The Vulnerable Dark Triad and Empathy

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Catherine Lutz Zois


The vulnerable dark triad (VDT) is a group of maladaptive personality styles consisting of vulnerable narcissism, secondary psychopathy, and borderline personality disorder, which has been found to be associated with empathic deficits. Past research has investigated a wide range of factors that may contribute to these deficits, such as alexithymia (the inability to identify or describe one's own emotions), an invalidating childhood environment, negative mood state, anxiety, and self-compassion. However, a cohesive model linking these factors together has not yet been developed and investigated. The current study tested two moderated-mediation models with the goal of further understanding the association between the VDT and empathic deficits. In the first model, we hypothesized that alexithymia would mediate the relationship between the VDT and empathy (HY1), and that invalidating childhood environment would moderate the path from the VDT to alexithymia (HY2). In the second model, we hypothesized that negative mood states and state anxiety would mediate the relationship between the VDT and empathy (HY3), and that state self-compassion would moderate the path from the VDT to negative mood states and state anxiety. These models were tested using a college student sample of 236 participants who completed a collection of self-report measures online. Results partially supported Hypothesis 1, as alexithymia was found to mediate the relationship between both BPD tendencies and vulnerable narcissism, and affective empathy. The results of remaining mediation and moderated-mediation analyses did not support Hypotheses 2, 3, or 4.


Psychology, vulnerable dark triad, empathy, alexithymia, self-compassion, negative mood state, anxiety, invalidating childhood environment, moderated-mediation

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