Virgil Zeigler-Hill and I are co-editing a book entitled The Dark Side of Personality. The book will include chapters on a variety of personality traits that can have maladaptive or “dark” features, such as callousness, perfectionism, anxiousness, and narcissism, written by some of the leading experts in these areas. Reading and editing the chapters has been a lot of work, but it has also been a lot of fun getting learn about the cutting edge research on these intrinsically interesting topics. Dr. Robert Bornstein at Adelphi University contributed a fascinating chapter on interpersonal dependency, a personality trait that we don’t typically associate with dark or overly problematic behavior. Here’s a summary of some of the findings he reviewed:
One common misconception about dependent individuals is that they are passive, but as Bornstein and colleagues have shown, dependent individuals can be quite active if their activity helps solicit nurturance and approval from potential caregivers or those in authority. In an early study, Bornstein, Masling, and Poynton (1987) paired college students who were high and low dependency to debate a topic on which they disagreed. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, by the end of the discussion, the low dependency participants were more likely to concede the argument than the high dependency students. Afterward, when they were asked about the discussion, many of the dependent students said that they didn’t give in because they assumed that the discussion was being viewed by the experimenter and they wanted to impress the professor. In a very clever follow-up, Bornstein and colleagues (1996) manipulated whether the participants thought they were being judged by a professor or by a lowly student research assistant. When the dependent students were led to believe it was a professor, they were much more competitive and critical of their study partner than when they thought that they were being judged by a student.