Malevolent Forces

Date01 April 2017
Published date01 April 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Malevolent Forces: Self-Control,
the Dark Triad, and Crime
John Paul Wright
, Mark Alden Morgan
Pedro R. Almeida
, Nora F. Almosaed
Sameera S. Moghrabi
, and Fawzia S. Bashatah
The Dark Triad is represented by three interrelated personality characteristics thought to share a
‘‘dark core’’—that is, to be associated with a range of negative outcomes. We investigate this link
alongside another potent predictor of crime, low self-control. Our analyses found the Dark Triad
was strongly predictive of delinquency, especially violent delinquency, where it accounted for the
effects of self-control. Yet it exerted no significant effect on drug-based delinquency. However, an
interaction between the Dark Triad and low self-control remained substantive and predictive across
all models, where low self-control amplified the effects of the Dark Triad on delinquency.
dark triad, low self-control, psychopathy, malevolence, juvenile delinquency
The publication of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) A General Theory of Crime generated
unparalleled criminological interest. Backed by an easy to employ attitudinal scale developed
by Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, and Arneklev (1993), along with a slew of other scales constructed in
secondary data sets, studies and debates into the effects of self-control have flourished (de Ridder,
Lensvelt-Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok, & Baumeister, 2012; Moffitt et al., 2011; Pratt & Cullen,
2000; Rebellon, Straus, & Medeiros, 2008). Indeed, by any metric, tests of self-control have
accumulated at a rate never before witnessed in the criminological cannons. Few theories or
variables can claim to have had such an impact on criminological discourse, theorizing, or
research. Even so, the success of the general theory in directing research and scholarly interest
has likely also had heretofore unrealized consequences.
One of the more important consequences has been that the almost exclusive focus on self-control
has drawn attention away from other individual-level variables related to criminal behavior.
Research into personality factors and individual traits related to aggression and criminal
School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA
King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
Corresponding Author:
John Paul Wright, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, ML 210389, 665 Dyer Hall, Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati,
OH 45221, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2017, Vol. 15(2) 191-215
ªThe Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204016667995
involvement has received scant attention in criminology even though a large body of evidence in
psychology documents a link between personality and conduct problems (Fridell, Hesse, Jaeger, &
Kuhlhorn, 2008; Le Corff & Toupin, 2010; Miller, Lynam, & Leukefeld, 2003; Samuels et al.,
2004). Individual traits, such as negative emotionality (Krueger et al., 1994), intelligence (Lynam,
Moffitt, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1993), psychopathy (Hare, 1996), impulsivity (White et al., 1994),
and callous and unemotional (CU) traits (Frick & White, 2008), have all been linked to problem
behavior, as have the personality factors of low contentiousness and agreeableness (Jones, Miller, &
Lynam, 2011; Miller & Lynam, 2001; Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; Roberts, Kuncel, Shiner,
Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007).
Historically, Agnew, Brezina, Wright, and Cullen (2002, p. 45) notes, ‘‘the role of personality
traits was discounted by mainstream criminologists until recently and most data sets do not allow for
the examination of personality traits’’ (see also, Andrews & Wormith, 1989; Caspi et al., 1994;
Walsh, 2000). Granting Agnew et al.’s (2002) argument, the almost exclusive focus on self-control
has likely further precluded investigation into other individual features—features that may compete
with, interact with, or otherwise account for the effects of self-control on conduct problems. By any
measure, omitted variable bias is potentially serious, empirically and theoretically. A second con-
cern, however, emerges when Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) assumptions about the nature of
crime are juxtaposed against a growing body of research evidence—a body of evidence that presents
a different picture of criminal behavior than they proposed originally.
Malevolent Forces
Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) based their conception of self-control on what they called the ‘‘nature
of crime.’’ The nature of crime is that it is easy to commit,takes little planning, and is driven predomi-
nately by available opportunities.Criminals, by extension,are simply opportunists wholack the ability
to control their impulse to offend in the presence of a criminal opportunity. Theyare impulsive, do not
think of the consequences of their behavior,prefer immediate gratification over long-termplanning and
rewards, and theyput little cognitive effort into their criminal actions. Offenders haphazardly stumble
from crime to crimeand are easily induced to act in ways thatviolate social mores and laws.
At one level, Gottfredson and Hirschi’s conception of the nature of crime is supported by a broad
array of evidence. Criminals are generally impulsive (Lynam et al., 2000; White et al., 1994), show
little planning in the commission of crime (Hochstetler, 2001; Petrosino & Brensilber, 2003), and
engage in a variety of offenses ranging from petty crimes to serious crime (Baron, 2003; Evans,
Cullen, Burton, Dunaway, & Benson, 1997; Keane, Maxim, & Teevan, 1993; Piquero, MacDonald,
Dobrin, Daigle, & Cullen, 2005). This depiction has gone largely unchallenged in criminology. By
contrast, however, threads of disparate studies paint a very different picture of an important sub-
group of offenders: a subgroup of offenders that are predatory and callous. These offenders are, at a
minimum, indifferent to the suffering they cause others or they may appear to relish in the suffering
they cause. Their behaviors, moreover, may seem excessively cruel and morally repugnant. And
contrary to the assumptions of Gottfredson and Hirschi, their behaviors are not entirely driven by
opportunity but instead appear rooted in emotional and cognitive preferences to inflict harm on
others for reasons that are often instrumental. They are, in other words, malevolent.
Some psychologists have called attention to the role of malevolence in human conduct gener-
ally (Goldberg, 1995; Hurlbert & Apt, 1992). Others, however, have argu ed that a subgroup of
individuals with antisocial personality disorder can be characterized as malevolent. Millon, Gross-
man, Millon, Meagher, and Ramnath (2004, p. 161), for example, describe these individuals as
‘‘belligerent, rancorous, vicious, malignant, brutal, callous, vengeful, and vindictive.’’ Malevolent
individuals ‘‘anticipate betrayal and punishment,’’ and they are willing to victimize ‘‘those too
weak to retaliate or those whose terror might prove particularly entertaining.’’ Similar to other
192 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 15(2)

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