A Theory of the Common Core of Socially and Ethically Aversive Personality Traits


If you would like to know your level in D, you can take a questionnaire online at


A unified theory of aversive personality

Ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior is part of everyday life and instances of ruthless, selfish, unscrupulous, or even downright evil behavior can easily be found across history and cultures. Psychologists sometimes use the umbrella term “dark traits” to subsume personality traits that are linked to these classes of behavior — most prominently, Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy. Over the years, more and more allegedly distinct and increasingly narrow aversive traits have been introduced, resulting in a plethora of constructs lacking theoretical integration.

In proposing D — the Dark Factor of Personality — we specify the basic principles underlying all aversive traits and thereby provide a unifying, comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding aversive personality. In analogy to the general (g) factor of intelligence, D represents the one basic general dispositional tendency from which specific aversive traits arise as manifestations. All commonalities between various aversive traits can thus be traced back to D, so that D represents the common core of all these traits.

For example, D may be evident in Narcissism and/or Psychopathy, but also in any other specific traits such as Amorality, Egoism, Greed, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, Sadism, or Spitefulness, as well as in any combination thereof. Thus, instead of saying that an individual is an amoral, egoistic, narcissistic psychopath who selfishly acts according to her/his own interests and, in doing so, engages in sadistic and spiteful behaviors, one may just say that this individual displays high levels in D. D explains why aversive traits are connected and thereby forms the theoretical basis for the emergence of aversive personality in general.

The definition of D

D is defined as:

The general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others —, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.

Put simply, D describes the tendency to ruthlessly pursue one’s own interests, even when this harms others (or even for the sake of harming others), while having beliefs that justify these behaviors.

D is a basic, general dispositional tendency, which means that D is responsible for and can be evident in any specific aversive trait (such as, for example, Psychopathy) and any malevolent behavior (for example, abusing, bullying, cheating, intimidating, insulting, exploiting, harassing, humiliating, hurting, lying, manipulation, molesting, stealing, taunting, threatening, tormenting, torturing, trolling, etc.).

The content of D

Individuals with high levels in D will generally aim to maximize their individual utility at the expense of the utility of others. Utility is understood in terms of the extent of goal achievement, which includes different (more or less) visible gains such as excitement, joy, money, pleasure, power, status, and psychological need fulfillment in general. Thus, individuals high in D will pursue behaviors that unilaterally benefit themselves at the cost of others and, in the extreme, will even derive immediate utility for themselves (e.g., pleasure) from disutility inflicted on other people (e.g., pain). Individuals high in D will generally not be motivated to promote other’s utility (e.g., helping someone) and will not derive utility from other’s utility (e.g., being happy for someone).

Further, those with high levels in D will hold beliefs that serve to justify their corresponding actions (for example, to maintain a positive self-image despite malevolent behavior). There are a variety of beliefs that may serve as justification, including that high-D individuals consider themselves (or their group) as superior, see others (or other groups) as inferior, endorse ideologies favoring dominance, adopt a cynical world view, consider the world as a competitive jungle, and so on.

More about D

In the section below, you can find an annotated list of all published papers on D, briefly summarizing their content and providing links to download a copy.

For very informative summaries about the idea of D take a look at Scientific American and Psychology Today.


Moshagen, M., Hilbig, B. E., & Zettler, I. (2018). The dark core of personality. Psychological Review, 125, 656-688. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Original publication spelling out the theoretical idea and definition of D and demonstrating that (i) many dark traits are (largely) subsumed by D, (ii) D accounts for diverse aversive (behavioral) outcomes, whereas the specific dark traits provide little to no additional explanation of these outcomes (beyond D), (iii) D can be fully represented by subsets of indicators in line with its fluid nature (i.e. D can be measured by any combination of dark trait indicators), and (iv) within models of basic personality structure, D is located across multiple dimensions (especially Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness).

Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., & Hilbig, B. E. (2020). Measuring the dark core of personality. Psychological Assessment, 32, 182-196. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Based on rational item selection techniques and data from seven large and highly heterogeneous samples (total N > 165,000), item sets (comprising 70, 35, and 16 items, respectively) suited for an economic and psychometrically superior direct assessment of D are identified. For more on measuring D and all item translations, see Measuring D below.

Bader, M., Hartung, J., Hilbig, B. E., Zettler, I., Moshagen, M., & Wilhelm, O. (in press). Themes of the dark core of personality. Psychological Assessment. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Further investigates the internal structure of the D70 item set to measure D based on three large and heterogeneous samples. Shows that a bifactor structure modeling D along with five specific factors — or themes — labeled Callousness, Deceitfulness, Narcissistic Entitlement, Sadism, and Vindictiveness, yields a superior measurement model for D. For more on measuring D and all item translations, see Measuring D below.

Zettler, I., Moshagen, M., & Hilbig, B. E. (2021). The dark factor of personality shapes dark traits. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 12, 974-983. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Tests the theoretical notion that D is the underlying tendency from which specific dark traits arise as flavored manifestations. Shows in 4-year longitudinal data that D is stable and indeed more so than specific dark traits and that D longitudinally accounts for (change in) dark traits, sometimes more so than the dark traits themselves. For example, D (modeled without any spitefulness items!) is a descriptively better predictor of spitefulness four years later than spitefulness itself.

Hartung, J., Bader, M., Moshagen, M., & Wilhelm, O. (in press). Age and Gender Differences in Socially Aversive (“Dark”) Personality Traits. European Journal of Personality. (download copy (PDF))

Investigates the structure of the D Factor of Personality across age and gender using Local Structural Equation Modeling. Shows that the structure of D is highly stable across both age and gender, thereby supporting the conceptualization of the D factor. Further, men exhibited higher levels on D than females, and the level on D decreases as age increases.

Horsten, L. K., Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., & Hilbig, B. E. (in press). Theoretical and empirical dissociations between the Dark Factor of Personality and low Honesty-Humility. Journal of Research in Personality. (download copy (PDF))

Specifies the theoretical and conceptual differences between the common core of dark traits, the D factor, and HEXACO Honesty-Humility. Demonstrates across four studies and several criteria (pretentiousness, distrust-related beliefs, and empathy) that D and low Honesty-Humility are best understood as functionally different and nomologically distinct constructs.

Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., Horsten, L. K., & Hilbig, B. E. (2020). Agreeableness and the common core of dark traits are functionally different constructs. Journal of Research in Personality. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Tests and rejects the notion that the common core of dark traits, the D factor, is essentially equivalent to the low pole of (Big Five) Agreeableness. Shows that D and Agreeableness are functionally distinct, that is, account for different variance components in theoretically relevant criteria, especially dishonest behavior, justifying beliefs, and (lack of) empathy and guilt.

Note also a recent comment on this paper:
Vize, C. E., & Lynam, D. R. (2021). On the importance of the assessment and conceptualization of Agreeableness: A commentary on ‘‘Agreeableness and the common core of dark traits are functionally different constructs”. Journal of Research in Personality, 90, 104059. (doi)

and our reply:
Hilbig, B. E., Moshagen, M., Horsten, L. K. & Zettler, I. (2021). Agreeableness is dead. Long live Agreeableness? Reply to Vize and Lynam. Journal of Research in Personality, 91, 104074. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Hilbig, B. E., Thielmann, I., Klein, S. A., Moshagen, M. & Zettler, I. (in press). The dark core of personality and socially aversive psychopathology. Journal of Personality. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Demonstrates the conceptual and empirical overlap between D and socially aversive tendencies as studied in abnormal psychology: narcissistic, antisocial, paranoid and borderline psychopathology. Shows that – despite the limited theoretical and operational correspondence between specific dark traits and instances of psychopathology – D is well suited as a common cause explanation and outpredicts not only the full range of basic personality dimensions (including those most strongly related to D: Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) in accounting for aversive psychopathology, but actually the same instances of psychopathology themselves.


If you would like to know your level in D, you can take a questionnaire online at

‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski moved to prison medical facility

FILE – Theodore Kaczynski looks around as U.S. Marshals prepare to take him down the steps at the federal courthouse to a waiting vehicle on June 21, 1996, in Helena, Mont. The man known as the “Unabomber” has been transferred to a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina after spending the past two decades in a federal Supermax prison in Colorado for a series of bombings targeting scientists. A U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmate database shows seventy-nine-year-old Kaczynski has been moved to the bureau’s Butner medical center in eastern North Carolina. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

DENVER (AP) — The man known as the “Unabomber” has been transferred to a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina after spending the past two decades in a federal Supermax prison in Colorado for a series of bombings targeting scientists.

Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, 79, was moved to the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s FMC Butner medical center in eastern North Carolina on Dec. 14, according to bureau spokesperson Donald Murphy. Murphy declined to disclose any details of Kaczynski’s medical condition or the reason for his transfer.



Inside the Online Movement to End Work

r/antiwork started as a small corner of far-left Reddit. Then the liberals came.

Penny’s cousin had been telling her for years that work was a conspiracy. She’d send Penny links about how working from morning to night, day in and day out, was an outdated byproduct of industrialization—a system designed for the purpose of extracting as much value as possible from laborers on the assembly line. She’d make the case that in an ideal world, no one would need to work to survive.

“She used to say to me how she was anti how hard I worked at my job,” Penny said. Penny, a 26-year-old copywriter from the UK who asked that we use a pseudonym for privacy reasons, brushed it aside. She was in her early 20s, a self-described “type A” personality at the start of an exciting career at a creative agency.

By the time she was 25, however, her relationship with work started to unravel. She felt unsupported at her job, where she’d put in long hours with little recognition from her managers. “Being good at my job, I was rewarded with—drum-roll—even more work,” she said.

Then the pandemic hit. With business slowing down and a lot of free time to fill, Penny took up sewing as a hobby and started using Reddit to look up tips and tricks. Logging on to her main feed, she began seeing recommended posts from one of the site’s fastest-growing subreddits: r/antiwork. There, she saw users give voice to thoughts she thought she’d been alone in having, like how absurd it was to continue giving your all to a job that doesn’t give back what you are putting in.

It sounded a lot like what her cousin had been trying to tell her. But it wasn’t until she stumbled upon a random meme on the forum—a grainy image of a man applying clown makeup—that everything clicked: “Maybe if I work hard /  Go above and beyond / Never use sick or vacation days / The company will notice and appreciate,” the caption read.

She saw herself in the clown. “It was a never-ending loop of just trying to get more output out of me rather than being genuinely invested in my career and growth,” she said of her job.


Byung-Chul Han: How Objects Lost their Magic

For the philosopher, our postfactual stimulus culture is one that edges out time-consuming values such as loyalty, ritual and commitment

The other day I accidentally dropped a silver art-deco teapot, which has been my constant companion for the past 20 years. The dent was huge, and so was the measure of my grief. I suffered sleepless nights until I found a silversmith who promised me she could fix it. Now I find myself waiting impatiently for its return, filled with dread that, when it arrives, it will no longer be the same. And yet the experience leaves me wondering: why have I unravelled in this way?

‘Things are points of stability in life,’ the South Korean-born, Swiss-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes in his new book, Undinge (Nonobjects), which is just out in German. (As is the way of things with philosophy books, English-language readers might need to wait some time for its appearance in translation). ‘Objects stabilise human life insofar as they give it a continuity,’ Han writes. Living matter and its history bestow on the object a presence, which activates its entire surroundings. Objects – especially well-designed, historically charged objects, and which are not necessarily artworks – can develop almost magical properties. Undinge is about the loss of this magic. ‘The digital order deobjectifies the world by rendering it information,’ he writes. ‘It’s not objects but information that rules the living world. We no longer inhabit heaven and earth, but the Cloud and Google Earth. The world is becoming progressively untouchable, foggy and ghostly.’



Also, you may find many of the books of Byung-Chul Han on Library Genesis

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