Law students are more likely to be psychopaths than their psychology-studying peers — but economics and business students are the ‘darkest’

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By Polly Botsford on

The study looked at Machiavellianism and narcissism too

Research has found that law and political science students are “darker” than psychology students, but that “there are more ‘dark’ individuals within the field of economics/business than anywhere else.”

The other important finding was that these personality traits were present at the beginning of the students’ training. In the past, research has tended to find that students develop certain personality traits during their training.

As the paper, by psychologists at Aarhus University in Denmark, puts it: “[social scientists] have argued that the academic schooling within law and business schools promotes a view of human nature and a behavioural pattern that heavily emphasise self-interest”.

But this latest study of 487 newly-enrolled students at an unnamed Danish university showed that personality differences are present at the point of enrollment and “therefore not due to socialisation processes whilst studying for their degrees”.

The research, which was based on a self-rating questionnaire asking students to agree or disagree with specific statements, looked at not only what are known as the ‘Big Five’ personality traits — neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness — but also the more recently developed traits called the ‘Dark Triad’: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.

Last year, research into the Big Five personality traits found that law, business and economics students score consistently lower on “agreeableness” than students enrolled in other subjects, particularly in comparison with humanities or arts students.

It is worth noting that this most recent Danish study is a comparative exercise with only a limited number of subjects, a limitation which the paper itself observes.

What is also interesting is that the personality traits are not particularly well-aligned with behaviours that are considered to be useful if you want to be a good lawyer.

In a groundbreaking piece of work on this, two professors in the United States found that the necessary “behaviours” for being an effective lawyer are items such as “passion and engagement” and “integrity and honesty”.

Perhaps lawyers can try and pick up these behaviours once they are practising…

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