Machiavellianism and Academic Achievement in First Year Psychology Students

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Volunteering for your local sport association, school, church, political party, company or caretaking else is common in the Netherlands. Between 2012 and 2016, 50% of the population has participated in at least once in some form of volunteering within a year. 36% percent of these participants have performed voluntary work for less than one hour per week, 24% performed between 1 to 3 hours of voluntary work per week, and 30% performed 3 hours or more voluntary work per week. Also, percentages of volunteering are different with regard to education level. Volunteers with a more theoretical education level (62,3%) spend more time volunteering than people with a more practical education level (32,6%) (Schmeets & Arends, 2017). Moreover, there seem to be gender differences in voluntary work. Women have higher percentages of volunteering in schools (15% for women, 8% for men) and caretaking (12% for women, 5% for men), while men have higher percentages of volunteering in sports associations (11% for women, 20% for men) (Arends & Flöthe, 2016). These statistics show that people vary in their preference for volunteering. Investigating the different factors underlying volunteering could contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon of volunteering.

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Volunteering in its essence is closely related to the psychological topic of altruism. Altruism is described in the literature as the form of motivational behaviour that does more good to the recipient than to the performer of the behaviour (Pilivian & Charng, 1990). Many theories have been proposed to explain altruism in terms of behaviour, but were unable to empirically substantiate the theory. Examples of these theories are the empathy-specific punishment hypothesis (Batson et al., 1988), empathy-reward hypothesis (Meindl & Lerner, 1983), and the negative-state relief model (Cialdini et al., 1987). The empathy-specific punishment hypothesis bases the motivated behaviour on the guilt or shame someone experiences that is learned in the past. In this regard, empathy is considered a selfish way of coping with the negative feelings. The empathy-reward hypothesis sees this from the other perspective. Instead of being conditioned to feel shame and guilt, the empathy-reward hypothesis focuses on praise and honour as the core of the motivational behaviour. The last hypothesis, the negative-state relief model, proposes that the motivational behaviour is to relief ourselves from the sadness experienced. Empathy is seen as the origin of the negative experiences, which is why we help others. Interestingly, these three theories have an egoistic point of view, yet seem unable to explain altruistic behaviour. Reason for this is that the theories lack an altruistic part that drives the motivational behaviour.

Batson and Toi (1982) coined the empathy-altruism hypothesis. This hypothesis states that altruistic behaviour is exhibited as a result of empathy, while egoistic behaviour is exhibited as a result of personal distress. They tested the hypothesis by conducting a 2 x 2 experiment. The participants were sorted into the conditions: {low empathy, easy escape}, {high empathy, easy escape}, {low empathy, difficult escape}, and {high empathy, difficult escape}. Results showed that the high empathy condition showed on average more altruistic behaviour than the low empathy condition. The difficult condition showed on average also more empathy than the easy condition. These results confirmed the hypothesis and gave an explanation as to why people show altruistic or egoistic behaviour. So, according to the hypothesis for people to behave more altruistically, there needs to be at least two things present. First, the performer needs to feel empathy. Second, the escaping of the empathetic feeling is difficult to abolish.

The behaviour of people have been linked to their personality traits. Goldberg (1990) coined the term The Big Five, which represent the five relatively stable and externalisable traits that apply to people. These five personality traits are called Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Studies have shown the relationship between personality traits and future behavioural outcomes (e.g. Neuroticism and emotional responses (Penley & Tomaka, 2002), Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Extraversion and Mental health (Lamers, Westerhof, Kovács, & Bohlmeijer, 2012), and Conscientiousness and Study majors (Vedel, 2016)). With regard to Volunteering, Smith and Nelson (1975) found a positive relationship between Agreeableness and volunteering. The trait Agreeableness is characterised by flexibility, cooperativity, empathy, tolerance and graciousness (Viswesvaren & Ones, 2000). People who are more agreeable are more empathetic, and in turn will be more inclined to perform altruistic behaviour than people who are less agreeable. Extraversion also yielded a small, but significant correlation on volunteering itself. There was also an interaction effect present in Agreeableness and Extraversion (Carlo, Okun, Knight, & De Guzman, 2005). Extraverted people are more excitement-seeking, active, sociable, carefree, and humorous (Viswesvaren & Ones, 2000). In general, they seek more contact with people, which is one of the essentials elements in for example volunteering. In sum, there is a positive relationship between altruistic motives and Agreeableness, Extraversion and the interaction of Agreeableness and Extraversion. These studies give better understanding into the type of people that generally volunteer more.

But even if more agreeable people generally volunteer more, what motivates them to continue with it. Clary and Snyder (1999) found six motivations to volunteer (MTV) that are given for volunteerism. These MTV’s are Values, Understanding, Enhancement, Career, Social, Protective. The MTV of Values refers to intrinsic motivation that people find important. An example from the Volunteers Functions Inventory (VFI) would be ‘’I feel it is important to help others’’. The MTV of Understanding is to educate yourself to learn more about the world. An VFI example would be ‘’volunteering lets me learn through direct, hands-on experience’’. Enhancement is about the psychological development that one makes through volunteering. In the VFI it would be a question such as ‘’volunteering makes me feel better about myself’’. The MTV of Career is about the work experience that one gains through volunteering. ‘’volunteering can help me get my foot in the door at a place where I would like to work’’ would be a question from the VFI. There are differences in which MTV’s are more important to people (e.g. younger people find the Career MTV more important than older people (Okun & Schultz, 2003)). Also, around two thirds of people have multiple MTV’s (e.g. Combination of Values and Enhancement). Although all MTV are equally important, more people give Values, Understanding and Enhancement as main MTV (Clary & Snyder, 1999).

There have already been a study that investigated the relationship between personality traits and the Values MTV (Carlo et al., 2005). However, little research has focused on the relationship between personality traits and other volunteering motivations. Therefore, this study will investigate the relationship between personality traits of the Big Five and the MTV of Career. This study will broaden on knowledge on the relationship between personality traits and the motivation to volunteer. As for societal use, gaining knowledge on how to utilize different MTV’s to let people exhibit more volunteering behaviour can help institutions such as sports associations, companies and political parties gain more volunteers.

These institutions offer the possibility to gain experience on their specific field. Compared to the Values MTV, the Career MTV differs from Values with regard to the intrinsicality. For Value, the motivation to volunteer is to help others, whereas the intrinsic motivation to volunteer for Career is to gain more knowledge for oneself. Consequently, younger people will have more of a Career MTV and less of a Value MTV. Accordingly, A study from Okun & Schultz (2010) showed that Career and Understanding motivations to volunteer decrease with age. So, younger people have more of a Career MTV because they have to gain more knowledge for themselves. Older people already have the knowledge, and are more influenced by their social environment in their MTV.

If younger people generally opt toward a Career MTV, then these motivations can be traced back to their personalities. The same as with Agreeableness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Extraversion and the Value motivation to volunteer, the Career motivation to volunteer also has a pattern of personality traits.

The vast predictor of volunteering is Agreeableness (Smith & Nelson, 1975). In addition, Extraversion combined with Agreeableness has an interaction effect on the Value MTV (Carlo et al., 2005). Another personality trait that might have an relationship with the Career MTV is Conscientiousness. The trait Conscientiousness refers to the extent a person is dependable, thorough, responsible, efficient and perseverant (Viswesvaren & Ones, 2000). The trait Conscientiousness has been linked to Job Performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991) and Job Success (Smithikrai, 2007). Moreover, Conscientiousness has a small but significant relationship with Agreeableness and Extraversion (Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991). So, since the Career MTV is based on the gain of knowledge to further within a company and the trait Conscientiousness is linked to success within a company, this study hypothesizes that Conscientiousness has a positive relationship with Career MTV. The rationale behind the hypothesis is that people who are more conscientiousness, are also more work-oriented, and therefore generally will have more of a Career MTV. And based on previous literature, this study hypothesizes that Agreeableness and Extraversion have a positive relationship with Career MTV (Carlo et al., 2005).

The study will focus its participants on students from 18 to 25 years old. The reason for this selection is because of the study from Okun & Schultz (2010), who showed that younger people have more of a Career MTV, as compared to older people. After demographics (e.g. age, gender, volunteer or non-volunteer), the participants will be asked to fill in the Dutch version of the Big Five Inventory (Dennissen, Geenen, Van Aken, Gosling, & Potter, 2008). After that, The Volunteers Function Inventory will be administered (Clary & Snyder, 1999). A correlational analysis will be executed between the Big Five traits Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion and Career MTV. This study predicts that participants whom score high on Agreeableness will score high on Career MTV. Participants whom score high on Extraversion will score high Career MTV. Participants whom score high on Conscientiousness will score high Career MTV. For future studies, the relationship between other MTV’s should be investigated. This would give insight into the approach for motivating people to volunteer.


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Machiavellianism and Academic Achievement in First Year Psychology Students. (2019, Jul 09). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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