Saturday, December 21, 2013

Machiavellism, social dominance orientation and authoritarianism are tightly related (and subclinically psycopathic)

Depending on one's ideology this may seem either obvious or counterintuitive but that is what a powerful set of five successive studies has found.
Laura Niemi & Liane Young, Caring across Boundaries versus Keeping Boundaries Intact: Links between Moral Values and Interpersonal Orientations. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081605]

Prior work has established robust diversity in the extent to which different moral values are endorsed. Some people focus on values related to caring and fairness, whereas others assign additional moral weight to ingroup loyalty, respect for authority and established hierarchies, and purity concerns. Five studies explore associations between endorsement of distinct moral values and a suite of interpersonal orientations: Machiavellianism, prosocial resource distribution, Social Dominance Orientation, and reported likelihood of helping and not helping kin and close friends versus acquaintances and neighbors. We found that Machiavellianism (Studies 1, 3, 4, 5) (e.g., amorality, controlling and status-seeking behaviors) and Social Dominance Orientation (Study 4) were negatively associated with caring values, and positively associated with valuation of authority. Those higher in caring values were more likely to choose prosocial resource distributions (Studies 2, 3, 4) and to report reduced likelihood of failing to help kin/close friends or acquaintances (Study 4). Finally, greater likelihood of helping acquaintances was positively associated with all moral values tested except authority values (Study 4). The current work offers a novel approach to characterizing moral values and reveals a striking divergence between two kinds of moral values in particular: caring values and authority values. Caring values were positively linked with prosociality and negatively associated with Machiavellianism, whereas authority values were positively associated with Machiavellianism and Social Dominance Orientation.
A synthesis of the results of the five studies is presented in figure 2:
Figure 2. Summary of correlations observed across all studies.
Each square represents an observation of a significant partial correlation (politics, religion, and gender controlled). Each circle represents an observation of a significant zero-order correlation. Study (#) indicated on each circle/square. Moral values are color-coded.
"Mach" means Machiavellianism and "SDO" means social dominance orientation, which are clearly and positively correlated among them, via the same set of "group values" (ingroup loyalty, authority and purity). Instead helping those close to oneself and prosocial distribution are very positively correlated among them and associated with the "humanist values" or caring and fairness.
This is very much counterintuitive, especially as the authors use the term "individualizing" for the caring and fairness values, which makes absolutely no sense to me, as individualism means selfishness and aloofness, even misanthropy. Hence I replaced that term for "humanist" although I also pondered "personalist" (as the person can be something more whole and socially connected than the individual).
The produce of the two sets of values is even more at odds with the concept individualism. In fact it is the group (or "binding and dividing") value people who actually strive for social dominance and favor Machiavellianism. This is because they do not think in the group as extensive but as intensive and almost certainly as tool for their own individualist selfish goals. 
Most interpersonal behavior requires individuals to balance selfish motivation with prosocial motivation – to be a positive social partner who helps other people. These orientations are not mutually exclusive – care for the self is at times necessary to enable care for others. However, for some individuals, a motivation to dominate or exploit the group for selfish aims, measureable as Machiavellianism [20] or Social Dominance Orientation [21], may take precedence. Individuals high in Machiavellianism (“Machs”) admit to employing manipulation and deception to achieve power, status, control, and financial success [20]. These goals require successful management of group relations, which may in turn shed light on the paradoxical nature of Machiavellianism. Machs are often described as socially skilled, well-liked, popular, and excellent at building alliances [22], but they are also subclinically psychopathic [23] and exploitative of others' trust [24], [25]. Machiavellian negotiation of relationships and social structures for personal gain may benefit from a moral stance that elevates values like loyalty and deference to authority. More specifically, these values are critical for the preservation of existing social order but largely insensitive to concerns about caring and fairness. Moralization of these values – alongside relative indifference to caring and fairness values – could facilitate strategic hierarchy management while freeing the individual to feel morally justified in engaging in manipulative or exploitative behavior.
Subclinically psychopathic is a most revealing concept. I have often though of this as a real social problem of first order. The subclinicality may only be because psychiatry has established a boundary not to touch the powerful, what would be playing with fire. But, as we will see below, there is more to it.
What happens with social dominance orientation?
Relatedly, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is characterized by a desire for inequality and a tendency to categorize people along a hierarchical “superior-inferior dimension” [21]. SDO, like Machiavellianism, has been found to predict various antisocial outcomes, including explicit racism and sexism as well as reduced empathy and concern for others [21], [26], [27]. While SDO has previously been identified as negatively correlated with individualizing values and positively correlated with binding values [2], SDO has not yet received attention for its potential positive connection with binding values when political orientation is controlled. Since an orientation towards social dominance requires a strict hierarchical worldview, a positive correlation between SDO and authority values, regardless of political orientation, would be predicted [2].
Later in the discussion they turn back to "Machs":
What could account for the positive relationship between respect for authority and Machiavellianism, an antisocial interpersonal style associated with strategic manipulation? Indeed, Machs have been shown to lie more convincingly [35], steal more readily [36], and rationalize deeds with callous unemotionality [37]. To provide the foundation for two potential explanations for this surprising relationship, we first describe two relevant aspects of Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism and psychopathy are distinct in relation to social norm processing, and (2) Machs are likely to be dominant individuals in positions of authority. Next, we propose two potential explanations for the positive relationships between moral valuation of respect for authority and Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism may entail moralization of respect for authority for a variety of strategic reasons, and (2) authority values may license Machiavellian behavior.
Discussing the subtle differences between Machiavellianism and outright psychopathy:
Although Machiavellianism is characterized by selfishness and shares some overlap with psychopathy [23], Machs are not necessarily aloof and unconcerned with social norms. Instead, the ability to manipulate others may actually benefit from a keen sensitivity to norms that govern social structure.
Instead most clinical psychopaths tend to be aloof. 
Another key difference is that Machs are highly sensitive to punishment, while again true psychopaths may be somewhat indifferent to this social corrector, so Machs retreat and even give away profusely in order to avoid this outcome.
Machiavellianism is also clearly related to dominance and control and, therefore to respect for authority:
In addition to being hyper-attuned to social structure, Machs are also likely to reside at the top of those structures in positions of authority. Machiavellian-style social climbing tactics (e.g., manipulation and deception) are more likely to be used by individuals high in dominance and well-equipped to assume authority over others [38]. Likewise, Machiavellian supervisors in a range of business sectors have been described by subordinates as employing authoritarian work habits involving strict control over a hierarchical workplace structure [46]. As individuals who recognize they can personally benefit from “working the system” from a position of authority – rather than attempting to make the system work for all – Machs may be more likely to identify respect for authority as relevant or even central to their concepts of “right and wrong”.
Ironically Machiavellianism finds in authoritarianism a self-serving morality. Being able to play the game and climb to the top, Machs clearly benefit from such respect to authority themselves and will spread the word among their subordinates. It also helps themselves to self-regulate their behavior in ways that are within the boundaries of the game, yet still selfish. Accepting others' authority acts as self-protection and gives them a moral varnish, internalizing these values allows them more easily to perform their flattery and igratiation climbing tactics (otherwise probably perceived as humiliation).
The authoritarian ethics seem also useful in order to condone otherwise anti-social behaviors such as cheating, graft or torture. Other recent studies have shown that individuals primed to feel high in power – that is, closer to “authority figure” status – were more likely to endorse unethical and antisocial behavior [55], [56].
Something I really miss in this study is the proportion of tendencies among the studied group, which could reflect general distribution in society. While the statistical correlations are systematically produced the proportion and intensity of the values of the actual human sample is not shown.
The authors assume that the prosocial values are generally desirable but in reality what I have found way too often is that many people, especially those in intermediate command positions or with a career to develop, experience serious contradictions between the "official" prosocial or humanist ethics and the "unofficial" but very real Machiavellian one. I would even say that they often feel emotionally broken by this contradiction. And this "they" at least sometimes becomes "we" and "I", so painfully.
It would certainly be interesting to study this contradictory social and psychological reality, even cross-culturally. 
In any case this study does produce some very interesting data that should be most valuable for future and more comprehensive research. It also produces very important information for our meditations on our social and personal reality, and certainly it also applies to past realities, at least since society became complex and hierarchical.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Comment moderation before publishing is... ON