Machiavellianism is a personality trait centered on manipulativeness
In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis wanted to analyze those who manipulated others, and developed a test using a selection of statements, including a few truncated and edited sentences from Machiavelli’s works as test items, naming the construct “Machiavellianism” after Machiavelli. They wanted to assess whether or not those who were in agreement with the statements would behave differently than others who disagreed, specifically in regards to manipulative actions. Their Mach IV test, a 20-question, Likert-scale personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool of the Machiavellianism construct. Using their scale, Christie and Geis conducted multiple experimental tests that showed that the interpersonal strategies and behavior of “high Machs” and “low Machs” differ. People scoring high on the scale (high Machs) tend to endorse manipulative statements, and behave accordingly, contrary to those who score lowly (low Machs). Their basic results have been widely replicated. Measured on the Mach IV scale, males score, on average, slightly higher on Machiavellianism than females.
A behavioral genetics study noted that Machiavellianism has both significantly genetic and environmental influences. There has also been extensive research on Machiavellianism in young children and adolescents, via a measure dubbed the “kiddie Mach” test.
A 1992 review described the motivation of those high on the Machiavellianism scale as related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, sociality) in duplicitous ways. More recent research on the motivations of high Machs compared to low Machs found that they gave high priority to money, power, and competition and relatively low priority to community building, self-love, and family commitment. High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost.
In general, people high in Machiavellianism will attempt to achieve their goals by whatever means necessary. This includes things such as bending and breaking rules, cheating, and stealing. People high in Machiavellianism are able to easily switch between working with others and using others to achieve their goals. People high in Machiavellianism do not have the same level of emotions as others and as such are more willing to do things others see as terrible or immoral. In the pursuit of their goals, people high in Machiavellianism will even go so far as to hurt and manipulate others if they think it would be beneficial.
Due to their skill at interpersonal manipulation, there has often been an assumption that high Machs possess superior intelligence, or ability to understand other people in social situations. However, some research has established that Machiavellianism is unrelated to IQ. Recently, new research gives support to a contrary viewpoint.
Furthermore, studies on emotional intelligence have found that high Machiavellianism is usually associated with low emotional intelligence as assessed by both performance and questionnaire measures. Both emotional empathy and emotion recognition have been shown to have negative correlations with Machiavellianism. Additionally, research has shown that Machiavellianism is unrelated to a more advanced theory of mind, that is, the ability to anticipate what others are thinking in social situations. If high Machs actually are skilled at manipulating others, this appears to be unrelated to any special cognitive abilities as such, and may simply be due to a greater willingness to engage in manipulation.