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Researchers have identified a new personality trait that is potentially one of the “most dangerous” a person can possess.
The trait has been dubbed “dark empathy” and is seen in people who have personality traits like narcissism but still experience high levels of empathy.
In a study published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences, these people are dubbed “dark empaths”.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. Scientists have identified three different categories of empathy: cognitive, affective and compassionate.
Cognitive empathy refers to the intellectual understanding of someone else’s feelings without sensing them.
Affective empathy is the process of feeling someone else’s emotions as your own. Meanwhile, compassionate empathy is a combination of cognitive and affective empathy.
According to scientists, a person is considered a dark empath when they feel any category of empathy, while also possessing traits from the “dark triad” – the collective name for traits associated with darkness: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.
Their research provides a rebuttal to the traditional association that those with dark characteristics don’t feel high levels of empathy.
In the study, research was gathered from 1,000 people and found that while some don’t experience empathy, there were also a high number of dark empaths.
The authors of the study explained: “As expected, we found a traditional dark triad group with low scores in empathy (about 13 percent of the sample).
“We also found a group with lower to average levels across all traits (about 34 percent were ‘typicals’) and a group with low dark traits and high levels of empathy (about 33 percent were empaths)”
“However, a fourth group of people, the ‘dark empaths,’ was clearly evident. They had higher scores on both dark traits and empathy (about 20 percent of our sample).
“Interestingly, this latter group scored higher on both cognitive and affective empathy than the ‘dark triad’ and ‘typical’ groups.”
Researchers explained that dark empaths are able to use their personality traits to manipulate people as they are able to understand them to a greater extent.
They explained: “This makes sense in a way, as to manipulate others for your own gain — or indeed enjoy the pain of others — you must have at least some capacity to understand them.”
Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, told PsychCentral: "A dark empath may actually be more dangerous than a more cold and unfeeling dark triad type because the so-called dark empath can draw you in closer — and do more harm as a result."
The study researchers found that dark empaths tend to be more indirectly aggressive than others. But, their aggression is limited by their feelings of empathy.
The dark empath group also have a conscience and some displayed signs of self-loathing and negative feelings towards their dark traits.
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