationship was mediated by anger, effect = .058 (SE = .025), LCI = .017 and UCI = .115. However, under the condition of no provocation, scores on the dark triad were unrelated to aggression, effect = -.003 (SE = .016), LCI = -.036 and UCI = .028. The index of moderated mediation was significant, effect = -.061 (SE = .031), LCI = -.128 and UCI = -.010.

Consistent with predictions, individuals with dark personalities reacted more aggressively when provoked, and this relationship was mediated by anger. This study has several limitations, including a relative lack of ecological validity, and the fact that we have not yet replicated the findings. The findings are, however, consistent with studies showing a similar pattern among people with inflated levels of self-esteem (e.g., Baumeister, et al., 2000). These findings have important implications, including the need to integrate personality into models of aggression.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Personality Traits Associated With Reactive and Proactive Aggression

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