Psych students score substantially lower on “dark” traits than business and law students

By Christian Jarrett 

There are lots of stereotypes about the kind of people in different professions. Lawyers and business people are often caricatured as ruthless and self-interested, especially when compared to the kind of folk who enter professions usually seen as caring, such as nursing or psychology. To test the truth of these stereotypes, a new study in Personality and Individual Differences surveyed the “Dark Triad” and “Big Five” traits of hundreds of Danish students enrolled to begin studying either psychology, politics, business/economics or law.

The rationale was that by testing students’ personalities after they’d chosen their subject, but before they’d begun their studies, or careers, the researchers would uncover evidence for whether people with certain kinds of personalities are drawn to particular professions, as opposed to, or as well as, those professions shaping their personalities.

Anna Vedel and her colleagues found that psychology students scored “substantially” lower on Dark Triad traits (psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) than business and law students. Business/economics students scored the highest of all on the Dark Triad. Law and politics students’ scores were very similar to each other: lower than business but higher than psychology. In terms of the Big Five personality traits, psychology students scored “much higher” than the other student groups of Agreeableness and Openness and Neuroticism (replicating a study published last year). These subject differences remained even when comparing just male students, or just female.

“The choice of academic major and career is a complex decision involving many different factors, but the present study suggests that personality traits are at least part of this decision process,” the researchers said.

The Dark Triad across academic majors

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

8 thoughts on “Psych students score substantially lower on “dark” traits than business and law students”

  1. It would be interesting to know that if psychology and other nurturing subjects were taught to those high in ‘dark traits’ would it affect their personality.

    And there I am back with the thought that psychology should be part of the curriculum.

    An interesting article – Thankyou

  2. It’d be interesting to know how these scores (Dark Triad and Big Five) were determined… If they are self evaluations the measurement is subjective. Most probably those choosing caring professions want to be seen as such and at college entry age (17-20yo) most people’s self-awareness is still quite underdeveloped… An interesting subject nevertheless!

  3. Fascinating that the study leaders apparently did not feel that engineering/science students were worthy of being studied in this project. This group is more focused on “hard” facts and practical truths than any of the ones reported on. From my experience at low to high management levels in corporations, and 20 years as co-owner of a successful small consulting company, My experience says that few of them would score high on the Dark Triad, but they would also mostly come up short on extraversion and openness.

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