Manipulating others easier in person than online, UBCO study shows

UBC Okanagan psychology professor Michael Woodworth.
Image Credit: Contributed


KELOWNA - Machiavelli wouldn’t have done so well in the online world, according to recent research.

The infamous Italian politician, whose name is forever linked to unscrupulous behaviour, would have found the lies he told in the pursuit of power less effective through Facebook.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan have found people who are good at manipulating others, don’t fare as well when they aren’t face-to-face with their intended target.

“The results of the study are pretty clear,” psychology professor and project leader Miichael Woodworth says. “One you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier.

The Dark Side of Negotation is the title of the study conducted in 2014 that included more than 200 Canadian university students, some of whom where identified as having various qualities on the so-called Dark Triad spectrum — people with narcissistic, psychopathic or Machiavellian tendencies.

Students were randomly assigned face-to-face or computer-mediated contact groups then asked to negotiate the sale of concert tickets, either as buyer or seller, with the aim of maximizing their own financial benefit.

Results showed the Dark Triad group were more successful looking you in the eye when negotiating. The surprise was how much less successful those who placed high on the spectrum were —12.5 per cent — than those lower down, Woodsworth says.

Each of the three disorders in the spectrum has distinct traits; narcissists are grandiose and inclined to self-adoration; psychopaths are anti-social and lack empathy; Machiavellians are calculated manipulators with clear goals.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences.

To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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