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  • Writer's picturePatrick Littorin

People who derail

Why do some people steal, lie and manipulate? Some do not even seem to have a bad conscience when they hurt and deceive for their own gain. They seem to "lick up and kick down" just to reach their own goals. But what are the characteristics of those who use such manipulative strategies in order for them to gain influence and power themselves, unlike those who strive for community and cooperation with their colleagues?

In the past, people talked about psychopaths. But then they usually meant murderers and bandits, those who were locked up in a prison. They had a manifestly deviant behavior. But in recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the risk behaviors of "ordinary" people, those who manipulate, who use flattery or threats and who we sometimes encounter in our workplaces. Today's researchers believe that we all carry these risky behaviors - but to varying degrees.

Some Swedish researchers, together with researchers from Kings College in London and the Armed Forces in Canada, have studied Swedish military in Mali. There, one could identify certain personality traits linked to unethical behavior in war situations. It could be soldiers who rape a 14-year-old girl in Iraq, and then murder her and her family, or the British police who in the spring of 2021 kidnapped, raped and murdered a 33-year-old woman. He tricked her into his car by appearing in police uniform and claiming that she had broken the Covid-19 rules in England. He has now been sentenced to life in prison.

In their research, the researchers measured risk behaviors or "derailment tendencies" in the soldiers:

  • Machiavellianism, the individual's prejudices, emotional coldness, manipulative aspirations and “hunger for power”.

  • Narcissism, the individual's sense of superiority, the pursuit of dominance and the risk of powerful irrational outbursts of emotion and unethical behavior when faced with resistance or crisis.

  • Psychopathy, which is characterized by individuals' impulsivity, tension-seeking and lack of empathy. These often behave antisocially, end up in fights, drug abuse or crime.

  • Social Dominance Orientation, where the individual sees himself in a hierarchical perspective, either individuals and groups are "above" or "below". The attitude is that superior groups should dominate and decide. Inferior groups must obey.

By testing people's risk behaviors, researchers are now beginning to get a good idea of ​​what problems these behaviors create in an organization. There seems to be a "dark core" in some people. Normally they are not noticed, but are "triggered" during pressured situations.

The results are in good agreement with our own research and the analyzes we have made over the years. For example, the CEO who led the board behind the light and, among other things, made them invest in new premises with Stockholm's most expensive premises rent. The reason was that they had finally signed an agreement with one of the world's largest companies; now the business would really come loose! What "he or she" did not talk about was that the American company had a clause that if they were not satisfied, the agreement would be terminated. Nowadays, the company is bankrupt. Too bad the board didn't really take the CEO:s psychopathic tendencies seriously!

Nowadays, we therefore help our customers to map the candidates' risk or derailment tendencies, their "dark sides". We use the same division as the researchers in England, Canada and Sweden.

Our test Complete Analysis Plus measures risk behaviors, contact us for more information


SvD, 26 januari 2020.

Lindén, M., Björklund, F., Bäckström, M., Messervey, D. & Whetham, D. (2019). ”A latent core of dark traits explains individual differences in peacekeepers’ unethical attitudes and conduct”. Military Psychology.

Lindén, M., Björklund, F., Bäckström, M., (2016) ”What makes authoritarian and socially dominant people more positive to using torture in the war on terrorism?” Personality and individual differences, volume 91 (98-101).

Psykometrika, Scientific Background 2019.

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