- It has been assumed that the manipulative behavior characteristic of Machiavellianism cannot work efficiently without the refined use of the theory of mind Good mind readers – that is, people who can easily project themselves into the thoughts of others and understand their intentions, beliefs and knowledge – can use this ability more efficiently for achieving their goals than people with weaker mindreading capacity. Hence humans with outstanding mentalizing skills are always one step ahead of others and can mislead them more easily than those with poor mindreading ability. However, surprisingly, this prediction has not been confirmed. Our first study did not find a significant relationship between Machiavellianism (measured on the Mach-IV scale) and adult mindreading ability in social relations (measured by a comprehension task consisting of 14 stories and 53 questions) (Paal & Bereczkei, 2007). Further studies found that Machiavellianism was negatively correlated with mindreading test scores based on mentalizing stories (IMT) and the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test The authors concluded that high-Machs are performing poorly on both cognitive and affective tasks of mindreading.
- In spite of the Machiavellians’ successful strategies in exploitation of others, they show cognitive deficiencies, especially reduced mindreading skill. Theory of mind is usually regarded as an ability to make inferences about the mental states of others and thus to predict their behavior. In our study, we have instead emphasized a motivation-based approach, using the concept of spontaneous mentalization. It entails that people in their social relations make efforts to explore the thoughts and intentions of others and are motivated to make hypotheses about the mental state of the other person. We assumed that what is peculiar to Machiavellianism is spontaneous mentalization as a kind of motivation rather than mindreading as an ability (Esperger and Bereczkei 2012). To measure spontaneous mentalization, we created a set of image stimuli and asked our participants to describe their impressions of the pictures. The results show that individual differences in spontaneous mentalization correlate positively with the scores of Machiavellianism. These results suggest that those who have a stronger motivation for putting themselves into the mind of others can be more successful in misleading and exploiting them.
- Our another study is aimed at exploring the decision making processes underlying the Machiavellians’ exploitation of others in a social dilemma situation (Czibor and Bereczkei 2012). Participants (N=150) took part in a competitive version of Public Goods Game (PGG), and filled out Mach-IV and TCI tests. Our results showed that high Mach people gained a higher amount of money by the end of the game, compared to low Machs. The regression analyses have revealed that Machiavellian persons were more sensitive to the signals of social context and took the behavior of their partners into consideration to a greater extent when making a decision than did non-Machiavellians. In general, situational factors like the other players’ behavior proved to be more predictive for the final payoff than personality factors.
- We assumed that a profound examination of neural structures associated with decision-making processes is needed to learn more about Machiavellians’ abilities in exploiting other people. More specifically, we predicted that high-Mach people would show elevated activity in the brain areas involved in cognitive control of emotion, sensitivity to reward and punishment, and flexible problem-solving, compared to low-Machs. To test this hypothesis, we used an fMRI to scan individuals as they played the Trust game (Bereczkei, Deák, Papp, 2012). In accordance with our predictions, we found consistent activation in high-Machs’ dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that has long been recognized as crucially involved in cognitive control, including cognitive control over emotions. Additionally, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, especially caudate nucleus (CN) showed an increased activation in high-Mach people compared to low-Machs, in the game situation.This part of the brain is well known to be associated with the processing of reward, including monetary reward. Finally, we also found an increased activation in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) in high-Mach people, compared to low-Machs. It has been suggested that the obitofrontal cortex is involved in the motivational control of goal-directed behavior, and it has a fundamental role in making behavioral choices, particularly in unpredictable situations. We suggest that Machiavellians conductspecific neural operations in social dilemma situations that may make them successful in exploiting others.
- According to one of our interesting research results, Machiavellians use the opportunity tp punish for their own material gains (Paál 2012, Ph.D. dissetation). Strong negative reciprocity - sanctions imposed on norm violators on the punisher’s own expense - has powerful cooperation-enhancing effects in both real-life and experimental game situations. However, it is plausible that punishment may obtain alternative roles depending on social context and the personality characteristics of participants. We examined the occurrence of punishing behavior among subjects with different levels of Machiavellianism in a strongly competitive Public Goods - game setting. The results indicate that social contexts (intensive competition) and the subjects’ personality characteristics (Machiavellianism) both exert modifying effects on the role punishment takes. Here, High-Mach subjects punished each other in order to achieve a higher rank and a financially better outcome. Thus, in certain social conditions, punishment primarily functioned as a means of rivalry, instead of a way of second-order cooperation, as the theory of strong reciprocity would suggest.
- Bereczkei, T., Deak, A., & Papp, P. (paper submitted to Brain and Cognition) Neural correlates of Machiavellian strategies in a social dilemma task.
Bereczkei, T. Birkas, B., and Kerekes, Zs. (2010) The presence of others, prosocial traits, Machiavellism. A personality X situation approach. Social Psychology 41, 238-245.
- Czibor A., Bereczkei T. (2011) Sikeresek-e a machiavellisták? Viselkedési stratégiák, személyiségjellemzők és narratív beszámolók társas dilemmahelyzetekben, Pszichológia 31/4, 359-380.
- Czibor A., Bereczkei T. (2010) Ki nyeri meg a versenyt? Egy kompetitív kísérleti játék tanulságai, Magyar Pszichológiai Szemle 65, 165-182
- Czibor, A. and Bereczkei, T. (2012) achiavellian people’s success results from monitoring their partners. Personality and Individual Differences (in press)
- Esperger Zs., Bereczkei T (2011). Törekvés mások belső világának feltérképezésére: Spontán mentalizáció és machiavellizmus. Magyar Pszichológiai Szemle. 66, 487-506
- Esperger, Zs. and Bereczkei, T. (2012 Machiavellianism and spontaneous mentalization: one step ahead of others. European Journal of Personality (in press)
- Paal T. and Bereczkei T (2007). Adult theory of mind, Machiavellianism, and cooperation: the effect of mindreading on social relations. Personality and Individual Differences 43: 541-551.
- Bereczkei T., Birkas B., & Kerekes Zs. (2007) Public charity offer as a proximate factor of evolved reputation-building strategy: An experimental analysis of a real life situation. Evolution and Human Behavior 28: 277-284.