Two New Ph.D.s

Dr. Daniel Deason at graduation
I had the honor of hooding the two most recent Ph.D. students to come out of the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab last Friday: Dr. Caitlin Clark and Dr. Daniel Deason. Caitlin is completing a postdoc fellowship in trauma/anxiety disorders at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, and Daniel is a Staff Psychologist at the Counseling Center at the University of Mississippi.

I also had the pleasure of hooding Dr. Dave Gavel, a Ph.D. student of Dr. Jon Mandracchia, a former Southern Miss faculty member who is now at Missouri Western State University.

It was great to see all three of them again. Something tells me their graduation will prove to be more memorable than it might have otherwise been due to the chaos caused by 6 inches of snow in South Mississippi!

Congratulations, graduates!

What is the Dark Triad?

The Dark Triad Image
We are simultaneously drawn to and repelled by sensationalized stories of serial killers and mass murderers, seeking to understand how one of our fellow humans could commit such atrocities against innocent victims. Are these offenders vastly different from us in their genes, early environment, and/or recent life stressors, or are we all capable of such cruelty under the right set of circumstances? We wonder about what dark aspects of the human personality might be involved in such horrific acts. The question of why people violate social norms, commit moral transgressions (e.g., deceit, manipulation), and inflict harm on others has long intrigued psychologists and the public alike.

The Dark Triad refers to three overlapping but distinct personality traits associated with a variety of antisocial and morally transgressive behaviors: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavelianism (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Considered together, these traits involve emotional coldness, a lack of empathy, the desire for personal advancement at the expense of healthy relationships, grandiosity, and a willingness to manipulate others (Jonason, Lyons, Bethell, & Ross, 2013). Although there are well-known clinical manifestations of psychopathy and narcissism, work on the Dark Triad has emphasized the goal of understanding the subclinical forms of these traits found throughout the population (Furnham, Richards, & Paulhus, 2013). That is, most of the Dark Triad research seeks to understand the dark personalities we encounter in our daily lives.


Psychopathy describes a specific constellation of affective, interpersonal, lifestyle, and behavioral characteristics. These include impulsivity; callous affect; poor reliability in performing various roles; a lack of remorse, empathy, or guilt; and a tendency toward rule violation (Hare, 2003; Jones & Paulhus, 2014). Although psychopathy is associated with criminality and violence (Hare & Neumann, 2009) and is considered to be the most dangerous of the Dark Triad traits, its utility is not restricted to criminal and forensic contexts. For example, subclinical psychopathy predicts a variety of behaviors that are not necessarily criminal (e.g., academic dishonesty, relational aggression, cyber aggression, substance misuse) but still likely to be of interest (Kokkinos, Antoniadou, & Markos, 2014; Williams, Paulhus, & Hare, 2007).


Much like the clinical version (i.e., Narcissistic Personality Disorder), subclinical narcissism involves grandiosity, as well as entitlement and a sense of superiority; however, this grandiose narcissism is only one part of the construct. Another important aspect involves narcissistic vulnerability, which refers to a vulnerable self-concept and efforts at self-enhancement (Morf & Rodenwalt, 2001). While grandiose narcissism tends to be emphasized in much of the Dark Triad literature, vulnerable narcissism appears to be relevant in many areas of emotional and interpersonal functioning. Subclinical narcissism has been linked to aggression (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998), online antisocial behavior (Carpenter, 2012), and a number of other variables of interest.


Machiavellianism is probably the least understood of the Dark Triad traits. It refers to a manipulative interpersonal style named for Niccolò Machiavelli (Christie & Geis, 1970). In The Prince (1513), Machiavelli described several behaviors most of us would regard as immoral (e.g., lying, deceit, and even murder) as effective strategies for a ruler to maintain power. Machiavellianism is perhaps best characterized as the perspective that the ends justify the means. People high in Machiavellian traits are described as cynical on morality, focused on personal gain, and willing to manipulate and exploit others to achieve their goals (Jones & Paulhus, 2009). Machiavellian personality traits have been linked to online relational aggression (Abell & Brewer, 2014) and a number of other antisocial behaviors.

At the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab, our primary interest with regard to the Dark Triad traits involves their role in nonclinical populations (i.e., individuals in the community who are not currently receiving treatment for diagnosed personality disorders or other mental health problems) of emerging adults. That is, we are interested in how individual differences in scores on subclinical measures of Dark Triad traits relate to a variety of socially undesirable behaviors (e.g., overt and relational aggression, cyber aggression, dysfunctional anger expression, jealousy, academic dishonesty, aggressive driving) among young adults.


Abell, L., & Brewer, G. (2014). Machiavellianism, self-monitoring, self-promotion and relational aggression on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 258-262.

Bushman, B. J. & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 219-229.

Carpenter, C. J. (2012). Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and anti-social behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 482-486.

Christie R. & Geis F. L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic Press.

Furnham, A., Richards, S. C., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). The dark triad of personality: A 10 year review. Social and Personality Compass, 7, 199-216.

Hare, R. D. (2003). Manual for the Revised Psychopathy Checklist (2nd Edition). Toronto, ON, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Hare, R. D., & Neumann, C. S. (2009). Psychopathy: Assessment and forensic implications. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54, 791-802.

Jonason, P. K., Lyons, M., Bethell, E. J., & Ross, R. (2013). Different routes to limited empathy in the sexes: Examining the links between the Dark Triad and empathy. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 572-576.

Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Introducing the Short Dark Triad (SD3): A brief measure of dark personality traits. Assessment, 21, 28-41.

Jones, D.N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2009). Machiavellianism. In M.R. Leary & R.H. Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences in social behavior. New York: Guilford.

Kokkinos, C. M., Antoniadou, N., & Markos, A. (2014). Cyber-bullying: An investigation of the psychological profile of university student participants. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35, 204-214.

Morf, C. C. & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: a dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 4, 177-196.

Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556-568.

Williams, K. M., Paulhus, D. L. & Hare, R. D. (2007). Capturing the four-factor structure of psychopathy in college students via self-report. Journal of Personality Assessment, 88, 205-219.

Personal Statement Advice

Prospective students applying to the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program are asked to write a personal statement in which they address a few specific questions (see Admissions Information). We’d like to offer some advice to applicants interested in working in the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab about the question referring to their research interests. This question asks applicants to describe their research interests and discuss how the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program will allow them to pursue these interests.

We are interested in learning about how your interests fit with ours and the sort of research you’d like to pursue during your graduate training. While providing a brief summary your prior research experience can be helpful, most of this information is likely to be reflected in your CV and letters of recommendation. Thus, we encourage you to use your answer to this question to demonstrate your fit with the lab.

Due to the competitive nature of the admissions process, the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program asks applicants to identify more than one faculty member they would be interested in working with. This is what the part of the question asking about one’s flexibility with one’s 2nd choice faculty member refers to. Applicants who clearly demonstrate fit with their 2nd choice faculty member are likely to be evaluated more positively by that faculty member. In some cases, this can increase the chances of that applicant being interviewed and ultimately receiving an offer of admission.

To sum up, applicants interested in being considered by our lab are encouraged to describe how their research interests fit with ours. Those with diverse interests who would be open to working in another lab are also encouraged to address how their interests may fit with another faculty member.

Upcoming Paper on HEXACO, Dark Triad, and Relational Aggression

We just learned that a manuscript based on Niki Knight’s master’s thesis was accepted for publication in Personality and Individual Differences. Congratulations to Niki!

Here’s the abstract from the upcoming paper:

Relational aggression has been linked to many forms of psychological maladjustment. Identifying the personality traits associated with the perpetration of relational aggression offers promise in improving our ability to understand, prevent, and treat relationally aggressive behaviors. Much of the research to date has utilized the Five Factor Model; however, the HEXACO model of personality (Ashton et al., 2004) may offer some advantages in studying aggression. Moreover, the manipulative and often covert nature of relational aggression suggests that the Dark Triad personality traits are likely to be relevant. This study explored the utility of the HEXACO model and Dark Triad in predicting relational aggression in college students’ (N = 442) peer relationships. Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness predicted proactive and reactive relational aggression, and Emotionality also predicted reactive relational aggression. Pathological narcissism and psychopathy predicted proactive and reactive relational aggression while taking respondent gender and the full HEXACO model into account, with vulnerable narcissism and psychopathy serving as positive predictors and grandiose narcissism serving as a negative predictor. Findings support the utility of both the HEXACO and Dark Triad models in understanding peer relational aggression among emerging adults.

The citation is as follows:

Knight, N. M., Dahlen, E. R., Bullock-Yowell, E., & Madson, M. B. (in press). The HEXACO model of personality and Dark Triad in relational aggression. Personality and Individual Differences.

Savannah Merold Proposes Thesis

Savannah Merold's thesis proposal
Savannah Merold, a second-year student in the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at the University of Southern Mississippi, successfully proposed her master’s thesis today. Savannah’s thesis will examine the role of social intelligence and psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among emerging adults.

There is reason to believe that social and emotional intelligence are positive predictors of relational aggression, and some have suggested that certain levels of these forms of intelligence might be necessary for relational aggression to occur (or at least to be successful). At the same time, there is no reason to think that social or emotional intelligence would be sufficient to produce relational aggression. Thus, we plan to examine the degree to which psychopathic traits might inform our understanding of this relationship.

Congratulations to Savannah on a successful thesis proposal!