We’ve all heard of the ‘Dark Triad’ of traits, but is there a ‘Light Triad’ and if so, what good qualities are associated with it?

Good qualities and bad qualities. We have all got them. But human nature is drawn to the darker side of people. We are fascinated with those that commit unspeakable acts. Narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths. These people use others solely for their own gain, pain or pleasure.

Psychologists have spent the last few decades exploring the twisted psyches of these dark souls. But what about the saints among us? The Good Samaritans? Those that show empathy, are kind and altruistic. Are these people simply boring for us? Do they not excite us as much as the manipulators and the deviants?

For example, which one of the following quotes interests you more?

“Be a good human being, a warm-hearted, affectionate person. That is my fundamental belief.” Dalai Lama

“What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?” Ted Bundy

Research and Good Qualities

When tragedies occur in the world we look to the compassionate and caring to show us the way. Yet all previous research has focused on the Dark Triad of character traits. These are:

  • Psychopathy
  • Machiavellianism
  • Narcissism

Even so, one study is now exploring what it calls the ‘Light Triad of Personality’. US psychologist and author Scott Barry Kaufman at Barnard College, Columbia University, devised the study. But why bother in the first place?

“Too much focus on one aspect of human nature at the expense of the other misrepresents the full capacities of humanity.” Scott Barry Kaufman

First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by a good person and good qualities. We are not talking about someone that publicly gives or donates in order to raise their profile or self-esteem. Or someone who gives to others to feel better about themselves.

“I’m talking about the person who, just by their being, shines their light in every direction. The person who isn’t constantly strategic about their giving, but who emits unconditional love naturally and spontaneously because that’s just who they are.” Kaufman

So what makes up good qualities in a person? Some of the findings may surprise you.

The Light Triad Study

So are the traits of the Light Triad merely the opposite of the Dark Triad? Actually, it’s not that simple. It’s true that the Dark Triad has an inverse relationship with Big Five Agreeableness Traits. The Big 5 are altruism, cooperation, modesty, morality, and trust.

It has even more negative links with the HEXACO Honesty-Humility factor of normal personality variation. These are fairness, modesty, greed-avoidance, and sincerity.

In order to determine what constitutes for good qualities in a person, Kaufman examined data from the Big Five and the HEXACO along with other likeminded studies. In these studies, participants had answered how much they agreed with certain statements.

Examples of Statements:

  • ‘I wouldn’t pretend to like someone just to get that person to do favours for me.’
  • ‘Listening to people from all walks of life is something I enjoy.’
  • ‘I would never accept a bribe, even if it were very large.’

But he did not just rely on self-reported data. He also recorded moral judgment measures after participants played a game where they could donate bonus reward money to charity or keep it for themselves.

Good Qualities and the Light Triad

To Kaufman’s surprise, as with the Dark Triad, three main factors emerged.

  • Kantianism – People are ends unto themselves and not pawns in someone else’s game.

Example statement: “When I talk to people, I am rarely thinking about what I want from them.”

Kantianism is from philosopher Immanuel Kant who believed we have a moral duty to act in a good way. Whether this benefits us or not is beside the point.

  • Humanism – All human beings deserve respect and dignity and are valued.

Example statement: “I enjoy listening to people from all walks of life.”

Humanism is the belief that humans can make a moral and ethical society themselves through their own experiences without religion.

  • Faith in Humanity – A belief in the fundamental goodness of humans.

Example statement: “I think people are mostly good.”

Faith in humanity is a philosophy that you trust people will act in the best interests of others.

Good Qualities and Common Personality Characteristics

As well as the three factors in the Light Triad, Kaufman found links between certain types of personality traits and good qualities.

Gender and Age

In particular, being female and being older. There is also an association with high levels of spirituality and religious beliefs.

The study found that if you believe, you will live on through your children you are more likely to be accepting of your own morality. This leads to a positive outcome and a higher level of life satisfaction.

Secure Childhood

Childhood plays an important role in how we develop good qualities as adults. Less childhood unpredictability is related to the Light Triad.

However, childhood poverty is not. Participants had to rate their childhood between extremely poor and extremely rich. The study authors found no correlation between wealth and childhood and a person having good qualities as an adult.

Secure Attachments

As expected, those who experienced secure attachments as children scored highly on the Light Triad Scale. This was also true in their adult relationships. Those who reported higher levels of satisfaction and attachments in their relationships also scored highly in good qualities.

Moreover, these participants showed an appreciation and gratitude for what they had. Furthermore, they did not take their relationships for granted.

Curiosity

People with good qualities showed a natural curiosity and were constantly seeking new challenges. They liked to gather knowledge and new information.

They were open-minded; willing to hear both sides of an argument. They were also stronger in their own beliefs and had high levels of self-esteem. These types of people have a good sense of self.

Maturity

The study showed that individuals who scored highly on the Light Triad Scale had more maturity than those on the Dark Triad. They used more mature defence styles, including self-deprecating humour and redirection. They were also highly optimistic about themselves and the world.

Negative Associations with People Who Have the Light Triad

Of course, people can have a mixture of good qualities and bad ones. So are there any negative aspects associated with the Light Triad?

Self-Enhancement

The Light Triad is not linked to achievement or self-enhancement. Therefore, it would be difficult for someone scoring highly on this scale to reach self-actualization.

Those who score highly on the Light Triad frequently put others before themselves. As a result, it is not normal practice for them to put their own needs before others.

Bravery

Courage and assertiveness, despite being good qualities, are not associated with the Light Triad. People with high scores on the Light Triad might like to challenge themselves but not if it seems too scary. Furthermore, they won’t put themselves forward to challenge an aggressor.

Guilt

The Light Triad is linked to feelings of guilt. In particular, about one’s self and loved ones. This includes survivor guilt (“I sometimes feel I don’t deserve the happiness I achieved“) and omnipotent responsibility guilt (“I worry a lot about the people I love even when they seem to be fine“).

Some forms of guilt are necessary for a relationship, for partners who have had affairs for instance. But experiencing guilt all the time is damaging and limiting.

It’s true, we all have good qualities and bad qualities. But Kaufman’s research shows that there is now an interest in understanding what makes a good person. The thing is, if we can learn more about this side of human nature, perhaps we can encourage more of these kinds of qualities in a person.

References:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com
  2. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com

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