What a lovely surprise to come across a piece of research conducted by Scott Barry Kaufmann and his colleagues in which they construct a new scale to measure positive personality traits. They have called this the Light Triad Scale. As we know for many years, psychology has focused on the negative side of human behaviour, classifying, diagnosing and developing potential treatments for traits such as narcissism and psychopathology. These two traits along with Machiavellianism have become known as the Dark Triad and I find this shift in focus to be very welcome indeed. Unfortunately these negative traits have been glamourised over the years despite the harm they cause to others.  Now it is time to give the limelight to positive traits.

The Light Triad

The Light Triad comprises the following three personality traits:

Kantianism which is the extent to which we treat people as an end in their own right, not as the means to achieving another goal.

Humanism which is the extent to which we value the dignity and worth of each individual.

Faith in Humanity which is the extent to which we believe people are fundamentally good. Both dark and light personality characteristics are assessed in the new scale and you can take the test yourself here.

Why Does This Matter?

The research found that the Light Triad correlated with greater feelings of life satisfaction, compassion, humility and with connectedness to others than The Dark Triad. These are central concepts to the field of Positive Psychology. A high score on the Light Triad also correlated with an optimistic outlook about oneself, the future and the world as well as respondents reporting high authenticity, self-esteem and a strong sense of self. All of these are aspects of a thriving life.

Light Dark Blend

The reason I find this scale so interesting is that Kaufmann et al (2019) conclude that The Light Triad is not the inverse of the Dark Triad. Scoring high on Kantianism, humanism or faith in humanity does not mean that the same person would necessarily score low on narcissism, psychopathology or Machiavellianism. This highlights to me the complex nature of human personalities and it ties in well with second wave Positive Psychology that examines the interplay of both positive and negative phenomena.

In fact, the research briefly discusses one of the potential limitations of scoring highly on the Light Triad which is as the Light Triad is not associated with assertiveness and bravery and this may prevent a person from following their true purpose and self-actualising.  However, the Dark Triad is correlated with some of these positive behaviours including bravery, leadership and assertiveness. I do not think we need to worry,  my interpretation is that the Light Triad’s emphasis on the belief in the goodness of others combined with traits that aid human connectedness such as compassion and empathy, may mean that a person who scores highly on the Light Triad may self-actualise as they are likely to be living a life in line with a cause where s/he assists others.

Everyday Saints

Most of us can bring to mind someone who would score highly on the Light Triad and the research refers to them as Everyday Saints. Kaufmann et al (2019) argue that further research should be conducted in this field. There are many positive role models in society who have these traits, and if we can develop these in others, it should lead to a positive ripple effect benefiting society as a whole.




Kaufman SB, Yaden DB, Hyde E and Tsukayama E (2019) The Light vs. Dark Triad of Personality: Contrasting Two Very Different Profiles of Human Nature. Frontiers in. Psychology. 10:467. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00467


About the author: Bryony Shaw


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