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Core Personality: The D-Factor

The D-Factor: The general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility – disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others -, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications. (University of Denmark)

Narcissist. Sadist. Psychopath.

Spiteful. Excessively self-centered. Lack of empathy. Malicious. Machiavellian.

A new study has determined that if you have one of these attributes, your more likely to have others.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the University of Koblenz-Landau (Germany) studied more than 2500 people and have concluded that there is a core personality trait, something they are calling D-factor.  (“D” is for dark traits.) They say that this factor is a general factor present in and that expresses itself as:

Egoism: an excessive preoccupation with one’s own advantage at the expense of others and the community

Machiavellianism: a manipulative, callous attitude and a belief that the ends justify the means

Moral disengagement: cognitive processing style that allow behaving unethically without feeling distress

Narcissism: excessive self-absorption, a sense of superiority, and an extreme need for attention from others

Psychological entitlement: a recurring belief that one is better than others and deserves better treatment

Psychopathy: lack of empathy and self-control, combined with impulsive behavior
Sadism: a desire to inflict mental or physical harm on others for one’s own pleasure or to benefit oneself

Self-interest: a desire to further and highlight one’s own social and financial status

Spitefulness: destructiveness and willingness to cause harm to others, even if one harms oneself in the process (University of Denmark)

The researchers say that “All dark traits can be traced back to the general tendency of placing one’s own goals and interests over those of others even to the extent of taking pleasure in hurting other’s – along with a host of beliefs that serve as justifications and thus prevent feelings of guilt, shame, or the like.”

Those trained in psychology may notice frequent overlap when diagnosing someone with narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, and so on. For anyone, professional or not, who has had extended contact with a narcissist or psychopath, the D-factor might be something  intuited, although not named.

Personal Story

Of particular interest is how some people with this factor might be adept at hiding it, and this trait may be “discovered” over time. An example is given by a friend of mine (CR) who complained to me that someone tends to cancel the last minute more often than not, even if plans were confirmed shortly before get-togethers. She asked what to do about it, should she include this person in the future as this had been going on for a little under a year.

On the surface it looks like this person might be lackadaisical in her approach to appointments. Then, when discussing the details, it turned out that the cancellations only occurred when my friend initiated the date. When the other person made the plan, it was generally honored. Does this mean the person has the D-factor? Not necessarily. What if this person is a relative, let’s say a parent or a sibling? Does the person have the D-factor. Again, not necessarily. It turns out that the person was actually a work colleague she considered a friend.

What really convinced her that maybe there was some D-factor involved occurred as she was sharing her experience with me. As she spoke she realized that because she never felt a sense of competition with this person (she’s not particularly competitive to begin with), she conducted their friendship with a spirit of equality. But reflecting back on the past year she realized that more often than not, when they met, her colleague asked for work advice, even “borrowing” her expertise to write reports. A light bulb went off–she was being used.

Was this D-factor? Also, not necessarily. But a pattern of behavior began to emerge, one that was almost constantly self-serving. I was reading about the D-factor study and mentioned it. She nodded and pointed out that their office mates joked about this woman’s excessive self-interest–“do anything to get ahead,” was how she was described. Because she was bright and funny, she did have friends, but at the office, my friend was her only friend. No, she probably wasn’t a sadist, she wasn’t a psychopath. But her conscience wasn’t all it should be.

Sound like anyone you know?


Core Personality: The D-Factor

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2018). Core Personality: The D-Factor. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Sep 2018
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