Measuring Motivation: Understanding What Makes Us… Mad, Sad & Glad


Whilst we have reached the academic maturity of meta-analyses and calls for integrated models of Motivation (more on this later), the practical application of Motivation theory is relatively infantile, compared to areas such as Personality theory. Since this was a particularly fascinating area for me, and still is – my curiosity as to why this is the case is a question to which an answer has largely evaded me.

I realise that many members who read this, will draw upon the example of Goal Setting Theory (Locke & Latham, 1990) – the proverbial crowning jewel in the Occupational Psychologists’ toolkit. This is an area of academic Motivation Theory which has certainly had a huge practical application, but it is of course only one element of a completely and irrefutably multi-faceted construct. Outside of this area, I would put forward the argument that Motivation theory has not been as successful as Personality theory in developing a robust and well understood application. Perhaps this is a dangerous parallel to draw.  These two constructs are closely and intricately intertwined – with research suggesting that motivation can mediate the relationship between traits and performance (Locke, 2001) i.e. underlying motives causing traits to manifest as behaviour (Locke & Latham, 2006). This complex interaction is one which will continue to be researched and will form the basis for our understanding of individual differences.

Perhaps the answer to the shortcomings in Motivation measurement lie in the lack of a consistent, agreed upon model of Motivation. The frankly nebulous area of Motivation theory makes it particularly difficult to gain any real ground in this regard. Imagine a world without the MBTI (I hear big fivers rejoicing!) or the Big Five. Would we have such a developed and pervasive application of Personality Psychometrics? The organisation of tools, profiles and Psychometrics around these two models is extensive, and suggests that having a fundamental model does help in focussing application. Secondly, the inherent nature of Motivation is one which is wholly introspective. Only the individual truly knows what motivates them, if at all. Even this point is contentious as research would show that what people think motivates and makes them happy, may actually not i.e. money (Haring, Stock, & Okun, 1984).  Motivation by its nature is not something which can easily be observed or measured in an objective, robust manner which both has face validity and factors for social desirability bias (ironically, this is what people in history and in the present day, have argued about measuring personality). In an era which has moved towards an increasing emphasis on behavioural 360 degree feedback and robust psychometrics, this is hard to atone for. However, not impossible, as it is clearly one which Personality theory has (somewhat successfully) overcome.

There are however very reputable and well-grounded Psychometrics out there which measure the concept of Motivation. From a simple BPS-PTC (British Psychological Society – Psychology Testing Centre) search, a number of tools surfaced. These included Hogan’s Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI; Hogan & Hogan), the Managerial and Professional Profiler (MAPP; Hunter & Roberts), the Motivation Questionnaire (MQ, by SHL; Baron, Henley, McGibbon & McCarthy) and finally the Sport Personality Questionnaire (SPQ20; Cameron). I must admit, there were far more tools that I had initially realised and many I have missed here which demonstrate that measuring Motivation is a possibility. However, there is a gaping hole in the middle of this market for a tool which takes a more holistic and integrated approach to Motivation.

I refer to the market here, with the conscious effort to place a practical spin on this piece because as mentioned, the theoretical underpinnings of Motivation theory are difficult to fault. Riding the wave of this commercialisation of Motivation has proved very successful for American Author; Daniel Pink. In his book, ‘Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us’, he attests to three core motivators – Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery. This of course will not be surprising to Motivation researchers and Occupational/Business Psychologists in general, as these three constructs are very much based on long standing core tenets of Psychological theory – either to Pink’s credit or critique, depending on your stance. When he mentions Purpose, parallels can be drawn to the critical state of Meaningfulness in Oldham and Hackman’s seminal Job Characteristic model (1976) and even more recently to research on Meaning of Work (MoW) most notably by Wrzesniewski (2012) and Rosso, Dekas & Wrzesniewski (2010). When he refers to Mastery, parallels can be drawn to Carol Dweck’s (1985) work on learning goal orientation as opposed to performance goal orientation. And finally, Autonomy again draws on the Oldham and Hackman’s work, as one of the key work characteristics which allows independence, freedom, discretion and hence intrinsic motivation. The reason why I discuss this here is to illustrate what Pink has done here.  He has taken seemingly disparate concepts and integrated them into a model of Motivation, which may well be too simplistic but the principle of what is achieved is of most importance here.

Along with Lock and Latham (2006), I would agree that this is the approach which needs to be taken in order to further our understanding of Motivation. Incorporating key evidence based (from Meta-analyses) elements of various models would allow us to build and rally a conceptualisation of Motivation and drive the field forward – akin to the role the Big Five has played in Personality. Such an integrated model could take into account and consolidate the axioms of Motivation theory such as need theories, goal-setting theory, social-cognitive theories, work design models as well as orthogonal but interlinked concepts such as personality, self-efficacy and engagement.

It’s difficult to completely express why Motivation captures my imagination, much like the difficulty I have in identifying exactly what motivates me. I know that I’m not alone in this, and perhaps this issue first came into my mind when I heard Adrian Furnham at The Psychometrics Forum last year profess that he wakes up at 4am every day to start work – but to this day, had no idea why i.e. what was driving this seemingly workaholic like motivation. Reflecting on this, I think a large part of my intrigue with this area has to do with trying to see my personal heroes’ monumental achievements through a lens of Motivation. What fundamentally drives these great people to persist, work and fight against so many barriers, difficulties and hardships? Was it a sense of morality and social justice, security or perhaps the great weight of expectation that drove Dr Martin Luther King? Is it a sense of achievement, advancement and/or purpose which continues to drive Barack Obama in his role as the first ever African American President of the USA just a half century after the civil rights movement? Is it a need for mastery, a sense of responsibility or pure commitment which drives Kobe Bryant to overcome a career ending injury during the twilight of his career to make a comeback that Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud of? All of these examples and many more continue to drive my motivation to learn about motivation. Quite ironic in fact, that whilst I was writing this piece, this became really apparent to me.

Written by Raj Chopra, TPF Committee Member – @rajchopra24

Follow The Psychometrics Forum on Twitter: @TPF_UK


Dweck, Carol S., and Ellen L. Leggett. (1988). “A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality.” Psychological review 95, 2, 256.

Hackman, J. Richard, and Greg R. Oldham. (1976):  “Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory.” Organizational behavior and human performance 16.2, 250-279.

Haring, M. J., Stock,W. A., & Okun, M. A. (1984). A research synthesis of gender and social class as correlates of subjective well-being. Human Relations, 37, 645-657.

Locke, E. 2001. Self-set goals and self-efficacy as mediators of incentives and personality. In M. Erez, U. Kleinbeck, & H. Thierry (Eds.), Work motivation in the context of a globalizing economy: 13–26. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Locke, E., & Latham, G. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Locke, E., & Latham, G. (2006). What Should We Do About Motivation Theory? Six Recommendations For The Twenty-First Century. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 29, No. 3, 388–403.

Rosso, Brent D., Kathryn H. Dekas, and Amy Wrzesniewski. “On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review.” Research in Organizational Behavior 30 (2010): 91-127.

Wrzesniewski, A. (2012). Callings, Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press

Is There an Optimal Personality? The Best of Both Ends of the Personality Spectrum

Normal dist

Personality theory has a long and established history. Perhaps we find ourselves on the brink of a major disruption on that timeline. When individuals look back on this period, will it be described as the era of the ambivert? That is, the movement which saw the dismantling of the alleged western bias* for extraversion and the establishment of a generally more balanced outlook on the personality-performance relationship.

Wishful thinking perhaps for an ISTJ and an Introvert according to the NEO – but I do assure you, I love a good party. And on this point rests the basic argument of this piece – perhaps personality traits; hypothetical constructs designed to operationalise our vastly complex personalities, cannot be imposed on us so easily and dichotomously. Instead, if indeed personality traits conform to a normal distribution i.e. an inverted U shaped trend, most people would in fact find themselves in the average or middle range, where there is a balance of two ends of a personality trait spectrum for example an ambivert, in the case of extraversion-introversion.

Of course some of us do possess very dominant traits, but they don’t exist in a pure form. As Carl Jung has been quoted as saying – “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” Despite this, common assumptions of the relationships between certain personality traits often prevail. However new research is challenging these assumptions which are often based on simplified stereotypes.  Take for example, the common assumption that extraverts make the best sales people. It is natural perhaps, to assume, that extraversion would be a pretty reliable predictor of sales performance. Yet research shows that the average correlation across three large meta-analyses (more than 3,800 salespeople) is as low as .07 and not significant from zero (Barrick, Mount & Judge, 2001).

In fact, recent research behind a momentous wave of thinking which suggests that ‘too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing’ found that too strong of an emphasis on ‘typical extraverted behaviours’ can actually lead to reduced sales for a number of reasons (Grant, 2013). This includes the fact that extraverts may come across as over-confident given their gregarious nature as well as pushing only their agenda, because of their assertiveness. Instead, introverted tendencies of reflecting and listening would help in understanding the needs of the client and adapting sales pitches accordingly (Grant, 2013). To support this, Grant found that ambivert employees who scored at the exact midpoint of 4 on a 7-point extraversion scale produced the highest revenue ($208.34/hour). The next highest were ambiverts who scored between 3.75 and 5.50 ($154.77). Extraverts (measured as scores above 5.5) obtained, $125.19, while introverts (below 3.75) achieved $120.10.  The data produces a (beautiful – yes, I’m a stats nerd) curvilinear trend, even when all other 4 traits of the Big Five are controlled for. In other words, being extraverted and enthusiastic/assertive is good for sales up to a certain point at which sales performance begins to deteriorate. Hence, a balance of both extraversion and introversion (ambivertion) qualities leads to optimal sales performance.

Even the staple of personality-performance relationships; conscientiousness-job performance, has been shown by recent research to conform this this curvilinear trend (Le et al, 2011). However, it was moderated by job complexity – meaning that for lower job complexity, there was much more of a prominent curvilinear relationship. This is explained by the very highly conscientious individuals being too rigid, and preoccupied with control and perfectionism. Hence, this all feeds into the idea that personality traits have a dark side, which must be considered perhaps more importantly than the good, particularly when dealing with leadership – as Adrian Furnham emphasised at the Forum last February. This has seemingly be neglected wholly in the case of Extraversion, perhaps given the western bias which exists for this trait (Cain, 2012) but equally, this highlights the need for more research into the potential pitfalls of very high levels of extraversion (Bendersky & Shah, 2013). Ultimately, this alternative, ‘optimal trait’ outlook on personality has wide-ranging implications for research, recruitment, career choices, organisational culture and even society as a whole.

This month’s blog was in part inspired by the recent address by Lumina Learning’s CEO Stewart Desson at the Psychometrics Forum. The key theme of his presentation was around the idea of embracing paradox- the idea that individual personality is often a complex interplay of different traits. He argues that instead of measuring personality traits on a linear continuum, we need to give equal value to opposing ends by measuring them separately.  This avoids the potential pitfalls of overvaluing certain traits such as extraversion and conscientiousness, or inferring certain behaviours. For example, a lack of conscientiousness is often assumed to infer disorganisation or a lack of diligence. There can however be ‘good sides’ to the other end, such as being adaptable and spontaneous, just as much as having too much conscientiousness can lead to rigidity or inflexibility. He has integrated these principles into the Lumina Spark model, which measures the positives of ‘both ends’ separately, but also directly measures the inhibiting effects of personality traits if extremes are reached. The model also considers the context in which we display these behaviours, by looking at our underlying preferences, what we ‘tune up and down’ every day and how we respond to pressure.

Indeed, many of us are often a blend of the diligent and the flexible, or the conceptual and the practical, and we can be different things in different contexts. And in actual fact, this blend is often what makes for success in many areas.  Research such as this really emphasises the need to consider personality through an alternative lens. This is a lens where pros and cons of both ends of personalities are weighed up objectively. It is also a lens where a balance of personality traits is not only acceptable, but correlated with success and performance. Is it possible that we have tried to impose the process of IQ measurement onto personality? With cognitive ability (IQ), more is traditionally better, but in line with the law of diminishing returns and an optimal personality trait outlook; too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.

Written by Raj Chopra, TPF Committee Member – @Raj_chopra24

The Psychometrics Forum – @TPF_UK

References and resources

Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Judge, T. A. (2001). Personality and performance at the beginning of the new millennium: What do we know and where do we go next? International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 9–30.

Bendersky, C., & Shah, N. P. (2013). The downfall of extraverts and rise of neurotics: The dynamic process of status allocation in task groups. Academy of Management Journal, 56, 2, 387-406.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Crown.

Grant. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage. Psychological Science, 24, 1024–1030.

Le et al., 2011. Too Much of a Good Thing: Curvilinear Relationships Between Personality Traits and Job Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 113-133.

*TED talk by Susan Cain – the Power of Introverts:

57, 33, 56 – The Keys to Retaining Your Graduate Gen Y Talent

Gen Y

Who’d be a child of the Y Generation? Knowing nothing else in the working world than recession and austerity, competition against ever-increasingly educated peers & unable to shake the stereotype of being lazy, entitled and unrealistic. On the other hand, they have been the children of the digital revolution, masters of the social media platform and accustomed to vast and unparalleled amounts of information at a simple click of a button away. This highly educated, tech-savvy, ambitious group of 20 to 30 something’s are indeed the future of management. The question is; how do organisations make the most of their potential and build them into their leadership pipeline? They have to first find a way of retaining them for longer than 2 years.

This is exactly what the first figure in the title pertains to – the rather alarming statistic that 57% of graduates expect to remain within their role for 2 years. This speaks to the fact that Gen Y’s typically see their careers as less clear cut and paved out, compared to their predecessors. There is an expectation to explore, and they are happy to spend their 20’s finding out what industry, job role, and organisation works best for them. There is a move towards the portfolio type career as opposed to the life-long, one-organisation career.

The second figure of 33 represents the most importantly ranked job feature for graduates; with 33% saying that they value ‘challenging and interesting work’ the most. This trumped salary (32%) and advancing their careers (24%). Lastly, 56% of graduates have ‘great expectations’ for their career progression. This is the rather ambitious or unrealistic (depending on which side you sit on) belief that they will be in management roles within 3 years of work.  This last figure emphasises the mindset of graduates now – who in many cases, are more educated than their managers and have an expectation of ‘now, now, now’ hence have a lack of patience for slow, bureaucratic process. These figures come from research conducted by the Ashridge Business School and the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) (2012). They interviewed and surveyed just under 2000 graduates and managers across the UK.

The overarching conclusion that was reached was of a mismatch in mindset and expectations between Gen Y graduates coming into the workforce and managers who are tasked with ‘engaging’ them. Some of the key distinctions boil down to the 3 figures identified above, however other differences do exist and they divide these two groups of individuals. A perfect example of this is the relationship that graduates want with their managers. 56% of graduates indicated that they want their manager to be a mentor/coach, while 21% said that they wanted their manager to be a friend. While many managers understood the former relationship (83% of them said this would be ideal), only 4% said they agreed with a ‘friend’ manager-team member relationship. Therefore there is a mismatch regarding the nature of relationship that is sought out but also regarding what is currently occurring. Managers overwhelmingly (76%) believed that they were fulfilling their role as coach/mentor, but only 26% of graduates agreed with them. This represents a disparity between the two groups in what constitutes a coach/mentor.

Another crucial mismatch in expectations which was borne out of the Ashridge/ILM report was the difference in behaviours that are required from a manager. Graduates indicated that being treated with respect and valued as individuals (43%), being trusted and given autonomy (35%), supported in their career progression (35%) and communicated to well (35%) were behaviours that topped their priority list. Whilst managers believed that graduates wanted to be provided with clear feedback on their performance (48%) and to be set clear objectives (34%). This undoubtedly reflects what is most important to the managers as these were also rated the highest for behaviours that they would expect from their managers. Hence, again this highlights the difference in mindset between generations and the shifting paradigm that is occurring. The percentages represent the amount of graduates or managers indicating these behaviours to be important.

Another very interesting and relevant piece of powerful research was conducted by The iOpener Institute (2012) with over 10,000 professionals and graduates. The overwhelming conclusion was that generation Y are motivated to stay with their current employer if they are fulfilled by their job, over their salary. Job fulfillment here was defined as loving ones job. The key message here was that graduates must see the purpose and meaning in the work they are involved in – and that this is the key engager. Gen Y individuals prioritise a sense of pride in the organisation they work for. These factors will collectively be more successful in maintaining them in the long term, rather than incremental pay rises.  A great way to track this is the willingness of Gen Y’s to recommend their employer as a place to work – hence the popularisation of awards such as The Times Best Companies to Work For. Having conducted this research, The iOpener Institute have created a Happiness at Work Psychometric which diagnoses current levels of job fulfillment and informs how it can be developed – the 5 C’s. These consist of:

  • Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes
  • Conviction – short-term motivation
  • Culture – a feeling of fit at work
  • Commitment – long-term engagement
  • Confidence – the belief in ones abilities

This tool can of course be used with graduates as well as any other group of employees. The CEO of The iOpener Institute, Jessica Pryce Jones, incidentally presented at The Psychometrics Forum earlier this year.

57, 33, 56 – 3 cardinal rules reflecting on this:

1)     Send your graduates away as ambassadors of your brand/organisation – they will leave eventually, so send them away recognising that you are a top ‘personnel development’ company.

2)     Job craft – have an open discourse with graduates and incorporate interesting and challenging work into their daily responsibilities, as well as their other tasks.

3)     Manage expectations – re-iterate and clarify their development and progression pathway.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member of The Psychometrics Forum.

Twitter: @Raj_chopra24 & @TPF_UK


Institute of Leadership & Management and Ashridge Business School (2012). Great Expectations: Managing Generation Y. Institute of Leadership and Management, London, UK.

iOpener Institute (2012). Job Fulfilment, Not Pay, Retains Generation Y Talent.

Management & Leadership Training – The Age Old Problem of Transfer


The simple fact is that management and leadership training is an absolutely huge industry, with billions being spent each and every year on the pursuit of emotionally intelligent, strategically minded and of course exceptionally performing managers and leaders of organisations. However, how do we know that this endeavour is worth the investment of time, effort and resources?

Some will posit that a truly accurate measure of evaluation of training is the learning and development holy grail. However the real issue seems to be the applicability and transfer of learning, with estimates suggesting that only 40% (Berks, 2008) of off-the-job training or classroom instruction is actually transferred into the workplace. Therefore, this kind of statistic begs questions such as, what is going wrong and at what stage is it all going wrong?

There could of course be training being commissioned for an organisational ailment which cannot be cured by training, therefore a thorough learning needs analysis is crucial. Equally important is the method of delivery of any training and how relevant and applicable it is to the work environment and task/job roles of the trainees. And lastly, is the crucial point of what exactly the evaluation measures are and whether there is a clear idea of the return on expectation (Sloeman, 2008), rather than just a figures based approach of return on investment.

An important element which seems to be overlooked in training is the entire learning process. At the risk of sounding rather cliché, it is a journey which has a beginning (for which there must be preparation), middle (the instructional design) and an ending (i.e. the achievement of successful application or transfer). Research by Jaidev & Chirayath (2012) found that pre and post training activities were collectively more influential than during-training activity in the eventual successful transfer of training into the workplace. This finding echoed previous work by Saks and Belcourt (2006) who  found the effects of activities before training (e.g. supervisor involvement, training attendance policy), and after training (supervisor support, organization support) were more strongly related to learning transfer than actual training activities (e.g. training rewards, training feedback).

A very important element in the success of learning transfer, which has been touched upon in the above section, is the transfer climate. This refers to the opportunities for application and the responsiveness of team members and managers alike to newly learnt skills and knowledge.  These factors would come under the category of ‘situational variables’ in a model of learning transfer by Cheng and Hampson (2008), where they review the existing literature in this area and create a particularly comprehensive model of successful transfer of training.

With the ultimate aims of post-training self-efficacy, positive reaction to training, and knowledge and skill acquisition, there are a number of factors which influence this goal of transfer from training to work. There are individual characteristics such as Personality and Locus of Control. There are also job/career variables such as organisational commitment and personal career commitment. These elements influence the motivation to transfer, along with situational factors (such as opportunities for practice/transfer) which can either facilitate or hinder successful transfer.

This aforementioned review by Cheng and Hampson (2008) advocates a more person-centred approach to understanding transfer of learning. They suggest the seminal and well established Social Psychology Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 2002) as the ideal lens to view learning transfer through. The model consists of attitudes (beliefs and outcome evaluations), subjective norms (normative beliefs i.e. what society dictates as the norm and motivation to comply) and perceived behavioural control. These three elements inform the intention to perform a behaviour, which then follows onto the behaviour itself.  Of most importance in the learning transfer context, is perceived behavioural control. This is a function of perceived self-efficacy and perceived controllability. In this instance, it refers to the confidence an individual has that they can perform a new skill or use newly acquired knowledge in the workplace successfully and will have the control over their work climate/job role to be able to do this. It is these two elements which will motivate individuals to explicitly engage in learning transfer behaviours, according to Cheng & Hampson (2008)

When thinking about transfer of learning, it’s crucial to take a step back or transcend to a level above behaviour/skill/competency. This involves consideration of the business need that this newly learnt skill/knowledge/capability will help strive towards. Ultimately, Learning and Development must be a tool for achievement of business objectives and strategic visions, if it is to continue to see meaningful investment and be seen to add value. Therefore, asking the question of how a learning intervention helps to achieve an organisation’s business goals, should not only be the first question that is asked, but it will also form the key to motivating transfer behaviour. Employees should be able to see the value chain which links their learning, to their performance and hence, organisational success.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member of The Psychometrics Forum – twitter @Raj_Chopra24

Follow us on Twitter @UK_TPF


Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self-efficacy, locus of control, and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 1–20.

Berk, J. (2008). The manager’s responsibility for employee learning. Chief Learning officer, 7, 7, 46-48.

Cheng. E.W.L. & Hampson, I. (2008). Transfer of training: A review and new insights. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10, 4, 327-341.

Jaidev, U. P. & Chirayath, S. (2012). Pre-Training, During-Training and Post-Training Activities as Predictors of Transfer of Training. The IUP Journal of Management Research, Vol. XI, No. 4, 54 – 71.

Saks A M and Belcourt M (2006), “An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 629-648.

Sloeman, M. (2008) Latest trends in Learning, Training and Development. Reflections on the 2008 learning and development survey. CIPD.

A Narcissist, a Psychopath and a Machiavellian Walk into a Bar…

dark triad

The bartender asks, ‘who has the darkest personality out of you three?’ The Narcissist says ‘me’, the Psychopath says, ‘I don’t care’ and the Mach says ‘it’s whoever I want it to be’.

All embarrassing jokes aside, the Dark Triad of Personality rather ominously named, is an area of Psychological research which is attracting significant attention. It is however only a young field, in fact it was just over a decade ago that Paulhus and Williams (2002) coined the term ‘Dark Triad’. It’s an area of research that seems to intrigue Organisational, Clinical and Forensic Psychologists alike and of course has important implications for society as a whole. However, is there any real merit, use and/or empirical rigour in the study of these traits? I was inspired to delve a little deeper into the Dark Triad after last month’s blog on office politics, which touched on certain characteristics which fall within the remit of these traits i.e. manipulating others for self gain.

So what does the Dark Triad consist of?

Narcissism: characterised by grandiosity, entitlement, dominance and superiority (Corry, Merritt, Mrug, & Pamp, 2008). The scale largely used to measure this trait is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979).

Psychopathy: characterised by high levels of impulsivity and thrill-seeking along with low levels of empathy (Hare, 1985). It has been described as the most ‘malevolent’ of the Dark Triad (Rauthmann, 2012).  The scale which is largely used in the literature to measure Psychopathy is the Self-Report Psychopathy (SRP) scale, version III forthcoming (Paulhus, Neumann, & Hare). It was modelled on the Psychopathy Check List (Hare, 1991), which is largely seen as the ‘‘gold standard’’ for the measurement of forensic Psychopathy.

Machiavellianism: characterised as being cynical, unprincipled and using manipulation of others for self-gain and life success (Jones & Palhaus, 2009). The scale which is most used to measure this construct is the Mach IV (Christie & Geis, 1970).

Global measures of the triad have recently been created such as the Dirty Dozen, a 12 item scale (Jonason & Webster, 2010) and the Short Dark Triad, a 27 item scale (SD3; Jones & Paulhus, forthcoming).

Both Narcissism and Psychopathy have migrated from the clinical literature as personality disorders found in DSM-IV, whilst Machiavellianism has been distilled from the philosophy and tactics of Nicolo Machiavelli. In this instance they have been applied to the sub-clinical population in much the same way as the Big Five personality factors.  It is suggested that there are extreme personalities in our communities, which cross the boundary over into subclinical Dark Triad territory. In fact, a recent TED talk* highlighted the fact that as many as 1% of ‘normal people’ could be classed as a Psychopath, rising to 4% in CEO’s and business leaders.

Much of my research into the Dark Triad was precipitated by an excellent new review of the literature by Furnham, Richards & Paulhus (2013). Hence please refer to this for a more detailed account of this area. They do a particularly good job at highlighting the major outcomes which the Dark Triad predict, across the workplace, educational and evolutionary literature.

Focussing on workplace behaviours, they cite research which shows that while leaders who are high in such traits can be successful in navigating their way to the top (when coupled with high IQ and attractiveness, apparently), most eventually fall or derail in the end (Furnham, 2010). They are described by Hogan (2007) as being able to ‘get ahead’ but not ‘get along’ – which eventually comes back to haunt them. Specific behaviours include Narcissists’ softer methods of manipulation, while Psychopaths use harder, more direct methods and Machs are able to be flexible and switch between both methods (Jonason, Slomski, & Partyka, 2012). With extremely successful publications such as Snakes in Suits raising awareness of Dark Triad traits and behaviours, leadership derailment and management style are more relevant and important than ever.

In terms of specifics, research indicates that Psychopaths tend to make negative impressions in short meetings (Rauthman, 2012), while Machs have the most questionable morals and are most cynical towards others (Rauthman, 2012). Lastly, Narcissists believe themselves to be good leaders, with high emotional intelligence even though they are perceived negatively by those around them (Petrides et al, 2011). Globally however, all three Dark Triad traits exhibit a drive for ruthless self-advancement (Zuroff, Fournier, Patall, & Leybman, 2010).

A word of warning; whereas Psychopaths react aggressively to physical threat, Narcissists do so to ego-threat (Jones & Palhaus, 2010). However, Machs are more deliberate and cautious as to how they react and respond as they don’t give into temptation as easily as the other two typically do (Williams, Nathanson & Paulhus, 2010). Therefore, when thinking about corporate crime, Jones et al (2012) suggest that it is the Mach who is unhindered by the impulsivity of the Psychopath, and displays of hedonism of the Narcissist to be the most successful perpetrator of white-collar crimes.

All jokes aside, the next time you face an aggressive bully, you could be dealing with a Psychopath. The next time you face an overtly arrogant manager, you could be dealing with a Narcissist. And finally, the next time you find yourself manoeuvred out of an opportunity, you may have just been made a victim of a Mach’s manipulation. The Dark Triad does exist, perhaps in all of us. However in the vast majority of us, they do so to a much lesser extent than that 1% of the population that they truly manifest themselves in.

Written by Raj Chopra, TPF committee member.

Follow me on Twitter: @Raj_Chopra24, follow TPF on Twitter: @TPF_UK.

* TED Talk on Psychopaths by Jon Ronson:


Christie, R. C., & Geis, F. L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic press.

Corry, N., Merritt, R. D., Mrug, S., & Pamp, B. (2008). The factor structure of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 90, 593–600.

Furnham, A. (2010). The Elephant in the Boardroom: The Causes of Leadership Derailment. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Furnham, A., Richards, S.C. & Paulhus, D.L. (2013) The Dark Triad of Personality: A 10 Year Review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7/3, 199–216,

Hare, R. D. (1985). Comparison of procedures for the assessment of psychopathy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 7–16.

Hare, R. D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.

Hogan, R. (2007). Personality and the Fate of Organizations. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Jonason, P. K., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The Dark Triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 449–453.

Jonason, P. K., & Webster, G. D. (2010). The Dirty Dozen: A concise measure of the Dark Triad. Psychological Assessment, 22, 420–432.

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Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2010). Different provocations trigger aggression in narcissists and psychopaths. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 12–18.

Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. forthcoming. Introducing the Short Dark Triad (SD3): A brief measure of dark personalities. Manuscript under review.

Paulhus, D. L., Neumann, C. S., & Hare, R. D. forthcoming. Manual for the Self-Report Psychopathy (SRP) Scale. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.

Paulhus, D. L, & Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563.

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Raskin, R. N., & Hall, C. S. (1979). Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Psychological Reports, 45, 590.

Rauthmann, J. F. (2012). The Dark Triad and interpersonal perception: Similarities and differences in the social consequences of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 487–496.

Williams, K. M., Nathanson, C., & Paulhus, D. L. (2010). Identifying and profiling scholastic cheaters: Their personality, cognitive ability, and motivation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16, 293–307.

Zuroff, D. C., Fournier, M. A., Patall, E. A., & Leybman, M. J. (2010). Steps toward an evolutionary personality psychology: Individual differences in the social rank domain. Canadian Psychology, 51, 58–66.

Game of Firms: Why Organisational Political Skills May Be a Good Thing

Game of firms

Appraisals  are coming. And employee behavior at this time can resemble the chess-like, strategic politicking of that in Westeros (my last Game of Thrones reference, I promise). The fact is Organisational politics do exist. Further, it’s an area of Organisational Psychology that has seen a huge increase in interest and popularity over the last 30 years. However further investigation into what ‘Political Skills’ consist of and how they manifest, have led researchers to suggest that they are actually beneficial for organisational life in a myriad of ways.

The researchers who have made this arena their own are Gerald Ferris and Darren Treadway, and they define political skills as “the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives” (Ferris, Treadway, et al., 2005: 127).

The terms ‘to use’, ‘to influence’ and ‘to enhance one’s personal objectives’ all do have a somewhat sinister undertone to them. And it is understandable that this kind of activity leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many people. But is it fair to say that organisational politics are as much a part of the organisational fabric as team meetings. The leading Business psychologist Oliver James, author of the book ‘Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks’ would argue that one cannot escape such politics. And therefore becoming savvy to political activity, can at least help to protect one’s career, if not advance it. See resources below for a great podcast1 with Oliver James who speaks at length about this area.

In this podcast, James also refers to the Political Skills Inventory (PSI; Ferris et al, 2005), and as this is the Psychometrics Forum, it is only right that there is discussion about the psychometric which is used to measure this highly complex phenomena. The PSI measures four dimensions, as discussed below:

1)        Social Astuteness – the ability to understand social interactions and interpret your own and others’ behavior well. Such high self-awareness allows identification with others in order to obtain desired outcomes.

2)        Interpersonal Influence – this dimension can be seen as flexibility i.e. the ability to adapt your behavior to influence a desired response from different people in diverse situations.

3)        Networking Ability – the ability to develop diverse contacts, networks and friendships which have a mutually beneficial nature. People in these networks tend to hold assets/influence, hence politically skilled individuals find themselves well positioned to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

4)        Apparent Sincerity – individuals high on this dimension are described by others as having integrity and being authentic. This is a critical element of political skills, as attempts to influence will fall on deaf ears when individuals are perceived as having ulterior motives.

2 See resources below for an article link to the development and validation of this scale. Construct validity research has shown political skills to be a separate construct to Emotional Intelligence, GMA and Political Savvy (Ferris et al, 2007). This demonstrates the unique contribution of this construct to Organisational Psychology.

For all of the research hours and funding poured into the development of this research area, and now with an inventory to measure this phenomena, the question still remains; what value do Political Skills have in organisational life?

There seem to be three areas of impact that are delineated here; impact on self, others and organisations. Research shows that people who have strong political skills evaluate themselves more favorably, because of their perceived control and mastery over others (Ferris, Davidson & Perrewe, 2005). There is also an interesting relationship with job satisfaction, in that only up to a certain point (an optimum, lets say) do political skills lead to an increment in job satisfaction. After this point job satisfaction takes a dip, hence an inverted U-shaped relationship (Kolodinsky, Hochwarter & Ferris, 2004).

Moving on, there are a number of impacts of possessing political skills on others. These include higher ratings of leader effectiveness (Douglas & Ammeter, 2004), contextual performance, managerial performance (Ferris, Treadway, et al, 2005) as well as personal reputation (Ferris, Blass, Douglas, Kolodinsky & Treadway, 2003). Finally at a broader level, possessing political skill is crucial for leaders in creating a uniting vision which employees buy in to and carry out. In order to effectively do this, leaders must rely on their reputation, networking and positioning skills for support. It is now the case that in order to be a ‘competent manager’ in today’s workplace, leaders must be seen as charismatic. This is according to research by Khurana (2002) who conducted one  of the largest studies of CEO selection for fortune 500 companies.

Bearing this in mind, it may be helpful to identify some of the behaviors used to gain influence (and to watch out for) in a politically active environment. Not to create paranoia or suspicion over intentions, but this research based taxonomy of tactics (Ferris et al, 2007) can help us defend or enhance our careers, depending on the stance you take.

•          Ingratiation – simple flattery or strategic praise to get on the good side of others. In other words, praise with a purpose.

•          Self-promotion – a tricky skill to have in that too much is interpreted as arrogance, while too little and one appears underconfident. Therefore those high in political skills will self promote yet still be seen as genuine, sincere and authentic.

•          Assertiveness – involves demanding, ordering, setting deadlines and checking up on others to influence proceedings. Yet, the style in which this assertiveness comes across is dependent on networking and how well positioned one is to assert.

•          Networking/positioning – developing and maintaining diverse networks of people who have influence over valuable assets. A subtle style of developing friendships and bonds allows strong alliances to be built.

•          Coalition building – stemming from the above, this ability involves the development of mutually beneficial, ‘strength in numbers’ relationships to influence upwards.

To quote the incorrectly3 paraphrased Darwin statement – ‘it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change’. There would seem to be no better description of how political skills can allow one to survive and indeed, thrive in the world of organisational politics today. Whether this is perceived to be a good or bad thing, political skills could be one of the key elements involved in coming out of that appraisal, one step closer to achieving your personal and organisational goals.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member of The Psychometrics Forum. Follow me on Twitter – @Raj_Chopra24.


Douglas, C., & Ammeter,A. P. 2004. An examination of leader political skill and its effect on ratings of leader effectiveness. The Leadership Quarterly, 15: 537-550.

Ferris, G. R., Blass, R., Douglas, C., Kolodinsky, R. W., & Treadway, D. C. 2003. Personal reputation in organizations. In J. Greenberg (Ed.), Organizational behavior: The state of the science (2nd ed.): 211-246. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ferris, G. R., Davidson, S. L., & Perrewé, P. L. 2005. Political skill at work: Impact on work effectiveness. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Ferris, G. R. Treadway, D. C., Kolodinsky, R. W., Hochwarter, W. A., Kacmar, C. J., Douglas, C., & Frink, D. D. (2005). Development and validation of the political skill inventory. Journal of Management, 31: 126-152.

Ferris. G. R., Treadway, D. C., Perrewe, P. L., Brouer, R. L., Douglas, C. & Lux, S. (2007). Political Skill in Organizations. Journal of Management, 33 No. 3, 290-320.

Khurana, R. 2002. Searching for a corporate savior: The irrational quest for charismatic CEOs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kolodinsky, R. W., Hochwarter,W. A., & Ferris, G. R. 2004. Nonlinearity in the relationship between political skill and work outcomes: Convergent evidence from three studies. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65: 294-308.



2 The Development and Validation of The Political Skills Inventory (Ferris et al, 2005):

3 The Darwin Correspondence Project, led by researchers at The University of Cambridge have comfirmed that this famous quote was indeed an incorrect paraphrase of Darwin from Leon C Meggison (1963), Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiani State University;

Personality Neuroscience: Unlocking The Mystery of The Brain in Order to Understand The Whole Person

Brain painting

This month, President Obama unveiled plans to fund a $100 million project to discover how different regions of the brain connect and result in the many complex functions that we as human beings are capable of. The BRAIN initiative, similar in its audacious attempt to push the boundaries of human knowledge as the Human Genome project, will endeavour to discover more about the most complex structure in the universe.

So, I was inspired to reconnect with my neuroscience roots myself and through a recommendation of our very own Psyche Editor; Mr Starkey, came across the intriguing field of ‘Personality Neuroscience’. The aim of this field, is “to understand both the biological systems that are responsible for the states associated with [personality] traits and the parameters of those systems that cause them to function differently in different individuals” (DeYoung, 2010).  A leading figure within Personality Neuroscience is Dr Colin DeYoung, who The Psychometrics Forum hosted via teleconference from the USA in 2011.

From my reading of this complex, interdisciplinary field, it seems that a personality trait (Big 5, for example) is mapped onto a certain brain region, using the psychological function of each trait as a stepping stone for this process. In other words, a trait such as Extraversion is hypothesised to have a psychological function i.e. approach towards potential rewards, which is associated with particular brain regions and neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Therefore, the psychological function provides the link between a biological personality trait and its home within the brain. But why is this important? Simply put, there is a two-way street between personality and neuroscience. Having an understanding of the biological basis of personality traits can help us to refine personality theory, while personality theory can help us to begin understanding the neurological basis of human behaviour (DeYoung, 2010).

As well as taking the position that the Big five factors of personality collapse upward into two broader factors (McCrae et al., 2008), DeYoung suggests that there are mid-level factors between the Big Five and their facets (DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007). The figure below demonstrates the neurobiological taxonomy of personality traits. DeYoung (2010) uses this taxonomy of personality to shape his theorising regarding the psychological function and therefore the brain region responsible for such traits. In an attempt to simplify this rather messy and far from clear-cut body of research, in the table below, I have outlined some of the key regions associated with each of the big five personality traits. Please forgive the rather crude approach here, as it does seem that we are in the infancy stage of this approach, nevertheless I’m sure my old Neuroscience tutor would not be impressed(!)

Figure 1 – The Taxonomy of the Big Five Personality traits

Personality Neuroscience

Table 1 – Table showing Each Big Five trait with its corresponding Psychological Function and associated brain region.

Trait Psychological Function Brain region/neurotransmitter* Also associated with Diagram
Stability (Low Neuroticism, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness) General tendency to regulate or restrain potentially disruptive emotion and behaviour. Serotonin – has regulatory or inhibiting effects on mood, behaviour & cognition. Low levels of serotonin are associated with aggression, poor impulse control and depression. Whereas serotonin boosting drugs mitigate these problems.  –
Plasticity (Extraversion & Openness) General tendency to explore and engage with possibilities. Dopamine – the dopaminergic system has two branches. One branch influences brain structures such as the Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala, which are involved in motivation, emotion and reward i.e. Extraversion. While the other branch influences the Pre-frontal Cortex, which is responsible for higher cognition (Openness). The Nucleus Accumbens – the pleasure centre, thought to be associated with reward, pleasure, laughter, addiction, aggression and fear.

The Amygdala – forms part of the limbic system and is thought to be associated with memory and emotional reactions.

Extraversion Sensitivity and approach to reward and positive affect. In other words, the drive for reward, rather than enjoyment of it once it is received. Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex, Nucleus Accumbuns, Amygdala, Striatum. The Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex is associated with coding the value of rewards.  The Orbitofrontal CortexOFC
Neuroticism Sensitivity to punishment and negative affect i.e. anxiety, depression, anger, irritation, self-consciousness, rumination, and vulnerability. Amygdala and Anterior Cingulate.

Medial Pre-frontal Cortex activity which is suggestive of poor emotion regulation.

Right frontal lobe (withdrawal aspect of Neuroticism).

The Anterior Cingulate is linked to a wide variety of autonomic functions, such as regulating blood pressure and heart rate, as well as rational cognitive functions, such as reward anticipation, decision-making, empathy, impulse control, and emotion. The Anterior Cingulate is located towards the frontal lobe in the highlighted Cingulate Cortex.ACC
Agreeableness Tendency toward altruism as opposed to exploitation of others. Superior Temporal Sulcus, Posterior Cingulate Cortex, and Fusiform Gyrus. These areas are involved in social information processing.Left Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex – associated with emotional regulation. Agreeableness predicts tests of empathy, theory of mind and other forms of social information and emotional processing, hence these regions have been implicated. The Superior Temporal Sulcus is located in the bottom fold of the Gyrus (highlighted in green below).Superior temporal sulcusThe Posterior Cingulate Cortex is located towards the back of the brain in the highlighted Cingulate Cortex below.ACC
Conscientiousness Top-down control of behaviour and impulses in order to follow rules and pursue non-immediate goals. Pre-frontal Cortex; linked to the self-discipline and organisation needed for top-down control. This brain region is responsible for our ability to plan and follow rules. The Pre-frontal CortexPFC
Openness The tendency to detect, explore, appreciate, and utilise patterns of abstract and sensory information. Openness consists of intellect (according to DeYoung) i.e. an engagement with abstract and intellectual information. It is this aspect which is linked to the two regions within the Pre-frontal cortex – the Frontal Pole and the Posterior Medial Frontal Cortex. The Frontal Pole is involved in abstract integration of multiple cognitive operations and in drawing abstract analogies.The Posterior Medial Frontal Cortex is involved in monitoring goal-directed performance and detecting the likelihood of error during cognitive processes. The Medial Pre-frontal CortexMedial PFC

*Neurotransmitters – chemicals found in the brain which allow communication between neurons (via synapses).

The pursuit of mapping out personality constructs according to our neuroscience is now possible, because of the huge advances in brain measurement technology. This is a complex yet incredibly exciting and revolutionary undertaking. We are today closer than we have ever been to understanding the intriguing human machine, which lies encased within our primitive skulls. Yet, we stand light-years away from fully understanding it, as we still face many challenges. In relation to personality theory, as DeYoung concludes, we could base a causal theory of personality on psychological constructs alone, but this would be ignoring the neurological basis of behaviour and experience. Perhaps the BRAIN initiative, in time will take us one step closer to comprehending the potential cause of the whole person. Through a more sophisticated understanding of how the various brain systems communicate and function in tandem, we can create a better picture of how such unique and individual personalities emerge.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member, The Psychometrics Forum.


DeYoung, C. G. (2010). Personality Neuroscience and the Biology of Traits. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 1165–1180.

DeYoung, C. G., Quilty, L. C., & Peterson, J. B. (2007). Between facets and domains: 10 aspects of the Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 880–896.

McCrae, R. R., Jang, K. L., Ando, J., Ono, Y., Yamagata, S., Riemann, R., et al. (2008). Substance and artifact in the higher-order factors of the big five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 442–455.

Brain images courtesy of