Two -dimensional Machiavellianism: Conceptualisation, Measurement, and well-being

Date & time

4–5pm 5 June 2018


Peter Baume Building 42A Room 2.01


Conal Monaghan PhD (Clinical) student at Research School of Psychology

Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.

Machiavelli (1513), The Prince

Individuals learn to influence and manipulate others to function as part of society. Machiavellianism captures one’s willingness to orchestrate the behaviour of others against their interests, rights, and well-being. Research focuses primarily on a single Machiavellianism dimension. We, however, contend that Machiavellianism comprises two correlated dimensions: a views dimension that captures one’s cynical and distrusting view of humanity and the world, and a tactics dimension that captures one’s willingness to endorse exploitative and amoral behaviours when deemed advantageous. We aimed to develop a stronger understanding of each dimension, and this required developing new psychometric instruments. We also aimed to test the presupposition of no psychopathological cost to Machiavellianism.

First, we derived a two-dimensional measure from an existing and widely employed measure (Mach-IV scale) in 1478 US and 218 Australian participants. This two-dimensional scale fitted the data well, and was invariant between the datasets and over a three-month test-retest period. Machiavellian views were associated with all major psychopathological domains, while Machiavellian tactics related only to the externalising and thought dysfunction domains.

Next, Study 2 aimed to identify if these two dimensions are universal, or merely measurement artefacts within Study 1. We further aimed to develop a nomological network to better understand the nature of each dimension. Collaborators shared 15 datasets, which comprised over 17,000 participants. The two-factor structure was reproducible and structurally equivalent across: cultures, languages, types of respondent, response category length, age, and gender. Further, each dimension was situated within a different constellation of broad personality traits, developmental pathways, emotionality, and behaviour. Therefore, the two dimensions appear to be core aspects of Machiavellianism and need to be independently captured in future research.

The final study developed and validated the two-dimensional Machiavellianism scale (TDMS) to overcome weaknesses in existing measures. The TDMS had excellent psychometric properties in six independent samples involving over 3800 participants, based on confirmatory factor analysis, longitudinal structural equation modelling, and item response theory. We demonstrate confirmatory and discriminatory validity with existing measures of Machiavellianism, broader personality taxonomies, socio-political attitudes, psychopathy, narcissism, and morality vignettes.

Together, this research demonstrates that: a) Machiavellianism comprises two distinct dimensions; b) the TDMS, as a psychometrically robust measure of Machiavellianism, should replace current measures of Machiavellianism; and c) the presupposition of psychopathological immunity among Machiavellians is false.

Presenter: Conal Monaghan finished his undergraduate studies in 2011 and is currently undertaking a PhD in clinical psychology at the Australian National University. His research interests are related to psychological perspectives on group performance, group membership’s effect on behaviour, the public’s attitudes towards biotechnology, psychometrics, online platforms for predicting cognitive atrophy, and personality and individual differences. His PhD investigates conceptualising Machiavellianism from a two-dimensional perspective, and the role this has on psychopathology and well-being. He is also a big fan of cheese, cycling, and anything that involves a large amount of effort for minimal payoff. 

Updated:  25 June 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director, RSP/Page Contact:  Web Admin, RSP