So you think you have an evil child. But how do you know? Psychologists have ways to separate the very naught from properly malevolent, most of it the dark triad test — a look at the degree of manipulative attitude, narcissism, and lack of empathy that could add up to a truly evil kid. The dark triad test has been a standby of psychology for decades; a tool on every therapist’s belt to help separate annoying, pain-in-the-ass kids from budding psychopaths and murderers.
It used to take a series of lengthy assessments to test for each aspect of the dark triad individually, but many experts now rely on the short version, developed by Delroy Paulhus and colleagues in 2011, which can identify the dark triad with one brief, 27-question test. Here’s how to do it at home.
How to Take the Dark Triad Test
Ask your child to answer the following questions with: strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), neither agree nor disagree (3), agree (4), or strongly agree (5). For questions with an asterisk, reverse the scoring (strongly disagree = 5). Then, tally up the scores for each subsection. The average score is about 3 for each question in the first two sections and about 2.5 for the final section.
Machiavellian Test (Manipulative Attitude) Subscale
- It’s not wise to tell your secrets.
- I like to use clever manipulation to get my way.
- Whatever it takes, you must get the important people on your side.
- Avoid direct conflict with others because they may be useful in the future.
- It’s wise to keep track of information that you can use against people later.
- You should wait for the right time to get back at people.
- There are things you should hide from other people because they don’t need to know.
- Make sure your plans benefit you, not others.
- Most people can be manipulated.
- People see me as a natural leader.
- I hate being the center of attention.*
- Many group activities tend to be dull without me.
- I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.
- I like to get acquainted with important people.
- I feel embarrassed if someone compliments me.*
- I have been compared to famous people.
- I am an average person.*
- I insist on getting the respect I deserve.
Psychopathy (Lack of Empathy) Subscale
- I like to get revenge on authorities.
- I avoid dangerous situations.*
- Payback needs to be quick and nasty.
- People often say I’m out of control.
- It’s true that I can be mean to others.
- People who mess with me always regret it.
- I have never gotten into trouble with the law.*
- I enjoy having sex with people I hardly know
- I’ll say anything to get what I want.
My Kid is Above Average on the Dark Triad Test. Should I Lock Them in a Tower, Or…
Don’t panic. These tests are meant to be taken under controlled conditions and interpreted by experts. If you’re nervous about the results, consider reaching out to your doctor. But odds are your kid is not malevolent, and that his or her flirtations with the dark triad are no big deal.
Furthermore, there are some very real problems with taking much from the test itself. In a new study, scientists argue much work linking results to things like income or quality of life outcomes are superficial, statistically weak, and presents an overly simplistic view of human nature.
If your kid’s scores are off the charts, it would make sense to seek the professional opinion of a therapist. Treatment would depend largely on which areas of the dark triad your child most identifies with. Talk therapy is the key way to treat Machiavellianism and narcissistic personality disorder (anxiety and depression medications can help, too). Psychopathy is more difficult to treat — some experts believe doing so is impossible. But progress has been made with the Decompression Model, which involves using positive reinforcement to reshape behavior.