Can Spite Be Productive?

Society generally views spitefulness as a purely negative characteristic – there are hundreds of parables to this effect dating to the beginning of recorded history. However, an article in the New York Times recently described findings from several studies showing the bright side of spitefulness. Here are some highlights:

  • Spitefulness tends to come with elevated levels of aggression, psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.
  • Men tend to be more spiteful than women and young people more than old.
  • Stressful circumstances – partisan politics and divorce among them – can provoke spiteful outbursts from otherwise temperate people.
  • According to anthropologist Frank Marlowe, what looks like spite is often a matter of image-making. “If you get a reputation as someone not to mess with and nobody messes with you going forward, then it was well worth the cost.”

Spitefulness isn’t something Hogan measures directly – although our research department told me spitefulness would possibly correlate with the Hogan Development Survey Skeptical, Bold, Leisurely and Mischievous scales – but the article was an excellent illustration of one of our core concepts; that there is no such thing as a purely negative (or positive) personality characteristic.