Laura Jenkins, PhD

Do the Dark Triad Personality Traits Link to Academic Misconduct in Students?

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Laura Jenkins, PhD, (2022, April 29). Do the Dark Triad Personality Traits Link to Academic Misconduct in Students?. Psychreg on Personality Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/dark-triad-personality-traits-link-academic-misconduct-students/
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Within psychology, we can use personality to discuss how and why someone may behave. We can suggest that if someone has a more outgoing personality trait of being extraverted then they may be more likely to work well within a team or be more suited to a customer service role. Similarity those with more neurotic personality traits may prefer to work on a more individual basis and in areas with limited deadlines.

While the personality research has been conducted within employment settings (medical, business and recruitment settings, for example), there is a lack of research specifically within higher education institutions. Some people would not see a higher education setting as important because they are the stepping-stone between leaving school and becoming solely independent in the outside world of employment. As a psychologist and psychology teacher myself, I think that is very important to study such settings as educational settings can provide us with an insight on how students are developing whilst they are learning and the reasons for such developments.

When we consider educational settings such as within a university, we can suggest that more conscientious students will study harder and less open students will find new concepts and topics difficult to revise or understand. We can also consider how personality may influence mental health within students, and in turn, this could have an impact upon academic achievement. Despite a large amount of the research using the Big 5 personality traits, we don’t know a great deal about the more negative personality traits that individuals can be displayed. Research tends to use The Big 5 as the basic personality theory, however, this theory does not consider some of the more negative personality traits that can be displayed, such as those discussed within the Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychoticism).

Within the context of learning, and in particular higher education learning in universities, the links to personality can be seen in those students who may be more inclined to be involved with plagiarism or academic misconduct. When we talk about plagiarism, we mean that work has been directly copied from a source without appropriate acknowledgement pr reference to it and at university level, this is a serious thing. There is also another type of academic misconduct, called collusion, where two people work together to produce a piece of work. It’s called collusion as this can be seen as an unauthorised operation between two students and it often occurs when the work is supposed to be an individual piece. Universities have very strict procedures in place to deal with instances of academic misconduct, whether this is intentional or unintentional, however we do not often see the research looking at the cognitive mechanisms behind the involvement with cheating.

I have recently read an interesting article from Emma Young on why students may engage in plagiarism and one of the reasons links with the dark triad of personality traits. Within the article, work is discussed which provides details on how the higher incidents of cheating and plagiarism among students occur in those who have strong links with narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychoticism. Emma suggests that those who score high on the dark triad traits take less responsibility for their own learning. Eventually such students believe that they should be provided with a good learning environment and ultimately good grades. This is called ‘academic entitlement’ where someone believes that they are entitled to certain grades no matter what they have done to achieve those grades. So for example, someone who has a narcissistic personality trait may feel as though they are special and therefore are entitled to getting good grades. If this person then scores highly Machiavellianism scale, it could be a bad combination as individuals who are high in this trait will do anything to gain power and achievements. The Dark Triad can also be associated with academic misconduct due to the high involvement of honesty and modesty. Those individuals who score high on the dark triad traits are often perceived as less honest and they may feel as though being part of academic misconduct could be hidden.

The one direction for future research is to look at these links across different subject areas. We know that students studying towards business degrees or in areas of law can score highly on the dark triad traits but is this the same for other subjects such as psychology (where students have knowledge of behaviour) or mathematics (which does not primarily involve needing an advantage over others)? This is one area that my future dissertation students will hopefully be investigating. The background research in the area now has clear evidence for providing us with details of the dark triad and academic misconduct links.


Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. 

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