Seeing but Not Feeling: Machiavellian Traits in Relation to Physiological Empathetic Responding and Life Experiences


Machiavellian personality traits are often associated with low levels of empathy and lack of interpersonal closeness. However, some individuals high on Machiavellian traits have been shown to be skilled at affective-perspective taking and thereby may appear to exhibit an empathic response. The current study examined reported empathetic response as well as physiological empathetic response (through skin conductance levels) in relationship to Machiavellian personality traits. Physiological responses were examined while participants watched emotion eliciting videos. In addition, life history traits and social strategies were examined in relation to the development of Machiavellian personality traits. The results of the current study reveal that individuals high on Machiavellian personality traits had lower levels of physiological emphatic responding (skin conductance levels), although they did not report less empathy. Additionally, Machiavellian personality traits were associated with the use of bi-strategic social strategies and having a childhood environment with a harsh or inconsistent father. More specifically, a relationship with a harsh or inconsistent father was found to moderate the relationship between Machiavellian personality scores and skin conductance levels, such that those high in Machiavellian traits appeared to be more resistant to the impact of harsh fathering on responses to others' distress. These results suggest that personality characteristics, social styles, and father's parenting styles are linked to particular physiological profiles in response to highly charged emotional situations.



Document Type





machiavellian, empathy, skin conductance levels, father, social strategies

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Journal Title

Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology