What is Machiavellianism in Psychology?
Mar 29, 2018

Grace Armstrong
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 4 min.

Machiavellianism in psychology refers to a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.

Machiavellianism is one of the traits in what is called the ‘Dark Triad’, the other two being narcissism and psychopathy.

The term itself derives from a reference to the infamous Niccolò Machiavelli, a diplomat and philosopher in the Renaissance whose most well-known work became ‘The Prince” (Il Principe). This notorious book espoused his views that strong rulers should be harsh with their subjects and enemies, and that glory and survival justified any means, even ones that were considered immoral and brutal.

By the late 16th century “Machiavellianism” became a popular word to describe the art of being deceptive to get ahead.

But it wasn’t a psychological term until the 1970s, when two social psychologists, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis, developed what they called “the Machiavellianism Scale”. A personality inventory that is still used as the main assessement tool for Machaivellianism, this scale is now called ‘the Mach-IV test”.

Machiavellianism has been found to be more common in men then women. It can, however, occur in anyone – even children.

Signs of Machiavellianism

Someone with the trait of Machiavellianism will tend to have many of the following tendencies:

only focused on their own ambition and interests

prioritise money and power over relationships

come across as charming and confident

exploit and manipulate others to get ahead

lie and deceive when required

use flattery often

lacking in principles and values

can come across as aloof or hard to really get to know

cynical of goodness and morality

capable of causing others harm to achieve their means

low levels of empathy

often avoid commitment and emotional attachments

can be very patient due to calculating nature

rarely reveal their true intentions

prone to casual sex encounters

can be good at reading social situations and others

lack of warmth in social interactions

not always aware of the consequences of their actions

might struggle to identify their own emotions

The Machiavellianism Scale

The Machiavellianism scale is a score of up to 100 resulting from a test that consists of a series of questions. People who score above 60 are considered ‘high Machs’ and those scoring below 60, ‘low Machs’.

High Machs are focused on their own wellbeing. They believe that to get ahead, one must be deceptive. They don’t trust human goodness and think depending on others is naive. Prioritising power over love and connection, they don’t believe that humankind is by nature good.

A low Mach, on the other hand, tends to show empathy to others, and is honest and trusting. They believe in human goodness and that if you abide by good morals you will do well in life. Too low on the scale, however, can see people being submissive and too agreeable.

There is also a ‘Kiddie Mach Test’ for children.

Machiavellianism is considered part of the ‘Dark Triad’, being one of three personality traits that also includes narcississm and sociopathy / psychopathy. With each of these traits alone making someone difficult to be around, all three occurring in one person can make for someone that is quite dangerous to other people’s mental wellbeing.

Despite seemingly obvious connections between the three ‘dark triad’ traits and the prevalence of one trait often occurring with the other two, research has yet to be done to concretely prove a correlation.

Personality disorders where sufferers might have the trait of Machiavellianism include Antisocial personality disorder, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

A recent study also found a high prevalence of depression in those with the Machiavellian trait.

What is the difference between the three personality traits of the dark triad?

All three traits are about trying to get away with putting yourself first to get what you want. But they each have a different focus.

Machiavellianism is most about manipulation for personal gain.

Narcissism is most about believing you deserve admiration and to be treated differently than others.

Sociopathy is most about being cold and insensitive to others needs.

How is Machiavellianism treated?

The problem with malevolent personality traits like those found in the dark triad is that those who have such traits are unlikely to seek therapy or want to change. They usually only attend therapy if pushed to do so by family members or because they have committed a crime and have been told to attend therapy by court order.

For psychotherapy to be effective, a client needs to be honest and allow a trusting relationship to form between themselves and their therapist. Machiavellianism is a trait whereby a person is often dishonest and does not trust others.

And yet with a knowledgeable psychotherapist progress can be made. A good psychotherapist with experience of the traits of the Dark Triad will see each client as an individual and take into account their unique history. This will include the conditioning they have experienced and their unique life situation. A trained therapist can also identify and help treat other related issues the person has, like depression and anxiety.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one type of therapy that is sometimes recommended for those with malevolent personality traits. It espouses that the way we think dictates our behaviour, so by identifying and replacing disordered thoughts and feelings we can then transform behaviour.

How Do I Know If I Have the Machiavellian Trait?

While you can find your score on the Machiavellian Scale by trying the test online, self diagnosis is not recommended. If you really are worried you have the trait a proper diagnosis with a mental health professional is recommended.

I Am Sure My Boss/ Ex / Family Member Has the Machiavellianism Trait, What Do I Do?

The problem then lies in the fact that those who do have the Machiavellian trait rarely will want to change or seek help.

Of course it’s also easy to assume others have the traits of the ‘dark triad’ like Machiavellianism, and while many do, it’s best not to jump to conclusions.

If, however, you feel you are the victim of someone with the Machiavellian trait, what you CAN do is seek help and support for yourself.

It can be overwhelming and cause great mental distress and damage to have such a person in your life, and their capacity to manipulate might leave you doubting your own instincts or feeling codependently ‘addicted’ to having them in your life. A therapist can help you learn better self care, and help you set boundaries or if possible extricate the person from your life for good.

Do you have further questions about Machiavellianism? Or want to share a personal experience of it? Do so below, we welcome hearing from you.

by Harley Therapy

Leave your comments / questions for this practitioner

To write a comment please
Category filter
Concern filter
Type filter

All categories

Cognitive Psychology
$99 USD
Check Your Vibes! Find out how much Positive and Negative energy you have!

The Energy Leadership™ Index (ELI) assessment is the proprietary, research-backed assessment tool, created by iPEC, that takes something abstract, like the way a person views the world, and turns it into something tangible—a metric that you can see and feel and even reevaluate in the future.

You’ve probably taken personality tests, like Myers Briggs, DiSC, and Enneagram, but this is different. And transformational.

The ELI is an attitudinal assessment tool that captures how an individual currently perceives and approaches work and life. This means that you learn to make change happen in real-time when you encounter a moment of self-doubt, fear, or frustration.

With the awareness and insights gained through the Energy Leadership Index debrief, you have the opportunity to reshape your attitudes and worldview and transform your life into the one you envision.

Our worldview is the result of a combination of many different aspects: our past experiences, level of consciousness, perception of situations. Each of us has a unique combination of all seven levels of energy which, in turn, creates your typical viewpoints, perceptions, and beliefs about life.

Learning about your energetic makeup can help you to reframe your perspective, shift your consciousness, and increase your energy level as a result. Discover your unique energetic makeup by taking an ELI Assessment!

This comes with an hour debrief - As an FYI the price is what it is because there is a price to me- I have to pay the institution for the assessment and the scoring. Then I'll walk you thorugh your results.

David Jacks
Life Coaching
$75 USD
mentorship session
Ignite the Light Within


Powerful! Find your recipe for happiness! Love the skin you're in. We will go deep right away to discover your inner passion, chart a course that aligns with your highest heart power.

Target audience

Adults who are ready to be happy and enjoy their lives. Adults who are depressed, feeling hopeless or lost.


You will feel energized and empowered to make the changes you want in your life.


I will use my intuitive skills as we talk and hone in on your desires. I will place high frequency sigils in your energy field to expand your future and encourage your inner power to come forth.

Other comments

Dr. Michele S. Zirkle
Life Coaching
$60 USD
coaching session
Design Your Life- Personal Development Session

When you aren't sure which way to turn or who to turn to for help in making decisions, I will help you come home to yourself and forge a plan to manifest your desires.
Whether it's everyday details that have you confused or it's major decisions you need to make, I will teach you how to make the decisions that are best for you.

Dr. Michele S. Zirkle
Wellness Coaching
$111 USD
healing session
Goddess Embodiment Coaching

Dear sister, this is a session for you to connect with and heal your divine feminine energy. I will guide you to release wounds and blockages around your Heart and Womb so you can reclaim your power, pleasure, sensuality, wisdom and creativity. Every session is intuitively tailored specifically to you and weaves guided feminine meditation, breathwork, and embodied coaching.

This session is for women of all ages and can help you experience:
Connection to your body, feel grounded and centered
Self Love
Learn the art of feminine self care and establish routines that bring you nourishment and pleasure
Release stuck emotion
Create a healthy and loving connection with your feminine centers ~ womb, yoni, heart, breasts
Bring balance to your cycles
Access your intuition and inner wisdom
Awaken the power of your feminine energy, awaken your inner Goddess
Live your life with more ease and sensual enjoyment

These sessions are a safe and sacred space to be entirely YOU. This is a space of compassion and non-judgment where you can relax, release, and receive. You will feel held and supported by a container of unconditional love to move through limiting beliefs, stuck emotions and old wounds, and open up to the incredible power that you hold within.

It's an honor to support you. Please reach out with any questions.
Much Love, Tiffany

Tiffany Ashaya Rose

Related Articles

View All
Registered individuals enjoy all the possibilities of Core Spirit.