Psychologists overuse terms like narcissist and sociopath as much as they do declaring everyone they dislike has Asperger's, but they get one thing right - if you have to deal with such people, you are better off online than in person. 

A team pf psychologists says that traditionally successful manipulators who are classified as what they like to try and deem the Dark Triad (DT)--people with narcissistic, psychopathic or Machiavellian tendencies--don't send very compelling online messages.

The study, titled "The Dark Side of Negotiation" and published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, involved more than 200 Canadian university psychology students between October 2013 and February 2014, some of whom were rather casually identified as having various qualities on the DT spectrum - by the people doing the analysis, which raises all kinds of flags in science but is rather typical of psychology studies. After being randomly assigned to either a face-to-face or computer-mediated contact group, the students were asked to negotiate for concert tickets, either as a buyer or a seller, with the ultimate goal of achieving maximum financial benefit for themselves. 


  UBC Okanagan Professor Michael Woolworth. Credit: UBC Okanagan

As other psychology studies have done, this paper concluded that those who ranked higher on the DT spectrum were more successful in face-to-face negotiations than they were online. Surprisingly, the research also concluded that higher-ranking DT participants were 12.5 percent less successful in online negotiations than those ranking lower on the spectrum.

Students' placement on the spectrum varied depending on individual characteristics and attributes. Each of the three parts of the DT has distinct traits, they say. Psychopaths tend to lack empathy and be anti-social. Narcissists lean toward grandiosity and self-adoration. People with Machiavellian qualities are goal-oriented, calculated manipulators.

"The results of this study are pretty clear--once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier," says
University of British Columbia professor of psychology  Michael Woodworth, a professor of psychology. "We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience. 

"What this research tells us is that if you want to be confident in your ability not be taken in by these types of known manipulators, you're probably better off dealing with them online."