Which Majors are Prone to Malevolence? A Look at the Dark Triad of Personality

By Eden Gibson. Graphics by Kelsey Wang.

If you’ve ever taken an introductory psych class — or spent any time on Buzzfeed — chances are you’re well acquainted with the vast array of personality tests (of varying degrees of seriousness) that are out there. At this point, you’re probably tired of seeing people’s MBTI results in their Instagram bios or building charcuterie boards to discover which type of wine you are. We don’t blame you.

But you might not have seen it all. In 2002, psychologists Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams designed a personality inventory known as the Dark Triad, designed to measure three malevolent qualities you won’t find mentioned in a Buzzfeed quiz. According to Scientific American, the trinity comprises narcissism, or “entitled self-importance,” Machiavelliansim, or “strategic exploitation and deceit,” and psychopathy, or “callousness and cynicism.”*

While the Marriage Pact survey certainly isn’t a substitute for the inventory Paulhus and Williams devised, many of our questions do touch on themes of ambition, pessimism, self-confidence, and secrecy. Since we explore these topics, we had to ask: Which students would theoretically score the highest on each pillar of the Dark Triad?

Using data from UVA’s 2020 Marriage Pact survey, we decided to break things down by major to see which academic pursuits lend themselves the most to grandiosity, manipulation, and insensitivity. For starters, we selected a handful of survey questions that correlate with each pillar of the Dark Triad. For each question, we looked at the percentage of each major who chose a response greater than 4 (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest level of agreement). To eliminate sampling bias, we discounted majors with less than 50 responses (sorry, Medieval Studies).

We began with narcissism, narrowing in on three questions: “I need to be famous,” “Are you smarter than most people at UVA?”, and “I would be okay if I spent my life doing good for others, but did not receive recognition for it.”

Across the board, UVA students don’t seem too hungry for the spotlight. But spend a day on campus, and you might run into our future president.

Looks like the majority of math majors think they’re smarter than average. We’ll give them that one.

Since this question correlates with selflessness rather than narcissism, we looked at the percentages of each major that chose a response below 4. We get it, Media Studies majors. We’d be mad too if we were left out of the credits of the movie we directed.

Next up: Machiavellianism, a reference to the Italian philosopher who believed that ruthlessness, manipulation, and deceit were a political necessity. A fun guy at parties, for sure. To see which students adhere the most to Machiavellian principles, we looked at three questions: “I find extreme ambition attractive, even if it interferes with family and friends,” “There is a place for revenge when someone has wronged me,” and “Small lies to your spouse are harmless.”

It’s great to see where our future politicians’ priorities lie. We don’t blame them, though — it takes some serious initiative to break into the political sphere. We’ve heard architecture is more cutthroat than it sounds, too.

Who hurt you, commerce majors?

We bet the Stats and Econ majors did a quick cost-benefit analysis before they lied about that party they went to.

Finally, we looked at psychopathy, to which we focused on questions about secrecy and cynicism, two traits typically associated with antisocial behavior.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag. Don’t worry, youth advocates of UVA. Your secret is safe with us.

Oh, STEM majors. We promise you’ll find someone someday.

Now that we’ve looked at each question individually, it’s time to determine once and for all the most malevolent majors at UVA. For each group of questions about a Dark Triad trait, we averaged the percentages we found for each major to crown a winner (and a few runners-up) in each category.

Most Narcissistic:

  1. Commerce
  2. Public Policy and Leadership
  3. Neuroscience
  4. Systems Engineering
  5. Mathematics

Most Machievellian:

  1. Commerce
  2. Politics
  3. Public Policy and Leadership
  4. Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law
  5. Economics

Most Psychopathic:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Physics
  3. Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law
  4. Youth & Social Innovation
  5. Chemistry

Do with that what you will.

Have a personality-related topic you’d like us to explore? DM us on Instagram or Twitter, @marriagepact.

The Dark Triad of Personality investigates subclinical levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, and is not used to diagnose personality disorders.

Eden is a writer for the Marriage Pact. She can be reached at eden ‘at’ marriagepact.com.

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