Light Triad of Personality

By Charlotte Nickerson, published May 02, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Definition

  • The light triad consists of the traits of Kantianism, humanism, and faith in humanity. People with these traits are said to be primarily motivated by intimacy and self-transcendent values.
  • The light triad was devised in contrast to the dark triad of personality — traits associated with narcissism, Mechiavialinism, and psychopathy.
  • Both sets of traits have been correlated with other facets of personality, such as intellect and openness to experience.
  • Light triad personality traits have been embodied by a number of notable figures throughout history, such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela.

History and Overview

All humans have, within themselves, both a light and a dark side. However, everyone varies as to the extent to which they consistently exhibit light and dark patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in their daily lives.

The term light triad of personality refers to a group of three related personality traits that tend to be exhibited more often by individuals who are overall more likely to exhibit "light" patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in their daily lives.

The three related traits are (Kaufman, 2019):

  • Faith in humanity: an overall tendency to see the best in people and believe that most people are basically good
  • Humanism: a belief in the inherent dignity and worth of other humans
  • Kantism: treating people as ends unto themselves, rather than unwitting pawns.

The light triad of personality has been studied extensively by psychologists, and there is now a great deal of evidence to support the existence of this group of traits.

Furthermore, research has shown that the light triad of personality is related to a number of important outcomes, including overall mental and physical health, relationship satisfaction, and life satisfaction.

The Psychology of the Light Triad

The psychologists Scott Barry Kaufman, David Yaden, Elizabeth Hyde, and Tsukayama. defined the three positive traits that make up the light triad: Kantism, humanism, and faith in humanity.

All of these, they argue, can help social scientists to understand what aspects of a person make them markedly "good."

All human beings have both positive and negative personality traits. What makes each person different is the way in which their patterns of thought, behavior, and dark emotions interplay with light emotions (Kaufman, 2019).

There are also differences in the life circumstances that researchers have identified as being at the root of light and dark triad personality traits.

For example, it has been found that dark triad traits are correlated with greater childhood unpredictability, aggression, utilitarian moral judgment, selfishness, power, money, and immature defense styles than light triad traits (Malik et al., 2020), while light triad traits are associated with exactly the opposite.

There is also a notable gender difference in those who exhibit dark and light triad traits. Those with high levels of dark triad traits tended to be younger, more likely to be male, more motivated by power, sex, achievement, and affiliation, have self-enhancement values, immature defense styles, conspicuous consumption, and selfishness.

They also tend to see creative work and religious immortality as routes to transcending death.

Overall, the dark triad is negatively correlated with life satisfaction, conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-transcendent values, compassion, empathy, a quiet ego, a belief that humans are good, and the belief that one is themselves good (Malik et al., 2020).

Curiosity and the light and dark triads

Although the light and dark triad are both associated with curiosity, the types of curiosity associated with both are different — with the light triad being associated with stretching curiosity and the dark triad being associated with embracing and depriving curiosity.

Stretching curiosity is associated with a willingness to explore, take risks, and try new things — even if there's a chance of failure. This kind of curiosity is often seen as being positive, as it can lead to personal growth and new experiences.

Embracing curiosity, on the other hand, is associated with a willingness to engage in activities that are considered taboo or dangerous.

This type of curiosity is often seen as being negative, as it can lead to harm or reckless behavior. It is important to note that both types of curiosity can be present in both the light and dark triads (Malik et al., 2020).

Examples of Light Triad Traits

There are an array of people throughout history who have become synonymous for their association with the light triad traits of Kantism, faith in humanity, and humanism.

One notable example of a person embodying the light triad is the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly emphasized the importance of empathy and compassion in human life. He has also written extensively on the need for religious tolerance, and has worked to promote interfaith dialogue between different religions.

In addition, the Dalai Lama has been an advocate for gender equality, and has spoken out against violence against women (Cooke, 2020). Another example of someone with high levels of all three light triad personality traits is Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi was a political leader in India who fought for India's independence from British rule. He is best known for his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, which he used to great effect in leading protests against British policies in India. Gandhi was also a committed advocate for religious tolerance, and worked to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. In addition, Gandhi was a strong supporter of women's rights, and spoke out against the practice of child marriage.

Finally, Nelson Mandela was a political leader in South Africa who fought against the country's system of apartheid, is yet another example of a historical figure exemplifying the light triad. After spending 27 years in prison, Mandela was released and went on to lead the country as its first black president.

During his time in office, Mandela worked to promote racial reconciliation and forgiveness. He also spoke out against gender violence, and worked to promote women's rights. Mandela's work bridging apartheid can be said to have embodied faith in humanity as well as humanism (Cooke, 2020).

The Light Triad Rating Scale

Yaden, Hyde, Kaufman, and Tsukayama's light-dark triad scale attempts to find the antagonist emotions in people who score high in dark emotions (2019).

The three "light" emotions that Yaden, Hyde, Kaufman, and Tsukayama identified were Kantism, humanism, and faith in humanity. Kantism, a reference to Kant's categorical imperative (Pogge, 1998) refers to someone's ability to see people as people over a means to an end. Meanwhile, humanism refers to the ability to value other humans of all social statuses and apply ethics to everyday life. Finally, those with the highest scores in their faith in humanity tend to believe that people are inherently good.

Scott et al. evaluated these personality traits with twelve different questions, on a scale from "totally disagree" to "totally agree." Kaufman et al. (2019) concluded that those who score highly on the light triad personality scale tend to score high on other traits, such as:

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Attachment to others
  • Tolerance towards others
  • Having a low need to exert power over others
  • Humility
  • Agreeability.

Scott et al. then created profiles of those who score high on the light triad of personality traits. Generally, they found, those with high scores on the light triad of personality tended to have had stable childhoods as well as a high level of spirituality, satisfaction with life, compassion, empathy, and open-mindedness. They also tended to be older and more often female than those with strong dark triad traits (Kaufman et al., 2019).

Those who scored higher on the light triad scale also reported more satisfaction with their relationships, competence, and autonomy, as well as reporting higher levels of secure attachment styles and eros in their relationships.

In general, the light triad is related to being primarily motivated by intimacy and self-transcendent values. Many character strengths have also been correlated with the light triad, including curiosity, perspective, zest, love, kindness, teamwork, forgiveness, and gratitude.

In addition, mature defense styles, as well as optimistic beliefs about the self, the world, and one's future are also characteristic of the light triad. Those with high levels of light triad traits report higher self-esteem, authenticity, and a stronger sense of self than others (Kaufman et al., 2019).

The Dark Side of The Light Triad

Although scholars agree in general that the light triad does not appear to be associated with any obvious downsides, there are some strengths associated with dark triad traits that are not characteristic of the light triad.

For example, the light triad is not associated with assertiveness, and is negatively correlated with the motives for achievement and self-enhancement. The light triad, unlike the dark triad, is also uncorrelated with levels of bravery and assertiveness.

These characteristics, as Kaufman et al. (2019) point out, may actually present a barrier to those with high amounts of light triad traits in achieving challenging goals and fully self-actualizing.

Additionally, the light triad is related to greater interpersonal guilt. While guilt may be adaptive to facilitating relationships and repairing damage in them, these forms of guilt may limit one's ambitions for fear of succeeding while others remain less successful.

Additionally, Those with high levels of narcissism tend to be more successful in leadership positions. Those with Machiavellianism and psychopathy are often less likely to experience anxiety, guilt, and depression.

Dark triad traits, finally, are also associated with being more risk-taking and adventurous (Kapoor, 2015).

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

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Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, May 02). Light Triad of Personality. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/light-triad- personality.html

APA Style References
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  • Malik, O. F., Shahzad, A., Waheed, A., & Yousaf, Z. (2020). Abusive supervision as a trigger of malevolent creativity: do the Light Triad traits matter?. Leadership & Organization Development Journal.
  • Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563.
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