From D-factor to prosocial beliefs

The D-Factor, also known as the Dark Factor of Personality (D), is the following deep-seated belief held by some individuals: in the world we live in, it is justified and necessary to promote one's self-interest at the expense of the interests of others.” This D-factor turns out to be a common factor underlying all sorts of negative traits (read more). It has been researched in relation to various social and political phenomena, such as conspiracy theories, populism and responses to global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples of expressions that indicate the D-factor mindset

Of course, we can't look into other people's heads. But the D-factor belief can occasionally be seen in how people talk. Here are some examples of expressions that may indicate this D-factor mindset:
  • “As long as I get what I want, I don't care who has to suffer for it.”
  • “Why should I be concerned about the environment? I only live once and I want to enjoy it.”
  • “I am willing to disadvantage my own compatriots if it means that my own ethnic group gets more advantage.”
  • “Life is a competition and you have to get to the top at all costs.”
  • “I have nothing to do with others, I just have to do what is best for myself.”
  • “If I don't do it, someone else will and I miss out on the benefits.”
  • “Why should I waste my time and energy on others if I get nothing in return?”
  • “Commercial companies simply have to mislead people.”
  • "I don't feel sorry for people who aren't smart enough to stand up for themselves."
  • “If I can take advantage of someone's weakness, I certainly will.”
Individuals who come into contact with people with such a D-factor mindset can of course be harmed. Think of examples such as: being scammed, being thwarted in your work, being intimidated, etc.
But society as a whole can also suffer from this kind of thinking. Some new studies shed an interesting light on this.

The shared basis of populism and conspiracy thinking

Thielmann & Hilbig (2023) showed that populism and conspiracy thinking share a common core, which is rooted in an all-encompassing dispositional distrust. This core is closely linked to the D-factor, which includes negative tendencies such as cynicism, hostile and competitive social worldviews, and a decreased tendency toward trust. Their research shows that boosting trust can simultaneously address both populism and belief in conspiracy theories.

The influence of the D-factor on vaccination refusal and communication

Rudloff, Hutmacher & Appel (2023) found that post-truth epistemic beliefs rooted in the D-factor were associated with increased reluctance to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They found that individuals who deliberately ignore stronger arguments are less willing to get vaccinated. In addition, post-truth epistemic beliefs are a barrier to effective and rational communication.

Summary: the role of the D-factor in social and political phenomena

The D-factor plays an important role in understanding various social and political phenomena. Investigating this deeply held belief contributes to our understanding of how aversive personality traits such as cynicism, self-centeredness, and distrust influence populism, conspiracy ideas, and responses to global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Fostering trust and addressing these beliefs can be essential to promoting the well-being of society, enhancing rational communication, and combating the negative consequences of the D-factor.

The importance of promoting prosocial beliefs

The positive opposite of the D-factor is that it is important to consider the interests of others in addition to your self-interest and to act in a way that creates a win-win situation where everyone can benefit. This is also referred to as a pro-social belief, where the well-being of others is as important as one's own well-being.

Cultivate prosociality in upbringing, education, work and society

It is very important to stimulate prosocial beliefs in upbringing, education, work and society. Promoting belief in the value of cooperation, empathy, altruism and community spirit can help reduce the negative effects of the D-factor and promote well-being and rational communication.
Some ways to do this include emphasizing the benefits of working together and discussing the importance of supporting others. In addition, we can encourage the rewarding of prosocial behavior and the creation of social norms that encourage prosocial behavior. By promoting prosocial beliefs and behaviors we can contribute to a healthier, more connected and prosperous society.


Coert Visser said…
Link to study

► I came across this study in which bad/antisocial behavior (dark personality behavior) is related to beliefs (specifically, the belief that it's good/good to pursue self-interest at the expense of the interests of others). What I find interesting about this is that it goes beyond what I consider the simplistic (and meaningless) approach of: bad behavior is simply caused by 'personality traits'. If we understand how beliefs and justifications play an essential role in bad behavior, we may be able to find interventions aimed at changing these beliefs.
Coert Visser said…
Open link

► This study by Chen (2024) focuses on how prosocial behavior (actions intended to benefit others or have a positive impact on society) correlates with well-being, and examines the important role of satisfaction of psychological basic needs – autonomy, competence, and connectedness. Through a systematic evaluation of nineteen empirical, peer-reviewed articles, it analyzes the ways in which fulfilling these needs through prosocial behavior contributes to well-being.

The findings suggest that meeting these basic needs can serve as a mediator and amplifier of the positive effects of prosocial behavior on well-being. This means that engaging in prosocial behavior not only directly contributes to one's happiness, but that the effect is even greater when these actions also lead to greater satisfaction regarding one's own autonomy, competence, and sense of connectedness with others. Furthermore, individuals who already experience a high level of need satisfaction show an even stronger increase in well-being following prosocial activities.