The Light Triad of Personality

How Kantianism, Humanism, and faith in humanity shape one’s psychological world.

Posted Mar 12, 2019

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock
Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Think about how much you agree with each of the following statements:

  • I think people are mostly good.
  • I enjoy listening to people from all walks of life.
  • When I talk to people, I am rarely thinking about what I want from them.

These items are found in the newly published Light Triad Scale (LTS), developed by Scott Barry Kaufman, David Yaden, Elizabeth Hyde, and Eli Tsukayama (2019). They represent three different trait dimensions that serve in some ways as a counterpoint to the Dark Triad of personality (see Jonason & Webster, 2010).

The Dark Triad, comprised of narcissism (a heightened focus on oneself), Machiavellianism (a tendency to exploit others for one’s own gain), and psychopathy (a disregard for others’ feelings), has been studied extensively in recent years. Generally, research into the Dark Triad has found that people who score high on each of these three inter-related dimensions demonstrate tendencies to exploit others and seek revenge on others. People who score high in the Dark Triad are, simply put, not nice!

In developing a measure of the Light Triad, Scott and his team sought to change the playing field a bit. Sure, the Dark Triad has proven to be a highly useful concept when it comes to predicting behavior and life outcomes. But you just have to ask: Is there a complementary set of attributes that predicts prosocial outcomes? This is essentially the basic question that underlies the current work by Scott and his colleagues.

What Are the Elements of the Light Triad?

The research conducted on this topic is impressive. Scott and his team describe four studies that include more than 1,500 participants. And they demonstrated the reliability and validity of this construct using cutting-edge statistical processes (such as confirmatory factor analysis).

Their analyses revealed three strong and distinct “factors” found among the 12 items that they included in their scale. This essentially means that these items comprise three subscalesㅡa triad, if you will.

The three subscales of the Light Triad Scale are conceptualized as follows:

Faith in Humanityㅡor the belief that, generally speaking, humans are good.

Sample item: I think people are mostly good.

Humanismㅡor the belief that humans across all backgrounds are deserving of respect and appreciation.

Sample Item: I enjoy listening to people from all walks of life.

Kantianismㅡor the belief that others should be treated as ends in and of themselves, and not as pawns in one’s own game.

Sample item: When I talk to people, I am rarely thinking about what I want from them.

(The full scale, with statistical data on the inter-relationship among the items, is found here.)

Is the Light Triad Related to the Dark Triad?

One might think that the Light Triad would simply be the opposite of the Dark Triad, corresponding to scoring low on the Dark Triad. Interestingly, this is not exactly the case. In this research, the total Dark Triad scores and total Light Triad scores demonstrated a correlation of -.48. This is what we would call a “moderate, negative correlation.” This pretty much means that these variables are negatively related to each other, as we’d expect, but they are not fully the converse of one another.

Another way to think about this point pertains to what we’d call the “proportionate reduction of error.” This is a fancy term, but it translates pretty easily. Mathematically, it is simply the square of the correlation, converted to a percentage (in this case, (-.48)*(-.48), or 23 percent).

Conceptually, the proportionate reduction of error roughly corresponds to the percentage of variability in one variable that is accounted for by scores on another variable. In this case, we’d say that about 23 percent of the variability in scores on the Dark Triad are accounted for by scores on the Light Triad. Conversely, then, we could say that 77 percent of the variability in Dark Triad scores is accounted for by factors other than the Light Triad.

In short, this finding means that the Light Triad is not exactly the antithesis of the Dark Triad. This finding, then, justifies and substantiates the need for a measure of the Light Triad that is distinct from existing measures of the Dark Triad. The Light Triad Scale, then, has clear scientific utility.

What Outcomes Follow From the Light Triad?

Following the standard model for substantiating a new psychological construct, Scott and his colleagues went on to examine the correlates of the Light Triad. What psychological traits and behavioral outcomes are associated with scores on the Light Triad Scale?

As you can see in their article, the short answer is that, in fact, scores on the Light Triad Scale correlate with a broad array of outcome variables. As a quick summary of the data, note that people who score high on the Light Triad Scale tend to:

  • Be intellectually curious
  • Be secure in their attachments to others
  • Demonstrate tolerance of other perspectives
  • Score low on need for power over others
  • Show humility
  • Have an agreeable nature
  • Score high in measures of life satisfaction

Bottom Line

Tired of hearing all about the dark side of human psychology? Scott Barry Kaufman, David Yaden, Elizabeth Hyde, and Eli Tsukayama are here to help! The Light Triad of personality, comprised of three traits that underscore an appreciation for other people, has emerged in the world of scientific psychology. The original research on this concept is promising, suggesting that the Light Triad is an empirically discernible set of characteristics that, in combination, have substantial implications for the bright side of life.

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Jonason, P.K., & Webster, G.D. (2010). The Dirty Dozen: A concise measure of the Dark Triad. Psychological Assessment, 22, 420-432.

Kaufman, S.B., Yaden, D.B., Hyde, E., & Tsukayama, E. (2019). The Light vs. Dark triad of personality: Contrasting two very different profiles of human nature. Frontiers in Psychology.