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How Machiavellianism Sways College Major Selection

Decoding majors: The power-oriented drive in academic preferences for students.

Key points

  • Global study links Machiavellianism to college major choice in 35,025 participants.
  • Machiavellians are attracted to college majors such as economics, law, or politics
  • Individuals who score low on Machiavellianism lean towards people-focused fields like nursing or social work.
  • US economics students show higher Machiavellianism than international peers.
StockSnap / Pixabay
StockSnap / Pixabay

Imagine if your personality could predict what college major you're likely to choose. Well, that's what one of our latest studies was about. Based on a publicly available dataset of 35,025 participants across the globe, we looked at how a personality trait known as Machiavellianism—a person's desire for power, control, and being socially dominant— relates to college major preferences.

We found compelling evidence that students scoring high on Machiavellianism were more likely to opt for "thing-oriented" majors, such as economics, law, and politics. These fields typically come with competitive environments, high-status careers, and ample opportunities for power and dominance—seemingly perfect matches for these power-oriented individuals.

On the other hand, students who scored lower on the Machiavellianism scale seemed to navigate towards more altruistic and "people-oriented" fields. These include majors like education, nursing, and social work, indicating that our personalities can guide our academic and career paths in meaningful ways.

Here's a fun fact: In the United States, economics students scored higher on Machiavellianism than economics students from other countries. This suggests that economics might be more attractive to those who are power-oriented in the U.S. compared to other countries.

The field of economics, characterized by competition, high earning potential, and opportunities for power, aligns with Machiavellian traits of desiring power and social dominance. In the U.S., where the link between wealth and power is emphasized and individual success is highly valued, economics may become particularly attractive to those with high Machiavellianism scores, offering a strategic path to high-status roles and potentially amplifying their power-oriented tendencies.

Interestingly, despite what you might expect, business majors ended up with average scores in Machiavellianism. This could be because the business major covers many areas, including finance, marketing, and human resources. In future studies, it would be useful to look more closely at these specific areas within business to see if there are any differences in how much someone likes power and control.

We also took a closer look at the medical field and found something pretty interesting. Students studying general medicine showed higher Machiavellianism scores, meaning they tend to like power and control more. But students in closely related areas, like speech pathology or medical assistance, had much lower scores. This shows us that even small differences in what you study can have a big impact on how your personality traits, like loving power and control, line up with your career choices.

You might be wondering, "Is Machiavellianism on the rise?" Our study didn't directly answer that, but we did find that individuals with high Machiavellianism scores were more likely to go into careers that offered power and status. If more people are going for these types of careers, it could mean that Machiavellianism is becoming more common in these sectors. That's a question for future research, though!

What's the big takeaway? Your personality traits can play a significant role in the career path you choose. As we continue to understand these relationships better, schools and employers can use this information to better support students and employees, respectively. The next time you think about your career path, consider how your personality fits into your choices. It might just be the key to your success.


Gruda, D., McCleskey, J., & Khoury, I. (2023). Cause we are living in a Machiavellian world, and I am a Machiavellian major: Machiavellianism and academic major choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 205, 112096. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2023.112096.

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