New research provides evidence that “dark” personality traits are associated with the use of sequential social influence techniques in romantic relationships. The new findings appear in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Sequential social influence techniques are a series of persuasive tactics used in a specific order to influence another person. These techniques are based on the idea that the effectiveness of persuasion increases when different techniques are used in a particular sequence, building upon each other. Examples of sequential social influence techniques include foot-in-the-door (making a small request followed by a larger one) and low-balling (offering an undesirable deal, then changing the terms to be slightly more desirable).
These techniques are often used in marketing, politics, and other fields where persuasion is key. But the authors behind the new study were interested in understanding whether people high in Dark Triad traits also employed sequential social influence techniques against their romantic partners.
“So far, research has shown that there is a link between aggressiveness, Dark Triad and social influence techniques, although it did not factor in romantic relationships,” explained study author Karolina Sarzyńska, a student at The Maria Grzegorzewska University
The Dark Triad of personality traits refers to a set of three related traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Individuals who possess these traits tend to exhibit behaviors that are self-centered, manipulative, and exploitative. Machiavellianism is characterized by a strategic and manipulative approach to social interaction, while narcissism involves an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. Psychopathy involves a lack of empathy and a disregard for the well-being of others.
For their study, Sarzyńska and her co-author Joanna Rajchert surveyed 171 participants from Poland, who ranged in age between 17 and 52. The participants completed assessments of aggressiveness, Dark Triad personality traits, and the use of sequential influence techniques in romantic relationships.
Machiavellianism, narcissism, and aggressiveness were all positively associated with the tendency to use social influence techniques. “The results suggest that, in the case of social influence techniques used towards a romantic partner, important factors are as follows: anger, hostility, self-interest orientation, and likelihood of exploiting others,” Sarzyńska told PsyPost.
Additionally, the researchers found that Machiavellianism and aggressiveness were the most important predictors of the use of social influence techniques. “Machiavellianism is especially important in predicting the use of [sequential social influence techniques] in romantic relationships,” they explained.
“However, this association is partly confounded by aggressiveness. Thus, it might be assumed that Machiavellian pursuit of the influence on their romantic partner is partly an aggressive attempt at self-enhancing. Nevertheless, both features: Machiavellianism and aggressiveness, despite being related to each other, have their associations with [sequential social influence techniques].”
The researchers noted that factors such as marriage status, relationship duration, gender, and sexual orientation could all influence the results, and should be examined in future research.
“The reason why people tend to use these techniques still needs to be addressed in order to find alternative ways to increase the relationship satisfaction for both partners,” Sarzyńska added. “Self-enhancement, increasing relationship satisfaction, and emotional deficits are all probable explanations but not the only ones.”
The study, “Dark Triad, aggressiveness and influence techniques in romantic relationships“, was authored by Karolina Sarzyńska and Joanna Rajchert