Fictional investment banker Patrick Bateman of American Psycho has come to represent the archetypical narcissistic business bro hungry for power and devoid of empathy. Now, a recent study out of Aarhus University in Denmark sheds light on what subjects psychopaths are likely to study in college, and, guess what? Bateman's uncanny knack for business and psychopathic tendencies may not be as far fetched and over-the-top as they may seem — and, in fact, may go hand-in-hand. Findings published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences revealed that students who choose to study business and economics are more likely to possess "Dark Triad" traits than those who focused on different academic majors.
The "Dark Triad" describes a specific set of personality traits: Narcissism, Machiavellianism (a tendency to manipulate), and psychopathy. As the current study notes, these traits "have been associated with the desire for power, status, and social dominance in the workplace, and these desires have been hypothesized to draw Dark Triad individuals towards occupations affording such outcomes." Following this line of reasoning, researchers hypothesized that these sinister traits could dictate a student's course of study, as well. In other words, baby Bateman's psychopathic traits and moral and emotional bankruptcy drew him to that business degree, not the other way around. Sorry, business majors.
To gauge this theory, a sample of just under 500 Danish students were tested for the Big Five personality traits (measuring a person's extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism) as well as where they fell in terms of the Dark Triad. The students were enrolled to begin studying one of four majors: Psychology, business and economics, political science, or law. However, the questionnaires were completed before the students began their studies so that the scientists could gauge whether certain personality types were attracted to professions before their chosen courses could impact them in any way.
A comparison of mean scores revealed that those on the business and economics track scored the highest of all the student groups on the Dark Triad, while psychology students has substantially lower Dark Triad scores than all others. Law and political science students' scores were middling when it came to narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism — lower than business students', but higher than those focusing on psychology. Echoing the results of previous studies, personality differences among academic majors also revealed themselves in the Big Five, where psychology students scored significantly higher than their counterparts on traits such as Agreeableness, Openness, and Neuroticism.
So do these results suggest that all business majors are fledgling psychopaths and all psychology students are friendly, empathetic, and thoughtful? Not necessarily, as there are many other things, such as our parents' influence and socioeconomic backgrounds, that affect what we choose to study. The correlation is there all the same, though, and that's kind of fascinating. "The choice of academic major and career is a complex decision involving many different factors," notes the study. "But the present study suggests that personality traits are at least part of this decision process."