Researchers have developed a new way to measure Machiavellianism - a personality type which has a tendency to exploit, deceive and distrust others. Rigorous statistical testing identified these master manipulators with 12 simple questions and experts found males scored higher than females. Lead authors Dr Conal Monaghan and Dr Boris Bizumic, from The Australian National University (ANU), said people with high Machiavellian or "high Mach" scores had consistent views and tactics across languages, cultures, and genders.
"These people might be your co-workers, friends, family - or even you," Dr Monaghan said. "People with Machiavellian views and Machiavellian tactics show a willingness to manipulate often at the expense of others for personal gain, and their worldview is cynical and untrusting of others.
"For example, right now Machiavellians are likely to be more willing to take goods off shelves - including toilet paper - as they believe everyone else will do it anyway, as it is a dog-eat-dog world."
"If you perceive other people as bad and dishonest, then it is easier to rationalise exploiting them.
"Machiavellian people might also be able to justify their behaviour for the greater good."
The researchers developed the concept for the new Two-Dimensional Machiavellianism Scale (TDMS) with data from around the world, including Korea, Hungary, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
"We developed a statistically strong measure of Machiavellianism that people can use to identify how Machiavellian they are and measured this construct internationally," said Dr Monaghan.
"We found males are more Machiavellian than females and appears to slowly decline with age after a peak in early to mid-adulthood."
The quiz is available online and anyone can receive instant feedback on their level of Machiavellianism, along with the strength of their views and tactics when compared to everyone else.
"Everyone is Machiavellian to some extent," Dr Monaghan said. "It is not about being Machiavellian or not, it is a continuum of personality and everyone fits onto there somewhere.
"It is different to psychopathy, which has a strong genetic basis and relates more to impulsivity. Machiavellianism predicts deliberate behaviours that are justified in some form of morality or necessity.
"The term comes from the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli, who is often credited with advising those in power that deliberate use of immoral behaviour is a necessary part of being a good leader - the end justifies the means."
The study titled, Two-dimensional Machiavellianism: Conceptualization, theory, and measurement of the views and tactics dimensions. Psychological Assessment is published in the journal Psychological Assessment.