That evil and misfortune are fascinating is not a secret for anyone, or at least it should not be for sharpest minds. Although small and big wonderful things happen every day, newspaper headlines and news are full of misfortunes. It is not that the world is ending or that evil has suddenly taken hold of everyone, it is a simple cognitive bias caused by an evolutionary mechanism that makes us focus on danger, rather than positive things, so that we can warp strategies that allow us to avoid those risks.
Not even psychologists have been able to escape the fascination of the dark. In 2002, psychologists Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams delved into the mind of what we would popularly describe as “bad people” and discovered the “dark triad of personality”, three traits that sublimate the essence of evil. Since then, the dark core of personality – composed of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy – received a lot of attention.
Walking in the dark, no one had turned to the light to wonder what characterizes “good people.” It is not about those who make donations just to get recognition or who give their help to later charge the favor but of those people who shine with their own light, who share the little they have, who improve our day and transmit a pleasant positive energy when at our side.
The Light Triad
A group of psychologists from the universities of Pennsylvania and Hawaii wondered if there could be a Light Triad that differentiated “good people.” Suddenly, they subjected 1,518 people to different personality tests, in addition to evaluating other aspects such as satisfaction with life and the results achieved.
They discovered three traits that stand out and characterize good people:
1. Humanism. It implies understanding that each person is valuable on its own, that has something to contribute with its uniqueness, and treat him with the dignity he deserves, without underestimating him.
2. Kantism. It involves relating to people in an authentic way, for the pleasure obtained from the relationship itself, not using them as means to achieve a personal goal.
3. Faith in humanity. It implies believing in human goodness, believing that everyone – including ourselves – has something good and, above all, that we have the power to change and grow.
The positive – and the negative – of being a good person
The Light Triad was more common in women, people with a high level of spirituality and who had had a happy childhood. Psychologists discovered that these people were also more aware, autonomous and competent. Other features that accompany the luminous triad are: compassion, empathy, kindness and openness to new experiences.
Good people showed greater satisfaction with their lives, had a calmer ego – which means they did not need to continually seek external approval – had developed a secure attachment and experienced more gratitude towards life.
However, it’s not all roses. Good people also tend to experience more guilt, they may think that they do not deserve happiness or the successes achieved. They also tend to suffer from what the researchers described as “omnipotent responsibility”, which means worrying a lot about the people they love, even if they are apparently fine.
The Light Triad was also related to a greater “loving kindness”, which in some cases can make these people more vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by others as they tend to justify their behavior.
Lights and shadows coexist in each of us
These psychologists found that we all have a dark side and a bright one, although they affirm that the average person is slightly more inclined towards the Light Triad in their daily thoughts, behaviors and emotions.
If we want to move forward on the path of personal growth, we must be aware of our lights and shadows by abandoning the labels of good and bad to understand ourselves as unique beings. In fact, you can perform the light triad test and also check how you score in the dark triad one.
Kaufman, S. B. et. Al. (2019) The Light vs. Dark Triad of Personality: Contrasting Two Very Different Profiles of Human Nature. Front. Psychol; 10:467.
Paulhus, D. & Williams, K. M. (2002) The Dark Triad of Personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality; 36(6): 556-563.