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Dark versus Light Personality Types and Moral Choice


  • David L. Dickinson


Dark personality traits have been linked to behaviors commonly understood as unethical, such as fraud, bribe-taking, and marital infidelity. Presumably, more “light” personality traits may be associated with lesser tendencies to be unethical, but many individuals also possess both light and dark trait characteristics. This paper reports results from a preregistered study of over 2400 participants who completed validated short-form personality instruments to assess dark and light personality trait measures—the dark tetrad and a light “triad” of 3 personality dimensions were measured. Furthermore, participants completed 3 tasks of interest that contribute to an understanding or one’s ethics: a task assessing prosociality, a task that presents a monetary temptation to be dishonest, and a hypothetical moral dilemma task. The results overall support the hypotheses that dark personality traits predict lower levels of prosociality, higher likelihood of dishonesty, and an increased willingness to make immoral choices overall. Potential mechanisms and implications are examined. Key Words: Ethics, dark personality, moral choice, experiments

Suggested Citation

  • David L. Dickinson, 2023. "Dark versus Light Personality Types and Moral Choice," Working Papers 23-04, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:apl:wpaper:23-04

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Elster, Jon, 1989. "Social Norms and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 99-117, Fall.
    2. Dickinson, David L. & Masclet, David, 2019. "Using ethical dilemmas to predict antisocial choices with real payoff consequences: An experimental study," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 195-215.
    3. James R. Van Scotter & Karina De Déa Roglio, 2020. "CEO Bright and Dark Personality: Effects on Ethical Misconduct," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 164(3), pages 451-475, July.
    4. Dickinson, David L. & Masclet, David, 2023. "Unethical decision making and sleep restriction: Experimental evidence," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 484-502.
    5. Masclet, David & Dickinson, David L., 2019. "Incorporating Conditional Morality into Economic Decisions," IZA Discussion Papers 12782, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Benoît Dubreuil & Jean-François Grégoire, 2013. "Are moral norms distinct from social norms? A critical assessment of Jon Elster and Cristina Bicchieri," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 75(1), pages 137-152, July.
    7. Antoinette Rijsenbilt & Harry Commandeur, 2013. "Narcissus Enters the Courtroom: CEO Narcissism and Fraud," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 117(2), pages 413-429, October.
    8. Hershfield, Hal E. & Cohen, Taya R. & Thompson, Leigh, 2012. "Short horizons and tempting situations: Lack of continuity to our future selves leads to unethical decision making and behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 117(2), pages 298-310.
    9. repec:cup:judgdm:v:6:y:2011:i:8:p:771-781 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Andrew Harrison & James Summers & Brian Mennecke, 2018. "The Effects of the Dark Triad on Unethical Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 153(1), pages 53-77, November.
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    More about this item


    ethics; dark personality; moral choice; experiments;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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