Couple dominance, dark personality traits, and power motivation

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January 5, 2024
Couple dominance, dark personality traits, and power motivation
Javier I. Borráz-León, Coltan Scrivner, Oliver C. Schultheiss, Royce Lee, Dario Maestripieri
Couple dominance; explicit power; implicit power; psychopathy; borderline; narcissism; autistic-like trait
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Javier I. Borráz-León(a), Coltan Scrivner(a,d), Oliver C. Schultheiss(b), Royce Lee(c), Dario Maestripieri(a,d)

(a) Institute for Mind and Biology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

(b) Institute of Psychology, Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany

(c) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

(d) Department of Comparative Human Development, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Correspondence: Dario Maestripieri,


In romantic couples, there is usually an asymmetry in decisional power such that one partner is dominant and the other is subordinate. This study investigated the role of sex, ethnicity, self-assessed social status, personality traits, and power motivation (both explicit and implicit) as potential determinants or correlates of couple dominance in a mixed-sex sample of 50 college students. Through a previously validated questionnaire, participants indicated whether they were dominant or subordinate in their romantic relationship, or whether the latter was egalitarian. Major personality domains, narcissism, psychopathy, borderline, autistic-like traits, and explicit power were assessed through questionnaires. Participants also underwent a Picture Story Exercise to evaluate their implicit motives. Being dominant and having high explicit, but not implicit, power motivation were associated with some psychopathic, narcissistic, and/or borderline traits, while autistic-like traits were associated with being subordinate. Traits such as extraversion, conscientiousness, and honesty-humility had weak associations with couple dominance and/or explicit or implicit power motivation. Our findings have implications for the understanding of dominance dynamics within couples and the relationship between personality traits and power motivation.



The authors are grateful to the late Scott O. Lilienfeld for helpful discussions of conceptual and methodological aspects of this research.

Conflict of Interest

The Authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


The authors have no funding sources to report.

Author Contributions

JIB-L: Data Analysis, Investigation, Writing - Review & Editing. CS: Data collection, Methodology, Writing – Review & Editing. OCS: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Data Analysis, Writing – Review & Editing. RL: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Writing – Review & Editing. DM: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Writing – Review & Editing.


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