Joanita Wibowo

Are you a good person? Psychologists outline the traits of "everyday saints"

Are you a good person? Psychologists outline the traits of "everyday saints"

We have long been intrigued by the darker side of human psyche – look no further than our culture’s unwavering interest in serial killers, true crime and the morbid.

In early 2000s, psychologists identified the trio of traits known as the “dark triad”: psychopathy (callousness and cynicism), narcissism (entitled self-importance) and Machiavellianism (tendency to exploit and manipulate). Since then, these antisocial traits have continued to become the focus of both academic research and public attention.

However, Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Columbia University decided to look in another direction.

“The dark triad and the dark side of our nature is an area that people keep on talking about over and over again,” he told the ABC. “I wanted to see if there was anything interesting about people who are not arseholes.”

After testing more than 1,500 people of varying ages, genders, races and ethnicities, Kaufman and his colleagues proposed “light triad”, the three characteristics that best demonstrate the lighter side of the human nature.

These three good personality traits are Kantianism (treating people as ends unto themselves rather than mere means), humanism (valuing the dignity and worth of each individual person), and faith in humanity (belief in the fundamental goodness of people).

They are not necessarily the inverse of the dark triad – instead, there is a little bit of both light and dark in every one of us, the researchers said. “The absence of darkness does not necessarily indicate the presence of light,” the authors write in their paper.

“There appears to be some degree of independence between the Light and Dark Triad, leaving room for people to have a mix of both light and dark traits.”

Kaufman said it is important to examine what makes a “good” person in today’s world.

“Yes, everyday psychopaths exist,” Kaufman wrote on Scientific American. “But so do everyday saints, and they are just as worthy of research attention and cultivation in a society that sometimes forgets that not only is there goodness in the world, but there is also goodness in each of us as well.”

Even if you are tilted towards the dark side, it can still change, said Nick Haslam, a personality researcher at University of Melbourne. He said personality is not fixed throughout our lifetime. “Personality is not some mysterious thing lurking deep within the soul, it's just is the way you tend to behave. There is lots and lots of evidence that these things can change.”

Want to know where your personality lies on the spectrum? Take the Light Triad Scale test here.