Responses to dominance challenge are a function of psychopathy level: A multimethod study

Jill Lobbestael, Arnoud Arntz, Marisol Voncken, Michael Potegal

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study assesses the relationship between psychopathy and dominance, both as a trait level and in 2 interpersonal contexts. Following the interpersonal circumplex model, we expected that interacting with a dominant interviewer would reduce dominance displays by low psychopathy participants (interpersonal complementarity) but might increase such displays in those with higher psychopathy (anticomplementarity). Psychopathic traits and dominance were assessed in a community sample (N = 91) using multiple dominance indicators: self-reported overall dominance level, job preference, dominance displays observed during identical interviews with a subordinate and dominant interviewer, and baseline and postinterview measures of personal space and testosterone level. Psychopathic traits were positively related to dominance on both trait measures and in the interviews. As a trait, higher self-reported psychopathy scores were associated with higher levels of self-reported dominance and preference for supervisory job positions. Higher Factor 1 psychopathy scores were associated with increased dominance display in interaction with the dominant interviewer. Higher Factor 2 scores were associated with allowing the dominant interviewer to approach more closely (reduced physical distancing). Psychopathy was partly related to a delayed increase in testosterone levels after interaction. Psychopathic traits may include a general tendency to dominate, a tendency which increases when interacting with a dominant other. The emotional/interpersonal psychopathy factor is specifically related to increased dominance displays when interacting with a dominant individual, while the behavioral factor of psychopathy is related to reduced physical distancing of a dominant partner. At higher psychopathy levels the general rule of dominant-subordinate reciprocity during social interaction is reversed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Dominance
  • Interpersonal behavior
  • Personal space
  • Psychopathy
  • Testosterone

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