Machiavellians, the clever decision-makers

Proceedings of The 15th International Conference on Humanities, Psychology and Social Sciences

Year: 2023



Machiavellians, the clever decision-makers

Tamas Bereczkei




In spite of having deficits in various areas of social cognition, especially in mindreading, Machiavellian individuals are typically very successful in different tasks, including solving social dilemmas. In the light of our evidence, three sets of cognitive operations and their neural correlates appear to be characteristics to the Machiavellian way of thinking: 1. Control of emotions; 2. Sensitivity to reward and punishment; 3. Behavioral heuristics.  Using Public goods Game, we concluded that individuals with high scores on Mach scale are more likely to be sensitive to situational factors (e.g. the number of altruists in the group) than low scorers whose decisions are rather influenced by personality factors. Furthermore, individuals with higher Mach scores reduced their contribution when they shifted from competitive to cooperative situation. These results indicate that Machiavellians skillfully switch on another strategy when the social environment changes.  When all the others show competitive behavior, they see no point in meeting the challenge since there is no available dupe to exploit. Using an fMRI technique, we found consistent activation in high-Machs’ thalamus and anterior cingulate cortex, and inferior and middle frontal gyrus when participant’s mad decisions during Trust Game. We suggest that Machiavellians conduct specific neural operations in social dilemma situations that make them successful in manipulating and deceiving others. Machiavellians may have cognitive heuristics that enable them to make predictions about the future reward in a basically risky and unpredictable situation.

keywords: Machiavellians, Decision Making, Public Goods Game, Flexible Strategies