People who feel deprived and have a heightened level of antisocial tendencies known as the Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism) tend to be particularly supportive of political violence. The new scientific findings have been published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression.
The authors of the new research were interested in exploring how subjective perceptions of inequality and Dark Triad personality traits were related to the process of political radicalization.
“The subject is close to the project I work on (The Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality project), which uses qualitative and quantitative methodology to study radicalization among youth,” said study author Tomislav Pavlović of the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences.
“Also, the subject of my PhD dissertation is related to radicalization. While conducting a systematic review on the relationship between various types of inequality and radicalization with my mentor, Dr. Renata Franc, we came to a conclusion that there’s a deficit of studies exploring the combined effect of multiple characteristics known as risk factors of radicalization.
“This deficit leads to less precise models of radicalization and, consequently, less effective deradicalization practices as much remains unknown due to oversimplification of a complex phenomenon. By studying risk factors together, we can observe if their effects are independent or not, which is a step forwards in understanding this complex phenomenon.”
An initial study of 279 student volunteers from Croatian universities found that those with a heightened sense of deprivation and those with more Dark Triad traits tended to be more supportive of using personal threats, vandalism, physical force, and firearms in dealing with politicians.
Those with a heightened sense of deprivation agreed with statements such as “Ordinary people will always be at the bottom, and politicians and their relatives on the top of society” and “I think that ordinary people are in worse position than politicians because politicians restrain them,” while those with Dark Triad traits agreed with statements such as “I tend to manipulate others to get my way,” “I tend to expect special favors from others” and “I tend to be callous or insensitive.”
To confirm their findings, the researchers conducted a second study with 461 participants from the general Croatian population. Despite using a different set of measures, Pavlović and his colleagues found a similar pattern of results. People with a heightened sense of deprivation and people with more Dark Triad traits were both more likely to agree with statements such as “I would keep supporting an organization that fights against unethical actions of politicians even if that organization sometimes resorts to violence that impair citizens.”
“This study dominantly serves as a demonstration that the division between ‘social’ and ‘personality’ psychology limits both approaches in finding optimal models of human behavior, even when it comes to radicalization,” Pavlović told PsyPost.
“In two studies, we found that individuals achieving high scores on dark personality traits (i.e., manipulative, aggressive and emotionless) were more likely to support the use of political violence and were more willing to engage in political violence, just as individuals who perceived their group was deprived. However, individuals high on dark personality traits whose group was deprived were on average most supportive of political violence and most willing to engage in it. This means that both perception of context and individual dispositions have a role in radicalization.”
The new findings provide evidence that feelings of deprivation and the Dark Triad traits play a role in political radicalization. But Pavlović cautioned that the “study was correlational, so no causal inferences can be made.” In addition, “the study focused on radicalized attitudes and behavioral intentions, not behaviors, implying that the validity of generalizing its findings to violent behaviors is at least somewhat limited. Although attitudes and behavioral intentions can be used to predict behaviors, they should not be treated as equivalent.”
The study, “Antiheroes fueled by injustice: dark personality traits and perceived group relative deprivation in the prediction of violent extremism“, was authored by Tomislav Pavlović and Renata Franc.