BACKGROUND: Personality influences decision making and ethical considerations. Its influence on the occurrence of research misbehavior has never been studied. This study aims to determine the association between personality traits and self-reported questionable research practices and research misconduct. We hypothesized that narcissistic, Machiavellianistic and psychopathic traits as well as self-esteem are associated with research misbehavior.
METHODS: Included in this cross-sectional study design were 535 Dutch biomedical scientists (response rate 65%) from all hierarchical layers of 4 university medical centers in the Netherlands. We used validated personality questionnaires such as the Dark Triad (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism), Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale, the Publication Pressure Questionnaire (PPQ), and also demographic and job-specific characteristics to investigate the association of personality traits with a composite research misbehavior severity score.
FINDINGS: Machiavellianism was positively associated (beta 1.28, CI 1.06-1.53) with self-reported research misbehavior, while narcissism, psychopathy and self-esteem were not. Exploratory analysis revealed that narcissism and research misconduct were more severe among persons in higher academic ranks (i.e., professors) (p<0.01 and p<0.001, respectively), and self-esteem scores and publication pressure were lower (p<0.001 and p<0.01, respectively) as compared to postgraduate PhD fellows.
CONCLUSIONS: Machiavellianism may be a risk factor for research misbehaviour. Narcissism and research misbehaviour were more prevalent among biomedical scientists in higher academic positions. These results suggest that personality has an impact on research behavior and should be taken into account in fostering responsible conduct of research.