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Excerpt from The H Factor: Why Some People are Manipulative, Self-Entitled, Materialistic, and Exploitive–And Why It Matters for Everyone by Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton

Chapter One: Meet the H Factor

Mary and Jane have a lot in common. Both are young women in their last year of study at the same law school. Each grew up in a two-parent family in a middle-class neighbourhood. Yet in some crucial ways they could hardly be more different.

To Mary, the law is like a martial art–a way to defeat opponents by mastering many complex manoeuvres. She chose law as a career because she wanted to make a lot of money, and with that aim in mind she has mainly studied the more lucrative legal specialties, such as corporate law and litigation. To achieve her career goals, Mary has made a point of skilfully ingratiating herself to certain influential professors. By applying just the right amount of flattery, she hopes to make the connections she needs for a good position after completing her degree.

Jane’s approach to the law is much more idealistic. She views the law as a means of achieving justice, and her goals in studying law are “to help people” and “to make a difference.” She’s trying to decide whether to work in the criminal justice system as a prosecutor or public defender, or to work for a not-for-profit organization. Jane has had some contact with her professors, chiefly when she has asked them to explain some of the finer points of the law. She tries to be pleasant and polite with her professors, but she would be uncomfortable trying to curry favour with them.

Mary and Jane are both single, but both plan to marry someday. For Mary, any prospective husband must hold some prestigious position in society; besides being wealthy, he should carry the trappings and the appearance of a very important man. Anything less just wouldn’t be worthy of her. For Jane, these considerations of money and status don’t really matter. She’s much more concerned with finding a man she can love, and although she might not realize it, this will probably mean a man who shares her values.

***

As with Mary and Jane, Bill and Dave are similar in some ways. They’re both middle-aged men, and both own small automobile repair shops in towns just an hour’s drive apart. But again, in some ways they are opposites of each other.

Bill and Dave have entirely different outlooks on how to run a business. Bill’s motto could be summed up as “Let the buyer beware”: when customers come to his shop, he’ll often recommend repairs that aren’t really necessary, and he’ll often save money by substituting lower-quality parts for those that are intended for a given vehicle. Often, if Bill judges that a customer will take the deal, he offers to do the work for cash, so that no receipts are kept and no taxes are paid.

Dave, by contrast, never deceives his customers or the tax authorities. He recommends only the repairs that are really required, which often means that his customers have less repair work done than they thought they would need. The parts he uses are always as stated on the invoice to the customer. Every transaction is recorded for tax purposes.

Both Bill and Dave are active in their local communities, but here again their styles are a study in contrasts. Bill was recently elected president of his town’s minor sports association, and since assuming office he has been quite impressed with his own importance. He’s very generous to himself in claiming expenses associated with his duties, and he likes to have his name on many plaques and newspaper articles. Dave, on the other hand, has done a lot of volunteer work for his local sports association, but he often pays out of his own pocket, and he certainly doesn’t look for special recognition.

Finally, Bill and Dave differ in their married lives. Over the years, Bill has carried on a series of affairs; from his perspective, a virile and successful man such as himself is entitled to some extramarital excitement. (His wife wouldn’t share this point of view, so he must be crafty enough to conceal these adventures from her– and also from any husbands of his mistresses.) Dave, by contrast, has never cheated on his wife. He finds other women attractive, and he could likely find a willing partner rather easily, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to betray his wife’s trust.

The above vignettes illustrate the opposite extremes of a dimension of personality: Mary and Bill are at one end, Jane and Dave at the other. We call this personality dimension the H factor. The “H” stands for Honesty-Humility, and it’s one of only six basic dimensions of personality. In this book, we’ll tell you about all six of those dimensions–the HEXACO personality factors–but the H factor will be our main focus.

The H factor hadn’t been recognized by psychologists until about the year 2000. Back then, most of them believed that people’s personalities could best be summarized in terms of exactly five dimensions. Those five personality dimensions, known collectively as the Big Five, don’t fully capture the H factor, and therefore they can only partly capture the differences between Mary and Jane and between Bill and Dave.

Research in the past decade has shown how the H factor matters in many aspects of people’s lives: It underlies their approaches toward money, power, and sex. It governs their inclination to commit crimes or obey the law. It orients them toward certain attitudes about society, politics, and religion. It influences their choice of friends and spouse. Throughout this book, we’ll be explaining the role of the H factor in these various domains of life.

Considering the importance of the H factor, you might wonder why it had gone missing for such a long time–and how psychologists finally did recognize it as one of the basic dimensions of personality. We’ll begin with the story of how we happened to find the H factor–largely by accident–back during our days as graduate students.