Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Seven Deadly Sins

  • Jennifer K. VrabelEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1263-1

Synonyms

Definition

The Seven Deadly Sins is a classification system of transgressions or vices – anger, envy, greed, lust, pride, gluttony, and sloth – that were popularized by the Catholic Church.

Introduction

The seven deadly sins – which are also known as “vices” – are a set of aversive thoughts and behaviors that were popularized by the Catholic Church with the belief that an absence of vice signifies the existence of virtue (Bejczy 2011). The seven vices and their corresponding virtues are anger (vs. patience), envy (vs. kindness), greed (vs. charity), lust (vs. chastity), pride (vs. humility), gluttony (vs. temperance), and sloth (vs. diligence; e.g., Schimmel 1997). These seven vices are ubiquitous, such that they are present in our everyday lives and exist in both popular and academic culture (e.g., Stimers et al. 2011). In addition, they have even been considered a part of what makes one human or humane (Schimmel 1997). That is, exhibiting vice (e.g., lust) may help satisfy some basic human needs (e.g., biological sexual impulses); however, exhibiting vice in certain contexts – or to extreme degrees – is potentially problematic and injurious to the self or others (e.g., sexual infidelity). Thus, regardless of their religious underpinnings, these vices are relevant to contemporary society and individuals such that both non-secular and secular individuals either exhibit or try to avoid these vices on a daily basis (Schimmel 1997).

One concern that has puzzled scholars for years, and yet, remains to be solved, is what motivates people to exhibit extreme or maladaptive levels of vice? A majority of explanations conceptualized the vices as manifestations of the inability to regulate psychological or physical impulses (see, Schimmel 1997, for an extended discussion). For example, individual differences in self-control have been found to play a significant role with regard to whether a person exhibits vice. Despite the importance of this explanation, empirical research on the connections between the vices and other individual differences (e.g., personality) remains limited. For this reason, scholars have recently focused their attention on developing a valid empirical assessment of the vices (Veselka et al. 2014), which in turn, generated a recent surge of interest in examining the connections between personality, particularity dark personality features, and an individual’s propensity to exhibit vice (e.g., Jonason et al. 2017). As a result of these advances, the purpose of this entry is to provide a brief overview of the seven vices, recent research examining the connections between personality and vice, as well as potential implications and suggestions for future research.

The Seven Vices

Anger is evoked when an individual experiences frustration from a real or anticipated threat and can be conveyed either internally as an affective state (e.g., vengeful thoughts) or externally as a behavior (e.g., physical or verbal aggression; Lyman 1989). Some scholars have raised questions regarding whether anger is always an undesirable emotion or whether it may have some functional purpose or utility (e.g., DeYoung 2009; Schimmel 1997). For example, past research has found that participants who were exposed to anger-inducing manipulations (e.g., recalling a time in which they were angry) performed better on a confrontational task (e.g., playing a computer game that involved fighting) than a non-confrontational task (e.g., playing a computer game that involved increasing positivity; Tamir et al. 2008). However, if left uncontrolled, anger at the affective state can elicit aggressive impulses, which, in turn, may increase violent behavior (see Baumeister and Exline 1999, for a review).

Envy is an unpleasant emotion that occurs when an individual makes an upward social comparison to a similar other that reflects negatively on the self (e.g., Parrott and Smith 1993). The sorts of upward social comparisons that tend to trigger feelings of envy are those that involve threats to one’s feelings of self-worth because they reflect an erosion of one’s relative social position (Salovey and Rodin 1991). For example, envy occurs when an individual realizes that he or she lacks something that belongs to another person such as a personal attribute (e.g., beauty), an accomplishment (e.g., receiving a good grade), or a possession (e.g., financial wealth; Parrott and Smith 1993). Overall, when envy is evoked, it is designed to motivate individuals to focus their efforts on overcoming this perceived inferiority (Salovey and Rodin 1991).

Greed occurs when an individual has an excessive need to acquire more goods, assets, money, or possessions (e.g., DeYoung 2009). That is, greed consists of a lack of satisfaction with one’s current material possessions or status combined with a desire to acquire additional material possessions or increase one’s status (e.g., Nikelly 1992; Seuntjens et al. 2015). In theory, greed may have productive and motivational benefits such as improving performance, gathering beneficial resources, and increasing status; however, greed has also been linked to detrimental outcomes including poor self-control, impulsiveness, increased self-interest, and decreased life satisfaction (Seuntjens et al. 2015).

Lust (also referred to as sexual desire or libido) is characterized by an increase in sexual gratification, promiscuity, or desire that is triggered by psychological and physiological stimuli (Fisher 2000). Lust has been regarded as a distinct emotion-motivation system that is independent from the attachment system (see Fisher 2000, for a conceptual review). For instance, a person can experience sexual desire toward another individual without signs of emotional attachment, or a person can experience emotional attachment toward another individual without signs of sexual desire (Fisher 2000). Past research has found that exhibiting lust has a significant impact on behavior such that individuals who report high levels of lust are more willing to engage in a wide array of risky sexual activities as well as adopt a short-term mating strategy (see Beall and Tracy 2017, for review).

Pride is an overwhelming amount of self-love and a disregard for others due to extreme self-centeredness (e.g., Kaplan and Schwartz 2008). Importantly, researchers have proposed that pride may have coevolved with the status and respect motivational systems because of its significant adaptive functions (see Beall & Tracy in press, for an extended review). For instance, feelings of pride may increase status such that expressions of pride signals one’s success to others, which in turn, may convey to the person experiencing pride that he or she warrants high status (e.g., Tracy and Robins 2007). Overall, pride appears to facilitate success; however, due to its self-focused core, it may be harmful to others (e.g., treating others unfairly; Baumeister and Exline 1999).

Gluttony refers to an overconsumption or overindulgence in pleasures or desires (e.g., Schimmel 1997). Originally, the core of gluttony was characterized by an excessive consumption of food; however, in the Middle Ages the characterization of gluttony expanded to include overconsumption of alcohol and drugs (e.g., Miller 1997; Prose 2003). In this vein, there has been a growing concern regarding the physical and psychological consequences of exhibiting gluttony (e.g., Millward 2013). As a result, it has been suggested that health-related concerns such as obesity may be explained, at least in part, by an excessive desire for food (e.g., see Smith 2014, for an extended discussion). However, recent research suggests that there may be an array of factors that facilitate the overconsumption of desires and pleasures. For example, internal (e.g., emotions) and external (e.g., attitudes and behaviors of others) processes have been found to play a significant role with regard to the overconsumption of food (Kemp et al. 2013).

Sloth refers to a lack of motivation and failure to make use of one’s abilities (e.g., procrastination, lack of effort, laziness; Lyman 1989). Some scholars have suggested that sloth is the sense of shame that is experienced after exhibiting gluttony (Miller 1997), whereas others have argued that sloth may be an impulse to merely escape something burdensome (DeYoung 2009). Conceptually, escaping something burdensome aligns with empirical research regarding procrastination. That is, individuals often engage in self-handicapping behaviors (e.g., procrastination) when they have to engage in a task that may be threating to their self-worth (e.g., Jones and Berglas 1978). As a consequence, this allows the individual to attribute a potential failure (e.g., failing an exam) to external causes such as a lack of behavioral effort (e.g., studying for a test) rather than internal attributions (e.g., feelings of self-worth).

Dark Personality and the Seven Vices

As a result of the construction and validation of the Vices and Virtues Scale (Veselka et al. 2014), researchers have been able to investigate the links between personality, particularly its darker aspects, and the seven vices. Darker aspects of personality consist of characteristics such as callousness, exploitativeness, and manipulativeness (see Zeigler-Hill and Marcus 2016, for a review). Broadly speaking, results from a few recent studies have found that individuals with certain dark personality features were more likely to exhibit vice than other individuals. In particular, individuals with high levels of narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, sadism, and spitefulness were more likely to exhibit certain vices (e.g., greed, envy, pride, anger) than other individuals (e.g., Jonason et al. 2017; Veselka et al. 2014). Further, researchers have started to examine the connections between an alternative model of personality pathology that assesses a broad continuum of pathological personality dimensions (i.e., the Personality Inventory for the DSM-5; Krueger et al. 2012) and the vices. The results of one recent study revealed that individuals with high levels of antagonism and disinhibition were more likely to report exhibiting each of the seven vices than other individuals (Vrabel et al. 2018). Overall, these findings are important because they establish initial connections between aversive personality traits and vice, such that personality processes may play an important role regarding whether someone is likely to report increased levels of vice.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the aim of the present entry was to provide a brief overview of the seven deadly sins, as well as potential implications and suggestions for future research. More precisely, the recent surge of interest in the seven deadly sins has significant implications for elucidating the connections between individual differences and morality. In essence, morality is an important component of society because it provides individuals with building blocks or rules that allow society to function (Baumeister and Exline 1999). Consequently, investigating the seven deadly sins in conjunction with other aspects of personality may broaden our understanding regarding why some individuals deviate from their respected societal rules. However, this investigation is still in its nascent stages and more empirical research that focuses on the vices is needed. Specifically, future research may benefit from examining whether other forms of vice exist. For example, recent empirical research has indicated that envy (i.e., benign and malicious envy; Lange and Crusius 2015) and pride (i.e., authentic and hubristic pride; Tracy and Robins 2007) may be conceptualized as two-dimensional constructs. Further, the empirical studies that have investigated the connections between individual differences and vice (e.g., Veselka et al. 2014; Vrabel et al. 2018) have relied on correlational assessments such that the causal nature of these connections have yet to be explored. Future research should attempt to employ other strategies such as behavioral assessments or informant-based reports of the vices in order to establish the causal relationship between personality and vice. For instance, it is possible that certain vices (e.g., pride) shape the development of darker aspects of personality (e.g., antagonism), but it is also possible that another variable impacts both the development of darker aspects of personality and the development of the seven deadly sins. Collectively, the present entry highlights the seven deadly sins, which are aversive thoughts and behaviors that have been overlooked in the scientific study of morality.

Cross-References

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Ashton C. Southard
    • 1
  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA