Studies in Machiavellianism: Summary & Review

studies in machiavellianism cover

“Studies in Machiavellianism” (1970) by Christie and Geis is the first book to empirically address, test, and explain, the personality trait of “Machiavellianism“.
The authors first describe the iterations of tests that led to the MACH-IV, which is today the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism; it then proceeds to review all the studies on Machiavellianism up until 1970, and it ends with an overview of the traits and characteristics of the Machiavellian personality.

Key Takeaways

  • High Machs manipulate more, win more, take more leadership roles and benefits, persuade more, and are persuaded less
  • High Machs are “cooler” and more detached: high Machs don’t become emotionally involved with others, with sensitive issues, with saving face in embarrassing situations, and have little defensive investment in their own self-image or their own beliefs (so they show no dissonance)
  • Low Machs’ are less effective as social strategists in live interactions: being more personal and open makes them less effective as strategists in the course of interactions
  • Low Machs might be better judges of individuals: low Machs are more sensitive to others as individual persons
  • The difference between the two is highest when subjects interact face to face with others, when there is latitude for improvisation and the subject must initiate responses, and in situations in which affective involvement with details irrelevant to winning distracts low Mach

About The Authors

Richard Christie was a social psychologist at Columbia University, where he was also chairman of the Department of Social Psychology.
Florence L. Geis was also a social psychologist and active researcher, but I couldn’t find much biographical information.

Richard and Florence in the mid-1960s asked themselves if people who think, agree, and act in accordance with Machiavelli’s advice could be grouped into a new and discrete “Machiavellian personality”.
To answer that question, they developed a personality measure assessing a person’s level of Machiavellianism. After a few iterations, they eventually finalized the MACH-IV test, a twenty-statement personality inventory. Their successive studies showed that yes, Machiavellianism is a personality trait, that it can be measured, and that predicts behavior and attitudes.
The MACH-IV test is now the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism.

High Machs Resist Pressure, Confess Less, and Lie Better



During a two-person experimental task the experimenter was called out of the
room and a confederate implicated subjects in cheating; on the task.

The high Machs put up greater resistance to cheating than lows, who in turn were easier to sway.

After the task the experimenter interviewed the subjects, ostensibly to evaluate their problem-solving methods, grew suspicious, accused subjects of cheating, and demanded an explanation.

High-Mach subjects looked the interrogator in the eye while denying cheating more than lows (though all subjects looked at the interrogator less than during an innocuous predicating interview) and confessed less often than lows. Highs lied more plausibly (as rated by independent judges) to the interrogator after the accusation.


  • high-Mach subjects were rated as appearing generally less anxious than low-Mach subjects
  • the high Machs were more prone to use the direct glance to suggest that they had nothing to conceal (note: direct glances are an indicator of honesty, so the high Machs seemed to be using it on purpose to deceive)
  • low Machs spoke more, almost as if they talked themselves into confession

High Machs Control the Interactions & Are Sought-After Partners

Study: Geis, The Con Game, 1966


The bargaining tactics recorded as subjects played the Con Game were analyzed for their relevance to five hypotheses intended as first steps in explaining how Machiavellians differ from non-Machiavellians in interpersonal tactics.

High Machs appeared to size up the situation and then test the limits of how much they could get away with, but not to the point of becoming obvious to others in a position to retaliate.

The evidence for this hypothesis is equivocal, since it consists of strings of directional but not-quite-significant differences showing that high Machs did slightly but not significantly more of nearly everything recorded.

It was proposed that high Machs must have an acute and opportunistic sense of timing in social situations. This sense of timing is probably not based on sensitivity to the other person, or his needs or wishes. It is more likely to be based on a sense of what is the logical next step— that will work— at that point in the social process.

High Machs appeared to initiate and control the structure of bargaining interaction in the group. They were overwhelmingly the dominant, decisive, and sought-after member of the triad. This is the best supported of the five hypotheses. The relevant data represent diverse behaviors, and many were relatively direct measures of structure initiation and control.

High Machs thrive especially when ambiguity obscures the claim of low Machs to fair play arid justice. The tactics they used to achieve the increased success, however, seemed to be flexible, opportunistic adaptations of the same kind of tactics they used in nonambiguous games. It is as if the high Machs took advantage of the general confusion produced by ambiguity to be slightly more Machiavellian than might have been astute when others had fewer distracting concerns.

High Machs appeared unresponsive to personal or ethical concerns of others. Rather, they appeared to depersonalize the social interaction and approach it instead from a cognitive-probabilistic orientation. In contrast, lows appeared to personalize the situation and respond primarily from an emotional-ethical orientation.


  • When bargaining conditions were made ambiguous, the average difference in success between high and low-Mach bargainers approximately doubled
  • Empirically the high Mach tactics worked, while lows, using the same tactics almost as often (1.77 VS 1.14 times breaking coalitions) didn’t
    • High Machs who broke coalitions averaged 18 points per game than they’d have gotten otherwise, lows lost 28 points
  • Great man theory of leadership (Borgatta, Couch, & Bales, 1954) . A consistent finding is that the leader talks to the followers and they to him, more than they talk to each other. It’s what happened in the con game: both the low and middle Machs in the triad directed more of their bargaining to the high and more rarely turned to each other, they were more likely to accept the high’s offers, and they kept more coalitions with the high
  • High Machs more attractive partners? It is the contrast in attractiveness as a partner that is relevant to the structure-controlling hypothesis. In fact, “attractiveness as a partner” may be simply an alternative description of the fact of controlling the structure in the group.
  • High Machs maneuvered into the most advantageous position by the end of the game more often than either of the other two groups of subjects.
  • Highs tended to make more of the better offers: this is crucial in my opinion, as it shows that Machiavellians value partnerships
  • High Machs acted powerful even when not powerful, and thus gained power: In the ambiguous games, when power cards were hidden, all subjects were less dominated by their own power positions, or relied less on them. High Machs disregarded power position altogether. High Machs demanded and accepted exactly as much in low power position— 51 points— as they did in middle or high power. They were apparently quite ready to disregard the official or external grounds for demands, and rely instead upon their ability to influence and control the social process
  • High Machs ignored power positions even to accept low-ball offers, if it was good for them: High Machs expressed little concern for fairness or justice. They tended to make and accept more 50—50 offers than lows, regardless of their own power position, or their partner’s (…) This could be interpreted as an expedient solution to the problem of getting into a coalition that one’s partner would be unlikely to break. It certainly disregarded the individual worth of partners in terms of power positions.
  • Low Machs “let reality get in the way” and acted lower power when they were low power: coalition agreements by low Machs clearly reflected their power positions. “in the ambiguous games social support for demands based on power position was not available. Nevertheless, the low Machs appeared to be striving for justice.”
    Note: many negotiations tend to be at least somewhat ambiguous.
  • High Machs kept their word when given explicitly, but broke it when it was implied: the low Mach kept the coalition as faithfully as the partner he had bound with a promise. In all seven recorded cases of a high Mach requiring a promise of his partner not to break a coalition, the high himself subsequently broke it. It appeared that low Machs were assuming an unspoken rule of reciprocity

And this is what high machs said in the post interviews:

“I learned to make any coalition, however extravagant, at the start of the game— that gave me insurance of not getting stuck on bad dice rolls. However, I held onto my high coefficients [power cards] in anticipation of going on my own at the finish.

And another one:

“Use your opponent’s greed.”

High Machs Outbargain Lows Even Harder When It’s With Real Money

Study: Christie and Florence, THE TEN DOLLAR GAME, 1970


Seven triads of subjects, selected by Mach score, played a three-man, bargaining-coalition game. The stake was $10, to be divided between any two of the three players in any way they chose.

The high Machs won overwhelmingly.
No high failed to be a member of the winning coalition.

Lows lost.

The highs were even more successful at outbargaining lows in this game, when the stake
was a tangible and sizable reward, than they were in deciding on the division of
the points in the previous study.

It was proposed that the real stake made the situation more serious. This would not affect the behavior of high Machs, but it would put lows at a greater disadvantage in bargaining.

The bargaining observations collected in this study were also consistent with the tactics descriptions of the bargaining data from the previous study. Although these observations are not independent tests of the hypotheses, they do indicate that these subjects were consistent over the intervening six months in using the same kinds of tactics.

Again, high Machs appeared to control the structure of interaction in the triad, and thereby the structure of the final distribution of money. Again, in contrast to low Machs, highs played impersonally and opportunistically


  • The results of the three studies together support the formulation that the difference between high and low Machs in obtaining rewards via manipulation will increase as the seriousness of the situation increases.
  • High-Machs again control the structure of relationships in their groups: . 6 of the 7 opening statements were made by the high Mach. 5 of these 6 were direct, dollar-split offers. The 6th was good-natured, but not joking “Ok, who wants to make the first offer.” The low Mach responded by making the high an offer. In one of the seven triads the middle Mach beat the high to the verbal draw with “How does it start?” This could be interpreted as a request for structure. The high Machs in the game, on the other hand, clearly did not look to others for structure. They provided it, without hesitation, and apparently unselfconsciously

High-Machs Collaborate More When Collaboration is Rational

Study: Christie, Gergen, Marlowe “THE PENNY-DOLLAR CAPER“, 1970


A two-person, nonzero sum game, similar to the Prisoner’s Dilemma but differing in that there was no dominant strategy, was devised. It was pretested with another player programmed for 80, 50, and 20% cooperative strategies.

The exploitive (red) strategy was slightly favored (57% of the choices) across all programs whether or not the player expected to meet the other player after the game. There was no main effect for Machiavellianism although Ss classified as high Mach did become significantly more exploitive over trials.

The experiment proper used the 80% cooperative program under no-meet conditions. Ten games were played for points.
The payoff was then changed to either pennies or dollars a point.

Although the introduction of money had no overall effect upon cooperative or exploitive choices, it did significantly affect the choice behavior of high and low Machs. High Machs became significantly more cooperative. It is argued that in this particular experiment, cooperative behavior was more rational.


  • High-Machs were less exploitative when cooperation was the best strategy: It was primarily the high Machs playing for dollars who were responsible for the overall Mach difference. High Machs playing for pennies tended (p < .10) to be less exploitive than their low-Mach counterparts but high Mach dollar players were much less exploitive than low-Mach dollar players
  • High-Machs are not always more exploitative, but more rational: The results certainly do not lend credence to the notion that high Machs are more exploitive, whatever the objective situation. They tend to support the second of the two alternatives suggested, i.e., high Machs are more rational game players.
  • High-Machs seemed to be using punishment to enforce collaboration: in an environment in which cooperation yielded better results, high-Machs seemed to want to retaliate against the opponent’s cheating to get him back to play win-win again. One high Mach said as much, ” I used this (black strategy) to start out to provide money for both of us without ‘quarrel’ and at the end to make a minor ‘killing.’
  • In this game, Machs were more win-win: “Comparing the difference in earnings between low Machs and their others and high Machs and their others indicates that the high Mach’s others won significantly more (hypothetically, to be sure) than the low Machs’ others”
  • High Machs can be quicker to answer to aggression with aggression: “The “spiking” or retaliatory behavior displayed after the other player’s defections on trials 13 and 18 is consistent with results found in two other games. Lake (1967) used the Hornstein and Deutsch products game (1967) and found that high Machs responded to aggressive behavior with counteraggression to a greater extent than lows.”

High Machs Fell Prey of Counter-Aggression: When Anger Prevents Win-Win

This is an interesting off-shoot from the same chapter, but from a different experiment (a doctoral thesis):

  • High Machs counter-aggression can lead to vicious cycles of lose-lose:
    Wahlin (Wahlin, W. S. “Machiavellianism and winning or losing mathematical games”. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 1967) Programmed B to start with a red choice.
    If A made a black choice, the program answered black and remained on black until the subject made a red choice.
    The program answered a red with a red sequence from one to three trials.
    If Player A made a black choice on the last of the red sequence, the program remained black until A went red again, which would trigger off a new sequence of reds.
    This program leads Player A to believe his unseen partner was punishing A for daring to play Red. The program was willing to lower his own gain for to thwart the subject. B could also be viewed forcing A back to black so that to maximize gains.
    18 low-Machs did not fight the program and won a mean of 188.9 points in the 24 trials. The 20 high Machs fought back and lost a mean of 38.8 points.
    This difference is significant at better than the .01 level and the only experiment in which high Machs did not do as well as, if not significantly better than, low Machs.

However, we can’t be sure that high-Machs wouldn’t have been more careful with money, instead of points, which is definitely a possibility.

This shows that, sometimes, it takes superior emotional control to break vicious spirals and get back to win-win, even in environments where win-win can be best for both.
I find that this situation often replicates in relationships, when one needs to have the courage to stop the quarrel and avert a vicious circle.

High Machs Focus on Winning While Lows Let Emotions Get In The Way

Study: Geis, Weinheimer, Berger, “PLAYING LEGISLATURE: COOL HEADS AND HOT ISSUES“, 1970


This study was designed to test the hypothesis that one of the reasons high Machs win in bargaining is that low Machs invest emotional energy in personal value implications which arise in the bargaining context, and that these involvements distract them from undivided concentration on winning.

In contrast, high Machs were expected to be detached from potential involvements or to control them for the purpose of devoting full attention to a cognitive analysis of the situation and strategies for winning.

A bargaining game designed around legislative log rolling was adapted to minimize intrinsic distractions.
54 subjects participated.

The hypothesis was tested by using trivial issues of consequence to none of the subjects in one game, and important issues on which all subjects privately held strong opinions in another.

No difference in winning between Mach groups was expected in the trivial-issues game while low Machs would lose bargaining efficiency when dealing with issues they cared about.

The results supported the hypothesis. High and low Machs did not differ significantly in the neutral issues game, but high Machs won in the emotional issues game.

Low Machs lost to the highs by the greatest margin on issues they most strongly endorsed, not those they privately opposed.

The results of the study, together with those of previous studies, clearly support the notion that one of the significant advantages of high Machs in competitive bargaining with lows is that the lows become distracted by potentially ego-involving elements in the bargaining context, while high Machs remain detached from such concerns and concentrate on winning.


  • High Machs are not more skilled: The fact that the high Machs did not win in the neutral issues game indicates that, in this sample at least, high Machs were not simply better game players than lows.
  • But they’re more effective at using their skills because lows got “emotionally distracted”: “This finding strongly supports the involvement—distraction rationale. It was proposed that low Machs are influenced by emotional involvements while highs are not, or control them more effectively.”
  • More “serious” situations might advantage High Machs: “It has been proposed in previous chapters that high Machs have an increasing advantage over lows in competitive bargaining as the situation becomes more serious.” (…) Clearly, as situations become more serious, their potential for evoking distracting arousal also increases.

Low Machs Underestimate People’s Machiavellianism (Naive)

Study: Geis and Levy, “THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER“, 1970

The Legislature study (previous entry) tested the rational versus emotional distractibility.
This study uses the same subjects to more directly investigate personal versus impersonal orientations.


The results of this research suggest that Machiavellianism is related to accuracy in perceiving others.

After playing a semicompetitive bargaining game in a seven-man group for 2 hr, subjects were instructed to select one member of the group whom they thought they could size up most accurately, and fill in the Mach IV scale as they thought their target person had previously.

High-Mach subjects saw others as more Machiavellian than lows saw them, and it was the highs who were accurate.

Their estimates of their target’s Machiavellianism came closer to their specific target person’s Mach V score than lows’ did, and the average of their estimates for their targets matched the actual average of their targets’ scores on both Mach IV and Mach V.

Although low Machs consistently underestimated their target’s Machiavellianism, they did accurately describe high-Mach targets as more Machiavellian than low-Mach targets.

High-Mach subjects made no such discrimination.
In spite of this possible perceptual accuracy of the low Machs, they were less
accurate than highs on most of the derivative measures.

High Machs were most consistently superior to lows in detecting similarities
and differences between their targets and themselves. While low Machs did no
better than chance in guessing whether their target was higher or lower than
themselves in Machiavellianism, misjudged how much or little he differed from
themselves in Mach score, and assumed similarity indiscriminately, the high
Machs were more accurate in each of these details.

This suggested that low Machs see how a particular other differs from others in general, but are too personally involved to see how he differs from themselves.

In contrast, highs see how others differ from themselves both in general and in particular, but pay little attention to how a particular other differs from others in general.


  • There are ways of being accurate: through the general population, or through the individual: as Cronbach noted (Cronbach, 1955), one can be accurate by describing people in general and missing the individual’s details, or be accurate for particular target individuals and by perceiving how one person differs from another
  • High Machs more generally accurate, low Machs focus more on individual differences: The low-Mach judges did discriminate significantly when guessing for higher or lower in Machiavellianism (98 and 86 on average). High-Mach judges, on the other hand did not discriminate between high and low Mach target persons (109 and 107 on average)
  • However, low Machs were not very individually accurate either as they assumed too much similarity: “They tended to attribute similarity to their targets indiscriminately. Consequently, they underestimated others’ Machiavellianism (…) Consequently, they were less accurate for high- than low-Mach targets, and less accurate on the more discriminating items in the scale.
  • Low Machs might be too emotionally involved for accurate individual assessment: “it is proposed that the low Mach sees where another is in his own right, but is too personally involved to see how the other differs from himself”. “. In contrast, the high disregards individual differences between others, but is uncannily accurate in locating others in relation to himself, both in general and in particular.”
  • Same results when focusing only on most discriminating items on Mach-IV questionnaire: “The results are also consistent with Taft’s (1955) conclusion that cold, unsympathetic people are more accurate judges of others in general”
  • High Machs were over-chosen as targets for assessment: the authors speculate why this might be the case, and it might be because of their leadership qualities

High Machs Resist Pressure & Experience Little Dissonance, Lows the Opposite

Study: Bogart, Geis, Levy, Zimbardo “NO DISSONANCE FOR MACHIAVELLIANS“, 1970

The high-dissonance condition in this experiment was designed to provide inadequate justification for cheating at the partner’s prodding. From a strategic point of view, cheating might not have been the most rational choice.

The low-dissonance condition was designed to provide good (and more rational) justification for cheating.


The results of this study suggest that there are predictable individual differences in response to dissonance situations.

The dissonant situation used was engaging in risky behavior — cheating in an experiment — at a team partner’s suggestion. Justification for compliance was manipulated by varying the attractiveness of the partner.

High-Mach subjects were more likely to refuse than cheat when justification was minimal, but they rarely failed to comply when given justification. Further, among those who did comply, cognitive change from before to after compliance was counter to dissonance theory predictions.

Low Mach subjects complied with their partner’s suggestion as often as highs, but regardless of the justification available. After complying, they changed their cognitions to support their behavior, as predicted by dissonance theory.

These results were interpreted as reflecting high Machs’ emotional detachment from others and their wishes, and from the implications of their own behavior as well.

It was proposed that attitude change for high Machs may be predicted more accurately by incentive theory.

In contrast, low Machs’ greater susceptibility to emotional involvement with others makes it more difficult for them to refuse the dissonance induction, and their greater emotional investment in maintaining a consistent self-image leads them to restore consistency after complying, as predicted by dissonance theory.


  • Highs didn’t cheat more overall: “The lack of differential cheating between high and low Machs clearly supports Exline’s finding (see entry above), and equally clearly fails to support our own prediction that highs would cheat less than lows”
  • High Machs cheated less when there was no good reason for cheating: see table below Probably they assessed the risks of cheating as too high
  • High Machs cheated more when they had a good reason to cheat: see table below. Furthermore, of the 3 who refused, 2 had become suspicious of the experiment
compliance as a measure of Machiavellianism
Studies in Machiavellianism, Academic Press, 1970,
  • Low Machs experienced dissonance and changed their beliefs: Low Machs who refused to cheat in the high-dissonance condition, like those who did cheat, changed their beliefs to support their behavior
  • High Machs experienced no dissonance and didn’t change their beliefs: High Machs did not change their beliefs to support their behavior, and this was true for cheaters and noncheaters alike, and in the high- as well as the low-dissonance condition. High Machs resisted getting into our dissonant situation, and the few who were enticed showed no dissonance reduction in the form of changing their beliefs to support their behavior
  • High Machs decide for themselves, low Machs go along with others: “The one distinction that seems to account for both the compliance data and the attitude change data is that high Machs decide for themselves what they will or will not do, and then act on their decision, while low Machs can be distracted by personal or emotional involvements which can lead them into agreeing to something they did not decide to do. This distinction can be derived from the detached, cognitive orientation of high Machs, compared to the personal, emotional orientation of lows”
  • Low Machs’ choices aren’t their choices: “We propose that low Machs comply by their own choice only in the technical sense of the word. In fact, they comply because the other wants them to.
  • High Machs might be dissonance-resistant because they’re pragmatic and with lower morals: When high Machs comply, they might separate his compliance from endorsement of the activity involved because, as Epstein suggested, high scores on the Mach scale imply pragmatism: telling people what they want to hear, not giving real reasons, etc. Since such principles imply assertions contrary to belief, she argued that high Machs should be able to make counterattitudinal statements without changing their private belief more easily than lows.
  • “Our interpretation says the same thing in a different way: high Machs are more detached from the implications of their behavior; they can separate the content of a behavior from the reasons for engaging in it.
  • High Machs might have more of an antifragile ego: High Machs claim they’re less in control of their universe, and that might make them more ready to admit either failure, or their own inconsistency.
  • “High Machs appear to be less upset at finding; that they have been conned, have acted foolishly, or made a mistake. Thus, they do not have to try to justify their foolish behavior by changing their cognitions to support it.”
  • Low Machs are more influenced by face-to-face pressure: “Lows cheated as often as highs in the initial study but less often in the replication. In the initial study the pressure to cheat came in a face-to-face situation in which personal involvement would presumably be greater for lows, while in the replication it came via written message. Second, the private decision situation which gave the high Machs time to decide to cheat gave the lows time to decide not to cheat.”
    “In the initial study the partner’s series of increasingly strong urgings presented a series of opportunities to give in to the impulse to go along with him. If the low Mach once made the decision not to cheat in the replication, he was safe. There was no repetition of inducements.”

New refined hypothesis after this experiment:

high Machs will cheat more with an increase in incentive, and less with an increase in risk; low Machs will cheat more when the inducement is made more personal and offered repeatedly, and less if there are conflicting personal inducements.

Three Ways High Machs Cope With Dissonance

All three depend upon their detachment from others and from their own behavior:

  1. They can more easily refuse a request
  2. They can comply with a request and separate the choice to comply from endorsement of the activity involved
  3. If they do get caught, they can acknowledge it and maintain their initial position anyway (“pragmatists and doing what’s expedient is OK” as per Exline’s interpretation and/or/+ “detached from own behavior” as per Christie and Geis interpretation)

Dissonance Studies Might Over-Represent Low Machs (and measure low machs)


One way for a subject to avoid dissonance is to refuse to comply with the induction. Usually at least a few subjects are lost in dissonance experiments for this reason. The data in Table XIII-2 suggest that high-Mach subjects are more likely to be lost in the high- than the low-dissonance condition.

Leon Festinger, the psychologist who first studied dissonance, also contributed to this book.

High Machs Are Influenced by Rational, Pragmatic Arguments

Study: same as above

High Machs can be influenced to change behavior (the 2 cheating experiments above, and Epstein’s study).

“This suggested that attitude change for high Machs may be predicted better by the Janis and Gilmore (1965) model of attitude change, which is essentially an incentive theory model.
“The more reason, incentive, or reward high Machs are given for changing, the more they change. With smaller incentives or greater costs they change less or in the opposite direction.”

This is not to say that low Machs cannot be influenced to learn and change their beliefs for rational reasons, but the difference “seems to be that it is peculiarly they who can be induced to change for irrational reasons as well”.

Low Machs Get Lost In Social & Emotional Dynamics (“Encountering”)


This study sought to replicate a situation in which the low-Machs tendency to get emotionally involved with the people and the social dynamics they deal with might provide them with an advantage.
I found it to be the most theoretically and abstruse chapter of this wonderful book, and less clear, while also achieving less concrete results.

A definition of encountering:

Encountering is a process by which we change through direct contact with one another. Encountering happens when we open up to one another, that is, when we lay aside the layers of cognitive insulation that usually isolate us within separate (although roughly equivalent) frames of reference.


Twenty-three two-boy two-girl tetrads were assembled and run in the four
boy—girl pairs in counterbalanced fashion on the ball and spiral. The average
Mach scale score for the tetrad was calculated and the tetrads split at the median.
The skill level on the task was calculated by taking the average number of quarter turns reached by the ball before it fell off the spiral over the 80 trials each tetrad played. The subjects-by-subjects index of encountering was calculated by taking the difference of differences between the pair scores within each tetrad.

It was hypothesized in this study that low-Mach groups performing on the ball and spiral would be open and get carried away in divergent dynamics through a noncognitive interaction process called encountering asserted to operate under mutual feedback control.

In contrast, high-Mach groups would retain reciprocal cognitive control on the task, thus remaining convergent on their expected individual levels of performance.

Low-Mach tetrads showed more encounter interaction than the highs, but no
more skill than the highs.
The encountering effect was strongest in those tetrads which were both low and homogeneous in Mach scale score. Encountering estimates were found to be statistically independent of skill estimates in the data.

Empirical evidence was reviewed, indicating that cognitive group tasks are mediated by cognitive behavior control while relational action tasks operate under noncognitive mutual feedback control.

The encountering concept has also helped to clarify such terms as empathy, spontaneity, treating others personally, and getting “mach’d.”
The basic messages of this research are: (a) low Machs are encounter prone
and high Machs are encounter blind; (b) interaction between individuals in the
group system sense is noncognitive; and (c) encountering can be empirically
measured and theoretically understood as a divergent, noncognitive, mutual feedback process.


  • High Machs choose cognitive processes over encountering: In situations where either encountering or cognitive exchanging can be utilized to guide the interaction process, high Machs characteristically choose cognitive control by which they converge on achieving individual task goals
  • High Machs treat others as cognitive objects: these data support the hypothesis that lows treat others as persons in particular while highs treat others generally as cognitive objects.
  • Feedback control VS cognitive control: Low Machs treat others personally through the mediation of feedback control. High Machs treat others impersonally through the mediation of cognitive control.
  • Moving towards others makes lows more susceptible to influence: (lows) “they actually experience going in different directions, depending on where they must move to meet their targets. The similarity is real, not assumed, because they actually go themselves to where their targets are rather than sending out their cognitions to do the job of knowing analytically.”
  • Low Machs’ engagement in encountering can impede task orientation: while lows gravitate toward encounter control in which they get carried away in the process of interaction.
  • Low Machs did “blend” more with their partner: in this sense (the interaction score of the tetrad) is a measure of how personally the members of the tetrad respond to each other. Accordingly, this interaction score was expected to be larger for low Machs than for highs. This prediction was confirmed.

Overview of Research: Mach Traits

First off, the main question:

When does Machiavellianism provide an advantage?

1. Machiavellianism Wins The Day Under 3 Circumstances

Three situational elements seem to make the difference when it comes to low VS high Machs:

  1. Face-to-face interaction: “The high Mach’s advantage is specifically in interpersonal situations— in getting others to recognize his claims over those of competing low Machs. Low Machs lose by opening themselves emotionally to others, by taking others’ needs and concerns as their own. Highs win by being politic. Although they are aware of what the other wants, they do not take his needs personally, but rather use them impersonally, for example, to strike a bargain to their own advantage
  2. Latitude for improvisation: when there are several options to choose from. It indicates that the structure of the social interaction is open ended, not specifically predefined in terms of content or timing
  3. Arousing irrelevant affect: the social, interpersonal, and emotional elements that “get in the way” of low Machs’ performance

In 13 of 14 instances in which face-to-face contact, latitude for improvisation, and irrelevant affect were all judged present, the high Machs won more, were persuaded less, persuaded others more, or behaved as predicted significantly compared to low Machs.

And when the tree were not present, or only some were present, the high Machs didn’t hold an advantage over low Machs anymore.

The three are conceptually different, but correlated.
“Face-to-face interaction tends to arouse affective involvement which may be irrelevant to the task outcome defined by the experimenter. Improvising a conversation or deciding what to do in an unstructured situation can have the same effect.”

2. Cool Syndrome VS Soft Touch

The authors labeled the high Mach attitude “cool syndrome”.

They say:

Not only do high Machs remain relatively unmoved by emotional involvement with others, they also appear equally unaffected by their own beliefs and even their own behavior.
When cognitive information is available, high Machs also tend to be unmoved by social pressure or the social consensus around them and focus more on the data.

Low Machs are soft touches. They are more likely to do or accept what another wants simply because he wants it.
When it comes to encountering, “low Machs were called “soft touches” partly to reflect their susceptibility to social influence, discussed above, but also to convey the flavor of their style in dealing with others. The low Mach comes to direct contact with another by moving to where he is, and touches others softly in the sense that his contact with another does not violate the position or intentions of the other person.”

These two different approaches mediate the difference of personal ethics and morals, as well as professed preferences relative to lying and cheating.
Say the authors:

Low Machs, though opposed to dishonesty in principle, can be persuaded to cheat or lie given a strong, personal, and repeated inducement, especially in a face-to-face situation in which they have little time to reflect, but must act, either accepting the other’s wishes or rejecting them; in these situations external “rational” justifications had little effect on their decisions. In contrast, high Machs, although not opposed to dishonesty in principle, will cheat less if the “rational” incentives are low or the costs (such as the probability of getting caught) are high.

3. High Machs Are Realistic (or Opportunistic)

Low Machs sometimes get lost in “how things ought to be”, or “what’s fair”.

In contrast, again, high Machs concentrate on what is explicit, and how to exploit it.
They appear to aim at achieving the possible and adapt their tactics to the specific conditions of the situation at hand. This general orientation is usually called “opportunistic” by those who deplore it, and “realistic” by more admiring observers.

4. High Machs Are Concerned, But Just Not Emotionally Involved

This is an important note on the “cool syndrome”:

High Machs do not appear unconcerned. On the contrary, they often express more interest and concern than lows. The important difference is that the highs are not personally or emotionally involved in the concerns.

5. High Mach Can Be Fine-Tuned Manipulators

was proposed (…) that high Machs are attuned to some psychological equivalent of the .05 probability level, that they know how to push the limits of the possible without breaking them. No evidence to date contradicts that proposition. High Machs adjust the amount of manipulation, and also change their strategy in more subtle ways when the situation changes.

That the manipulation stops short of being overly obvious is crucial:

One consequence of the high Machs’ cool, cognitive, situation-specific strategy is that they never appear to be “obviously manipulating”— when being obvious would be a disadvantage. (In fact, lows are more apt to appear unreasonable.)

A second consequence is that the highs generally end up with more than others of what everyone was vying for. The high Mach is the one who gets others to help him win in such a way that, in the process, they thank him for the opportunity.

6. High Machs Are Exploitative, Not (Necessarily) Vindictive

While Wrightsman and Cook (1965) found that high Machs scored higher on Siegel’s (1956) scale of manifest hostility, the range of situations in which the authors observed them simply did not elicit evidence of it.

The authors’ hunch is that they would be more likely to use hostility instrumentally, to achieve some desired goal.

Paradoxically, it’s the low Machs who might be more punitive.
Say the authors:

The highs’ cognitive approach makes them exploitive but not punitive in contrast to the lows’ greater interest injustice and reciprocity.

7. High Machs Might Be Better Leaders?

The authors also examined “real-life” situations in their classes.

They say that:

Groups with their highest Mach member as leader did better on their projects than members did individually on course examinations, compared to the other groups’ doing worse. Groups with high-Mach leaders somehow got whatever resources they possessed organized and applied to the group task more effectively than other groups.

8. High Machs Are Only Motivated When Something Concrete is At Stake

High Machs appear to have greater ability to organize their own and others’ resources to achieve task goals, but this ability is not elicited by demand or request, but only by situations that are intrinsically motivating.

Continue the authors:

If there is no challenge for the high Machs, they tend to perform in a perfunctory manner without any great enthusiasm. Lows, on the other hand, regard it as a moral obligation to do their duty and presumably would make a serious effort to perform well.

9. High Machs Are Good at Making Others Want to Follow Them

Weighing in on failing to observe hostility from high Machs, the authors say:

In general, they are adept at getting what they want from others without overt hostility

As we have noted in the studies above, people often go to the high Mach first and willingly.
Say the authors:

High Machs take over the leadership in informal face-to-face groups. They initiate and control the structure of the group and thereby control the process and outcome.

The authors say it’s not possible to say if high Machs are inherently more charismatic or because the lows are uncharismatic, socially inept, and naturally follow those who provide a structure and leadership.
However, the net result is the same: Machs get what they want without (open) hostility.

10. Top Schools Score Higher in Machiavellianism: Correlations With MACH-IV

Among the correlations:

  • The elite medical schools had significantly higher-Mach students compared to non-elite schools (p < .01, two tailed).
  • Urban dwellers score higher than people with a rural background (where people grew up made the difference rather than where they reside)
  • Mach scores of children are not correlated to their parents
  • There was no relationship between upward social mobility (the change from father’s SES to respondent’s SES) and Mach

Overall though, there is a striking lack of major relationships between Mach scores and many demographic variables.

Can You Learn to Be High-Mach?

The authors ask this question and say:

Although we have no data, our hunch is that under certain circumstances a low Mach can learn to act like a high. Specifically, if the low can anticipate a precarious situation and can fix in his own mind, in advance and in privacy, those goals he is unwilling to relinquish, and prepare himself to assert and defend them under social pressure, he might be able to act as effectively on behalf of his own interests as a high Mach in the specific situation for which he has prepared for.

They stress again that this is pure speculation on their side.

More authors today have tried to sell books teaching people how to be more Machiavellian -or sociopathic-, including:

This same website might the best and most advanced resource for becoming more Machiavellian.

And now the opposite question:

Can A High Mach Become, Behave, or “Feel” Like a Low Mach?

The authors say the question is equally unanswerable.

In spite of the considerable research attesting to the “cool” of the high Machs, we still have no evidence to determine whether highs are insensitive to emotional involvements or whether they can simply disregard them at will in favor of more strategic considerations. The polygraph study (Oksenberg, 1964f ) would seem to indicate that high and low Machs do not differ in the physiological responses represented by PGR records. On the other hand, the study of deception (Geis & Leventhal, 1966t) showed highs as unable to discriminate whether others were lying or not, while low Machs, observing the same performances, did discriminate, whether by “involvement,” “empathy,” “intuition,” or some other means.

I believe it’s possible to teach people who lack a “feel” to acquire that “feel”, or at least to improve.
This is what this website also does.

Mach-IV Scale: Statistical & Academic Considerations

  • Balancing Out Different Needs

The second chapter of the book is wholly dedicated to how the Mach scale was developed.

The authors say that they had to face a balancing act between keeping it short enough, eliminating response sets, and addressing social desirability, three elements that tend to decrease scale reliabilities.

However, they say, their goal wasn’t about psychometric perfection, but to find out if the scales had any relevance to the respondent’s behavior -which it did-.

  • No correlations with other scales and constructs

Whenever a construct is developed, the first qiestion for researchers is:

Is this a legitimately new and discreet construct, or are we measuring something that already exists in the scientific literature?

For example, the concept of “Grit” by Angela Duckworth has been criticized as being “conscientiousness”, and it took some time before “emotional intelligence” started being recognized as different than intellectual quotient (and the author believes that “power intelligence” eventually might be recognized as a discreet cognitive ability).

Christie and Florence found out that there was no correlation between IQ and Machiavellianism, little or insignificant correlation for political preferences, no correlation to race preferences.
Some question items correlated with some items in the F-scale by Adorno (authoritarian personality). The overlap is in items that indicate a general distrust of others.

  • The experiments probably reflect reality

The authors spend some time discussing how and how much do the experiments reflect real-life scenarios and how and how much the Machiavellian traits observed in the experiments would replicate in real-life.

And they developed a model to predict behavior based on the Mach scale:

A model of interaction between Mach and situations with predicted tactics
Studies in Machiavellianism, Academic Press, 1970,


High Machs More In Touch With Dark Side

High Machs admit on written tests of being more hostile than low Machs but their behavior was not more hostile.

This might be because high Machs simply acknowledge their own dark side more than low Machs do.

Low Machs might be better at spotting lies

From an upublished manuscript:

As predicted from the Eye of the Beholder (Chapter XII), low Machs were superior at discriminating truth from lies in others. The lows were accurate in 67% of all guesses, compared to 50% for highs (/ = 2.70, p < .005).

The authors say that low did better because judges were given a moment to reflect, and the judgment measure itself did not require improvising.
Lows were not being emotionally impacted or distracted.

In the study, highs were not better deceivers, but they were more credible as truth tellers.


Geis, Florence L. & Leventhal, Ellen. Attempting to deceive and detecting deception. Unpublished manuscript, New York University, 1966.

It’s not about “communist” or “fascist”, but about personality and maturity of the movement

Almond (1954) studied communists, and reached similar conclusions to the analysis of the elite in the Nazi Party in Germany, among Communists in both Russia and China, and the Kuomintang in China (Lerner, 1951; North, 1952; Schueller, 1951).

When these movements were small, highly ideological, and revolutionary, their leadership was predominantly drawn from disaffected intelligentsia of middle-class background. As these movements became successful, the earlier leaders were gradually displaced by less ideologically oriented and more organizationally minded individuals, largely from lower-status backgrounds.

And that means that:

it is a gross oversimplification to think of the Communist, Fascist, or for that matter, Democratic or Republican personality type. Almost every political or religious movement has its aggregate of impractical zealots and nonideological realists. The proportions of these in power positions apparently varies with the state of development of the movement.

Group dynamics are susceptible to manipulation and power dynamics

Say the authors:

Frequently group members must agree or cooperate in order to realize any of the possible rewards. Such conflict of interest situations are usually resolved (and rewards allocated) by discussion, compromise, and conciliation— precisely the processes most likely susceptible to psychological pressure tactics.

High Machs Feel Low Machs Are Naive & Low Machs Think High Mach Are Deplorable

Say the authors:

In general, both high and low Machs feel strongly about the positions they hold. It is not too great an oversimplification to say that high Machs feel that people who score low on the Mach tests are naive, not with it, and behave unrealistically in the real world. Low Machs, on the other hand, think agreement with Machiavelli reflects a deplorable lack of compassion and faith in others, and is immoral, if not inhuman.

Indeed, I find that one of the strongest signs of Machiavellianism is looking down at constructs such as empathy, or to defend the Machiavellian approach to life.

A New Generation Sees “The System” As a Con?

Write the authors:

A generation is coming of age in America that doesn’t take the utterances of public figures straight, that doesn’t take social games straight. It suspects the whole range of modern experience. It sees giant con games everywhere. It sees “the system” itself as a con game (Brackman, 1967).

Well, looking at “no vax”, “Covid hoax” and all the complotists theories of today, it seems like that trend has continued :).

Low Machs Initiate Change, High Machs Take Advantage of It

The authors say that high Machs thrive in situations that are in flux but that, by their own very nature, they tend to take charge and impose order on chaos.

The authors then wonder how do low and high Machs differ in situations of chaos, change, and revolution.

This is speculation by the authors:

Our suspicion is that revolutions are not initiated by high Machs but by a subset of low or middle Machs who are capable of great moral indignation at the failure of the existing system and who by virtue of their affective involvement with a potentially new order crystallize opposition to the existing one.

Once the “revolution” has picked up enough steam to be a “movement,” however, the situation changes.

If the movement is loosely structured (“organizational chaos,” as some observers have termed it), but nevertheless manages to disrupt the establishment to some extent, then high Machs might be attracted to either side to impose structure or take advantage of its absence to achieve other goals (e.g., positions of power or influence), regardless of the ideology being supported in the process.

Conservatives Are Cynic & Pro-System, Rebels Are Cynic & Against Systems, Machiavellians Are Cynic & Pro Themselves

Say the authors:

Both a right-wing authoritarian, as measured by the F scale, and a nonideological high Mach are likely to agree that, “people are no damn good.”
(…) young members of the New Left also share this premise. Instead of moralistically blaming the person for not overcoming his inherent weakness as do high authoritarians or dispassionately taking advantage of others’ failings, these young rebels blame society for corrupting others.

Translating this into political terms, it would seem that high authoritarians are politically counterrevolutionaires, the New Left is revolutionary, and high Machs coolly play both ends against the middle.

It’s Called “Machiavellianism” Because The Authors Are Low Machs Who Gave Due Credit

The title of this section is humorous, but not totally made up.

The authors were aware that “Machiavellianism” for a psychological construct was going to receive some flack and potentially bias people against it.

But they decided to stick to it nonetheless in spite of the pejorative connotations.

Calling it any other way, they say, would have been a Machiavellian tactic itself. Since most of the scale items as well as some of their research notions came from “The Prince” and “The Discourses”, the only candid thing to do was to stick to the name “Machiavellianism”.


Turns out, Machiavelli was a genius:

His astuteness is emphasized by the fact that, in general, the items adopted directly from Machiavelli were more discriminating than those we had contrived.

On low Machs being lost among more Machiavellian players:

They become so engrossed with the particular person or content they are dealing with that they get carried away and neglect to manipulate, implicitly assuming that fair play will prevail.

On low Machs being “weaker” in the facing of urging and pressure tactics:

Cheating as a general principle is more counterattitudinal for low Machs than for highs. However, the lows can be induced to cheat if someone they are involved with really wants them to and keeps urging.

Commenting on manipulation without being too obvious:

Perhaps high Machs have a built-in .05 level. Perhaps they push the limits, and their fellow man, just up to the point of becoming obvious, but not beyond. Perhaps a behavior frequency that would be significant by / test would also look significant to a fellow man. However, when manipulative intent is apparent to the victims, they may retaliate by refusing to be duped further, or by joining ranks against the would-be manipulator. Perhaps the successful manipulator is one who knows when to stop. He may test limits by pushing them, but know how not to break them.

In person, high Machs were more charming:

High Machs can be charming immediately. Low Machs, telephoned to participate in an experiment or upon arriving at the laboratory, often appeared more reticent and less spontaneous than the highs.

On encountering opening lows up to being “mach’d”:

Gradually the low discovers not only that he has been disadvantaged on the task, but also that the high is not reciprocating in the interaction as he has assumed. Once the situation has crystallized, there is little the low can do except grin and bear it or complain about the “unfairness” of the situation. The low gets “mach’d” by leaving himself open to an encounter which is unreciprocated.

On being mach’d as like hypnosis:

A better analogy is that being “mach’d” is like being hypnotized. Under hypnotic control subjects feel aware of what is happening and free to do what they want. It is just that the suggestions of the hypnotist are so salient that it would be unthinkable to countermand them. The hypnotist defines “the way things are” and the subject goes along. Just so, high Machs orient cognitively to external task demands and proceed to initiate control over the interaction structure by defining the way things are. Lows, open to the personal presence of the highs and ready to follow along, fall into the highs’ structure and then emerge from the process forced to face up to the reality of the way things have become.

On the almost comical integrity-based insistence and frame control (in this case, “frame imposing” technique) of a low Mach:

In another triad, the game ended with the high and low Mach dividing the money equally between them. After the session, as the subjects were leaving, the low Mach handed his winnings to the experimenter. The experimenter handed the money back, explaining that it was his to keep. The low protested that it was only an experiment, and that the money did not rightfully belong to him. The experimenter protested that it was not her money, that it came from a grant fund specifically allocated to provide the stake in the game. The low protested that he had agreed to participate in the experiment as a personal favor to the experimenter, and in the interests of advancing science, and he would not consider accepting pay for it. This bargaining contest with the experimenter was one of the few such encounters we’ve seen in which a low Mach clearly and forcefully won.

Non Machiavellians are naive at risk:

Low Machs apparently assumed, incorrectly, that people in general are non-Machiavellian and can be trusted. This more idealistic image of their interpersonal environment would appear to be unrealistic.

Cognition-based behavior VS social and emotional-influenced behavior:

High Machs act by what they know, low Machs by what they feel.

The authors say that some high Machs were leaders of radical groups, but the majority of high Machs despise inefficiency more than injustice (and I wonder if the radical ones were manipulating?):

The vast majority of high Machs, however, appear to despise inefficiency more than deplore injustice.


  • Some sentences might be a bit convoluted and the book might have been streamlined for ease and speed of reading.

Initially, our image of the high Mach was a negative one, associated with shadowy and unsavory manipulations. However, after watching subjects in laboratory experiments, we found ourselves having a perverse admiration for the high Machs’ ability to outdo others in experimental situations. Their greater willingness to admit socially undesirable traits compared to low Machs hinted at a possibly greater insight into and honesty about themselves. We were probably also influenced by the fact that high Machs were easier to schedule for experiments, and were more likely to show up than low Machs.

But I can’t hold it against them: they make a good point.


Simply a treasure trove for a website like this.

“Machiavellian Studies” reviews the full available academic literature, sticks to the evidence, and provides logic-based hypotheses.
I wish there were more books like “Machiavellian Studies”, they’re just perfect for those who seek evidence-based learning.

A couple of similar books are “The New Psychology of Leadership“, “The Logic of Political Survival” and “The Social Animal“.


Besides the studies outlined above, some of the most relevant ones are:

Daniels, V. Communication, incentive, and structural variables in interpersonal exchange and negotiation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1967

Epstein, Gilda F. Machiavelli and the devil’s advocate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1969

Feiler, J . Machiavellianism, dissonance, and attitude change. Unpublished manuscript, New York University, 1967

Geis, Florence. Machiavellianism in a semireal world. Proceedings of the 76th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, 1968, 3, 407-408

Geis, Florence, Krupat, E., & Berger, D. Taking over in group discussion. Unpublished manuscript, New York University, 1965

Geis, Florence L. & Leventhal, Ellen. Attempting to deceive and detecting deception. Unpublished manuscript, New York University, 1966

Jones, E. E., & Daugherty, Β. N. Political orientation and the perceptual effects of an anticipated interaction. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1959

Jones, Ε. E., Davis, Κ. E., & Gergen, K.J . Role playing variations and their informational value for person perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1961

Jones, E.E., Gergen, K.J. & Davis, K.E. Some determinants of reactions to being approved or
disapproved as a person
. Psychological Monographs, 1962

Lake, D. L. Impression formation, Machiavellianism, and interpersonal bargaining. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1967

Rim, Y. Machiavellianism and decisions involving risks. British Journal of Social and Clinical
Psychology, 1966

Weinstein, Ε. Α., Beckhouse, L. S., Blumstein, P. W., & Stein, R. B. Interpersonal strategies under conditions of gain or loss. Journal of Personality, 1968

Wrightsman, L.S., Jr . Personality and attitudinal correlates of trusting and trustworthy behaviors in a two-person game. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966


Wow, what a book.

“Machiavellian Studies” is where Machiavellianism originated as a construct, and I consider myself indebted to the authors.

This website, in a non-negligible part, rests on Machiavellianism.
It teaches people how to operate more like Machiavellians, and teaches Machiavellians how to acquire more of the “feel” of the more empathizing low Machs.

In a way, this website seeks to combine the best of both extremes of the Machiavellian scale.

For a modern update on the literature on Machiavellianism, also see “Machiavellianism: The Psychology of Manipulation“.

Also see:

Or get the book on Amazon.

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