All of Your Nemeses Probably Share This 'Dark' Personality Type

iStock/Evgeniy Anikeev
iStock/Evgeniy Anikeev

It can be difficult to articulate what exactly it is about one's roommate, or coworker, or best friend's boyfriend that makes them so unpleasant. Luckily, pinning down definitions for the "dark traits" that can compromise a person's moral character is its own area of research. A recent study on the subject suggests that spotting ethically bankrupt people may not be as complicated as we once thought. The findings suggest that someone who exhibits one dark trait is likely to have more of them.

For a series of studies, the results of which were published in the journal Psychological Review, psychologists from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Koblenz-Landau surveyed 2500 participants. They asked them how much they agreed with statements such as “It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve,” and “I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.” These questions were meant to gauge the degree to which participants showed these nine personality traits with negative connotations:

  • Egoism: an excessive preoccupation with one's own advantage at the expense of others and the community

  • Machiavellianism: a manipulative, callous attitude and a belief that the ends justify the means

  • Moral disengagement: cognitive processing style that allows behaving unethically without feeling distress

  • Narcissism: excessive self-absorption, a sense of superiority, and an extreme need for attention from others

  • Psychological entitlement: a recurring belief that one is better than others and deserves better treatment

  • Psychopathy: lack of empathy and self-control, combined with impulsive behavior

  • Sadism: a desire to inflict mental or physical harm on others for one's own pleasure or to benefit oneself

  • Self-interest: a desire to further and highlight one's own social and financial status

  • Spitefulness: destructiveness and willingness to cause harm to others, even if one harms oneself in the process

If subjects exhibited one of the tendencies on this list, it usually wasn't their only questionable trait. The researchers found that someone who lacks empathy also tends to be manipulative and egotistical, suggesting that a dark personality is more than the result of a specific combination of traits. Rather, the traits are all symptoms of what the study authors describe as "the D-factor." According to a release from the University of Copenhagen, all of these unsavory behaviors stem from "the general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility—disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others—accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications."

That means people who are obsessed with only serving themselves and who don't mind, or might even enjoy, putting others down exhibit the D-factor. Many universally unacceptable behaviors—like violence, lying, stealing, discrimination—can be sorted under this umbrella.

Psychologists may be able to use the research to further study the cause of and relationships between malevolent behaviors in the future. The results could also be useful to anyone who wants to know which type of people to avoid.

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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