The Dark Triad
Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy were measured using the 27-item Dark Triad of Personality Scale [D3-Short; (17)], scored on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Mean scores are calculated for the three subscales (9 items each) with higher scores indicating higher level of DT traits. The SD3 is a reliable measure with Cronbach’s alphas ranging from 0.77 to 0.80, and respective associations with standard measures of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism (13).
Empathy was measured using the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy [QCAE; (40)] comprising 31 items in total scored on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = strongly agree to 4 = strongly disagree). Cognitive empathy consists of two facets: (1) perspective taking (PT; 10 items)–understanding internal mental states of others; and (2) online simulation (OS; 9 items)–understanding another’s perspective by imagining what they are feeling. Affective empathy splits into three facets: (1) emotional contagion (EC; 4 items)–automatic copying of another’s emotions, (2) proximal responsivity (ProR; 4 items)–response to emotional cues of others, and (3) peripheral responsivity (PerR; 4 items)–response to emotional cues in immersive settings. Cronbach’s alphas range from 0.65 to 0.85. Scale scores were calculated by summing respective items.
Indirect Relational Aggression
Indirect relational aggression was measured using the Indirect Aggression Scale – Aggressor version [IAS-A; (28)]. The 25-item IAS-A consists of three subscales: Social Exclusion (SE; 10 items); Malicious Humor (MH; 9 items) and Guilt Induction (GI; 6 items). Participants indicate to what extent they had behaved aggressively during the last 12 months on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = never to 5 = regularly). Mean scores were obtained for each subscale. Cronbach’s alphas range from 0.81 to 0.84.
Preliminary analyses revealed that several variables were skewed; however, maximum likelihood estimators can provide estimates that are robust to non-normality (45). To gain a clearer understanding of how empathy relates to indirect aggression, the first step of analysis regressed all three IRA outcome variables on the five empathy variables. Following this, three main path models were specified from zero-order correlations and estimated using maximum likelihood in order to assess the fit of the different DT conceptualizations, and examine the relationships between the DT traits, empathy and indirect aggression factors. The first model assessed the unique contribution of the DT traits as monads, whereby the DT traits (Machiavellianism [M], psychopathy [P] and narcissism [N]) were separate observed variables and specified as correlated in order to account for their shared variance. The other two models assessed shared dark core contributions. The dark dyad model tested a latent variable with Machiavellianism and psychopathy as indicators, and narcissism as separate observed variable, the dark triad model tested a latent variable with all three DT traits as indicator variables. Direct paths were specified from the DT traits compositions to IRA variables (with and without direct paths between Narcissism and IRA, and from the DT traits compositions to cognitive (PT and OS) and affective empathy variables (EC, ProR, PerR). Pathways were tested relating to the significant paths from the empathy variable/s (based on the regression results) to the IRA outcome variables (SE, MH, GI). Furthermore, empathy subscale scores were correlated with one another. Indirect effects were examined where applicable.
All analyses were undertaken in Muthén and Muthén (47) and if not stated otherwise, estimates reported are based on STDYX standardization. Model fit was deemed adequate with a non-significant chi-square value (taking sample size considerations into account), a root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) below 0.05, a standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) below 1, and comparative fit (CFI) and Tucker-Lewis indices (TLI) above 0.90 (48).
Mean, standard deviations and Cronbach’s alphas for the DT traits, cognitive and affective facets of empathy and IRA are displayed in Table 1. All variables show good reliability with alphas ranging between 0.74 and 0.92.
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