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Research by Longwood professor finds no support for “evil genius” theory

October 23, 2013

Person being manipulated by strings as if they were a puppet.

Research by a Longwood University professor found no evidence for the notion that smarter people are more likely to manipulate others, a common expectation that has come to be known as the "evil genius" hypothesis.

A study by Dr. George Banks, assistant professor of management, along with fellow researchers examined whether there is a relationship between intelligence and "socially exploitative social traits" such as Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy, known as the "Dark Triad" (DT) traits. The "evil genius" hypothesis says that highly intelligent people tend to display these traits.

"Thankfully, we found no support for the ‘evil genius’ hypothesis," said Banks, whose specialty is human resources and organizational behavior. "We also found no support for the ‘compensatory’ hypothesis, which states that less intelligent individuals compensate for their cognitive disadvantages by adopting manipulative behavioral tendencies. The results were very encouraging."

An article about the study, "A meta-analytic review of the Dark Triad-intelligence connection," has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Research in Personality.

The research reviewed 48 separate studies involving 10,313 participants that were conducted between 1965 and 2010. The participants were a representative sample of average working adults, said Banks. Forty of the studies were conducted in the United States, the others in Canada, Germany and Malaysia. The article states, "Those individuals whose personalities include such dark traits as Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy are neither brute dullards nor evil geniuses on average."

"We were trying to determine if individuals who display socially exploitative qualities tend to be more intelligent or less intelligent," said Banks. "We looked at the entire range of both mental ability and DT traits. All of the studies examined the same things. A meta-analytic review, in which you take multiple studies and re-analyze the data together, is a good way to summarize multiple results."

Banks’ co-authors were Dr. Ernest O’Boyle of the University of Iowa, Dr. Donelson Forsyth of the University of Richmond and Dr. Paul Story of Kennesaw State University.

This is the second of three related studies on DT traits in which Banks has collaborated with O’Boyle, a former Longwood faculty member. The first, published in 2011 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, an elite publication in management, looked at the relationship between DT and counter-productive work behaviors. The third study, currently under review, examines the relationship between DT and positive personality factors known as the "Big Five." Dr. Charles White, assistant professor of management at Longwood, helped collect data in that project.

[Image courtesy of Shutterstock]