Ambition and Its Psychopathologies

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2023 Apr 1;211(4):257-265. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000001644.


Ambition is a uniquely human, complex personality trait. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition mentions ambition only once, in a peripheral comment concerning narcissistic personality disorder, psychopathological states associated with ambition are commonly encountered in everyday life. Ambition has been linked to narcissism, power, and dominance, but it is distinct from each of these concepts. Although the development of ambition is most strongly influenced by social, cultural, and demographic factors, evidence suggests that genetic and biological factors also contribute.This article describes how ambition-related psychopathologies can manifest as 1) misalignment of ambitions and capabilities; 2) "blind ambition"; 3) distortions associated with bipolar and other mood disorders; 4) amalgams of ambition with Machiavellian traits, psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism (i.e., dark triad/tetrad traits); and 5) amotivation/apathy syndrome deficits associated with general medical and psychiatric conditions.The field requires more robust measures for assessing ambition, further delineation of ambition-related psychopathologies, and effective treatments for these conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Humans
  • Machiavellianism*
  • Narcissism
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Personality*
  • Sadism