There are certain personality traits that members of Greek Letter Organizations (e.g., sororities, fraternities) tend to possess such as extraversion and agreeableness. However, new research published in Acta Psychologica finds that members of these organizations are also more likely to possess a “dark” personality trait: narcissism.
The Dark Tetrad of personality consists of antagonistic traits such as grandiose narcissism (i.e., need to reinforce grandiose sense of self), Machiavellianism (i.e., manipulativeness and cynicism), everyday sadism (i.e., enjoyment of casual acts of cruelty), and psychopathy (i.e., tendency toward irresponsible behavior without remorse or empathy).
There is some evidence as to why these dark traits might be more prevalent in Greek Letter organization members. People with high levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy tend to engage in reckless behavior such as alcohol abuse and aggressive driving and exhibit riskier sexual behaviors. There is also evidence that sadism is associated with a greater desire for hazing (i.e., cruel initiation strategies for sororities or fraternities).
Contrary to these findings, there is also evidence suggesting higher Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism is associated with a lower need for affiliation, which would suggest less likelihood of joining a Greek Letter organization.
“There is both evidence to suggest that each of the Dark Tetrad traits would be associated with membership in [Greek Letter organizations] and evidence to suggest that each of the Dark Tetrad traits would not be associated with membership in [Greek Letter organizations]. As such, the present study takes an exploratory approach to the examination of the association between the Dark Tetrad traits and membership in these organizations,” wrote study author Cameron S. Kay.
The researcher collected data from surveys administered from 2019 to 2021 at the University of Oregon and obtained a final sample of 2191 participants. Respondents completed measures of the Dark Tetrad personality traits and were asked if they were a member of a Greek Letter organization.
Results suggest membership in these organizations was more likely among participants with higher levels of narcissism. On the other hand, higher levels of Machiavellianism and sadism were associated with a lower likelihood of membership. Psychopathy was not associated with membership.
The results were in line with what the study author was expecting. “Grandiose narcissism is associated with both a need to reinforce a grandiose sense of self and a need for affiliation,” Kay said. “Narcissistic individuals may, therefore, gravitate to [Greek Letter organizations] because they see these organizations as a way to acquire status and expand their social networks.”
Further, people higher in Machiavellianism tend to have a lower need for affiliation and are less extraverted. Thus, it makes sense those lower in this trait would be less likely to join a Greek Letter organization.
The author cautions readers about some limitations of the study. “The present study was cross-sectional (i.e., measurement only occurred at one time), making it impossible to determine whether participants in sororities and fraternities are more narcissistic to begin with or whether they became more narcissistic after joining their respective organizations,” Kay explained.
The study, “Animal House: The Dark Tetrad traits and membership in sororities and fraternities“, was published December 13, 2021.