Machiavellianism is a term used to describe a person’s tendency to deceive and manipulate other people for their personal gain. The MACH-IV test is a twenty-statement personality survey that is now the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism. People scoring above 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV are considered high Machs; that is, they endorsed statements such as, “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so,” (No. 1) but not ones like, “Most people are basically good and kind” (No. 4). People scoring below 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV are considered low Machs; they tend to believe, “There is no excuse for lying to someone else,” (No. 7) and, “Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives” (No. 11). You can take the test to see where you fit here.
I am a lawyer. As such, many of the “Machiavellian” statements make sense to me in the working world. Despite my profession, however, I am proud to consider myself a low Mach with a borderline score of 60. Maybe that is part of being a special needs mom. Unfortunately, as special needs mom, I know more than my fair share of high Machs. In parenting my autistic son, I have come to learn that I am vulnerable to people who purport to “help” me. By “me”, I mean my son, or, at times, I do mean me. I am grateful when I get a break. Some people can see that and attempt to manipulate me for their own personal gain. And sometimes, it works.
With gratitude, I have been blind at times. I will look past a fault or ignore a hint. I see a highly desirable skill or service that someone provides to me and/or my son and I don’t want to look at the chink in the armor, because if I look that direction, I might lose what I regard as useful, which may be selfish in and of itself. If that chink in the armor, is bad enough, I might destroy my self- constructed world view and get hurt.
Recently, I have seen a lot of parents in the special needs world get hurt by not checking- me included. I have not been irreparably hurt or financially bilked, like some, but I did lose trust in someone recently who I had believed was one of the good guys. The hints were there. The manipulations always occurred when I was preoccupied.
It became a bitter reality. My son was not hurt at all but he was used as a way for someone to make a buck off me. It wasn’t even a lot of money. It was a manipulation of me, knowing I was vulnerable, coupled with a chance to get something for their own personal gain. Classic Machiavellianism. (I was lucky that Jessica helped me uncover the truth about this person.)
It was a huge breach of trust. And when you put together a huge breach of trust and care of my son? You get cut out of my life. There is no “I’m sorry,” or “let me explain.” So, for a few bucks, this person lost my respect, my trust and made me feel like a fool.
That being said, I hesitated whether to write about this or not. Funny, but as a low Mach I felt compelled to share an honest story with you all. Not because it will help me with personal gain, but because it is the truth.
As I was contemplating writing this, I came across a story from Psychology Today, that was fascinating in its discussion of empathy as it relates to the Dark Triad, personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, grouped together for their overlapping, negative characteristics. The common thread running through all three traits is low agreeableness and low empathy.
Now, for those of you who have been around the block, you know there is a huge discussion because some “researchers” profess that autistics do NOT have empathy. Contrary to that position, there is a whole website devoted to Autism and Empathy run by a brilliant woman, Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg. Rachel and I don’t always see eye to eye but I respect her greatly.
Personally, I’ve never felt my son lacked empathy, nor do I believe, generally that autistics lack empathy. I have held the belief that every person is an individual, spectrum or not and whether someone has empathy cannot be judged by whether he/she has or does not have autism. And while I do not believe my son lacks empathy, I do believe the person who breached my trust, lacks the kind of empathy my son has…
Having said all that, there is a recent paper out analyzing the lack of empathy of those personalities that fall within the Dark Triad. In that paper, a distinction is made between two types of empathy. In this Psychology Today story, the distinction is defined this way:
“Cognitive empathy involves the ability to figure out the emotional states of others without feeling any emotional contagion (i.e., without being able to feel what they are feeling). In contrast, affective empathy involves sharing an emotional reaction in response to others’ emotions. This form of empathy facilitates altruistic behaviors. Prior research shows that individuals with high-functioning autism are impaired in cognitive empathy, but do not differ from neurotypicals in emotional empathy. The exact reverse appears to be true for Dark Triad individuals.”
This prior research is a study that was published in November of 2007 and which concluded:
In conclusion, using the MET, a newly developed measure of empathy, we have demonstrated that individuals with Asperger syndrome show equivalent emotional empathy compared to a control group, although they have difficulties with the cognitive aspects of empathy.
That study also found:
Results from the study revealed difficulties in cognitive, but not in affective aspects of empathy in the Asperger group, suggesting that individuals with AS have a com- parable amount of concern for the distress of others as do neurotypicals. These results are further strengthened by the absence of differences between the groups on social desirability scores or on ratings of emotional reactions to non-social stimuli (context pictures), which might have represented confounding factors.
So, despite all the misperceptions by the public regarding a “lack of empathy” of people on the spectrum, there is evidence that autistics have a healthy dose of empathy. And that empathy is a whole lot healthier than that which is lacking amongst those who desire to manipulate for selfish reasons.
At least, that’s my conclusion. What’s yours?