A study at University of British Columbia has shown that people with narcissistic, psychopathic or Machiavellian tendencies are very good at showing their manipulative and evil-minded skills while interacting in person. However, they are far less effective and lose their mischievous powers while talking over the Internet.

So if you have to talk business even with a most gifted manipulative psychopath or narcissist, you’re better off doing it over the internet, the study suggests. Because people with such tendencies do not send very compelling online messages and they appear to rely on appearance and body language in person to convey charm.

“The results of this study are pretty clear–once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier,” says UBC’s Michael Woodworth, a professor of psychology, in a news release. “We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience.”

For the study, the researchers recruited more than 200 Canadian university students and tested their dark triad qualities, such as their ability to empathize or feel remorse, manipulate others and their degree of self-obsessiveness.

The researchers then asked the participants to take part in negotiation for concert tickets – either as a buyer or a seller, with the ultimate goal of achieving maximum financial benefit for themselves. Some were assigned to take part in face-to-face negotiations while some were made to take part using real-time instant messaging software.

The researchers found that those who ranked higher on the Dark Triad (DT) spectrum performed best in face-to-face negotiations than they were online. This means that psychopaths are very good at using their faces and body language to charm and deceive.

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Also, the participants with higher-ranking DT spectrum were 12.5 percent less successful in online negotiations than the participants who ranked lower on the DT spectrum. Of course, the researchers were not surprised with their result as it was consistent with other studies they conducted previously.

As the team described, placement of the participants on the spectrum varied depending on individual characteristics and attributes. Each of three part of the DT has different characteristics.

  • Psychopaths – lack empathy and are anti-social.
  • Narcissists – shows grandiosity and self-adoration, and
  • People with Machiavellian qualities – are goal-oriented and calculated manipulators.

“While there has long been a fascination with DT personalities and how they can impact ‘ordinary’ people, little has been studied as to how these people behave online,” explains Woodworth.

“What this research tells us is that if you want to be confident in your ability not be taken in by these types of known manipulators, you’re probably better off dealing with them online.”

The findings have been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.