The four Triads: the light side of the Dark Triad and the dark side of the Light Triad

W. Keith Campbell The New Science of Narcissism (2020) dedicates a chapter to the Dark Triad, with many readers are familiar:

Coined in 2002 by psychologist Del Paulhus and his research team in British Columbia, Canada, the Dark Triad contains three traits that share a “dark core” of low agreeableness and a lack of empathy: grandiose narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

Scott Barry Kaufman, who wrote about this in March 2019, has a more optimistic take on psychology and the human experience and developed the Light Triad to highlight the opposite of narcissism and psychopathy. Importantly, the Light Triad is not a reverse-scored version of the Dark Triad. Instead, the goal was to step back and create a model of positive traits. The result contains three positive factors or traits. The first, faith in humanity, captures the belief that people are generally good and worthy of trust. Someone who has high faith in humanity will enter most situations with the expectation that others are well intentioned and reasonable. The next factor, humanism, celebrates the best in humanity. This means appreciating the successes and creations of others, which might be seen in great art or great social achievements such as a reduction in maternal mortality. The third factor, Kantianism, is named for the philosopher Immanuel Kant and suggests a preference for integrity and honesty over charade, charm, or manipulativeness.

The British organisation Cultural Dynamics tests 3,000 adults in Britain for Dark Triad traits, using their own model of value types (based on Maslow and Schwarz), which they call prospectors, settlers and pioneers.

It’s not surprising that all three dark traits highly correlate with a need for power, wealth and achievement. What is a bit surprising, is that all three traits cluster in the top prospector sextant. Narcissism swaps over to the whole prospector spectrum and psychopathy swaps over to the power-oriented settler profiles. Why are only certain areas of these profiles affected? And where do they come from?

Evolutionarily speaking, settlers are mostly likely sedentary farmers, whereas pioneers are foragers and prospectors herders. Their values would match up with each evolutionary environment. Farmers would be industrious/conscious (hard and diligent farming work, avoiding pathogens, etc.), nomadic herders would be more adventurous, and foragers value humility (e.g. shaming the meat) in order to maintain their egalitarianism.

Map of evolutionary personality types with Schwartz’s values map, Myers-Briggs and HEXACO equivalents

The highest risk for dark triad traits is therefore associated with the male, provisioning herder profile (STP in MBTI). This is not to say that STP types are bad people, but that these traits are more commonly found among them. Many psychopathy researchers have started to point out the light side of psychopaths, most of whom are not serial killers but can frequently be found among surgeons or chefs. If I ever need surgery I wouldn’t hesitate to choose a psychopathic surgeon, as the herder profile is associated with mastery and precision. I may add that a lot of achievements in history would not have happened without these types. Christopher Columbus, Charles Lindberg, Amelia Earhart, and Steve Jobs were of the provisioning herder type.

A high need for achievement, power and mastery is certainly the drive behind many successful people. W. Keith Campbell calls this the “Energized Triad”.

Here boldness (risk-taking) is the trait that is most closely associated with the provisioning pastoralist profile. We don’t usually consider it pathological and often admire it as it is a trait of many successful sportspeople and entrepreneurs.

Cultural Dynamics also researched egalitarianism. Not surprisingly it’s found on the polar end of the power spectrum in the hunter-gatherer part of the map:

Is this the location of the light triad? Very much so. This is where you will find people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and MLK.

Cultural Dynamics found that the settler/farmer area had high standards of moral values and especially the gatherer area is most closely associated with humility.

Of course, life isn’t black or white. There is a dark side to the light triad, just like there is a light side to the dark triad.

While the caregiving farmer profile (SFJ) is basically free of dark triad traits, there is some “spillover” of all three traits into the hunter-gatherer spectrum.

This is most likely what has been termed recently as the “vulnerable dark triad”:

This triad includes some of the most horrible crimes in history, including most school shooters and dictators like Hitler, Robert Mugabe and Paul Pot.

In conclusion, the dark triad goes hand in hand with many traits successful people have. The light triad goes hand in hand with a lot of vulnerabilities. Even “saints” often have their dark sides. Even Mother Teresa and Gandhi have been vilified for their darker side.

For more information on the evolution of the three tribes check out my book:

Originally published at on November 10, 2021.

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