How many times have you heard that nice guys finish last? Well, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), that’s not true. At least, it’s not the case in our professional careers.
Researchers gave personality tests to undergraduate and graduate school students and then followed up with them 14 years later. Among other things, they measured how disagreeable the students were. The researchers didn’t ask the participants directly, they used questions like, “I sometimes start quarrels with others,” and, “I generally trust other people.” Answering “yes” to the first and “no” to the second are indications that a person is disagreeable. Previous studies have shown that people who answer questions this way tend to be jerks in real-life scenarios as well.
“Disagreeableness is a personality dimension that involves the tendency to behave in quarrelsome, cold, callous and selfish ways.”
When the researchers followed up with the participants more than a decade later, they found that the jerks were no more likely to have achieved success than the others.
“The main takeaway is that being a jerk — being nasty, selfish and bullying — did not help people attain power. The most surprising [finding] was the consistency of this null effect. Being disagreeable did not help people attain power in any context, including in organizations where you think it might help them, such as more combative organizational cultures that are competitive and cutthroat.”
As a point of reference, Anderson and his fellow researchers asked the co-workers of those in the “jerk” category about their personalities and found that they were in line with the research. The participants who were tagged as jerks early on remained jerks years later and were thought of as such by those around them.
Another interesting note about the study, it didn’t show that jerks fall behind. While they’re not more likely than nice people to get ahead, they’re not less likely, either, which is a bit disappointing.