Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Arrogant, moi? Investigating narcissists' insight into their traits, behaviour and reputation

Braggarts who hype their own achievements while derogating those around them can fare well in a new situation. Their confidence appeals and they may achieve high status at first. But over the longer term evidence suggests that narcissists are harmful to themselves and others. They alienate people and their work performance is scored poorly by bosses. So why do they persist? Do they have insight into their narcissism? Do they realise what other people think of them? A new study aimed to find out.

Erika Carlson surveyed two samples. One was made up of 86 undergrads, who answered questions about themselves and also provided contacts for five informers - friends, partners and family - they too answered questions about the participants' personalities and behaviour. The second sample of 234 participants was recruited online via Amazon's Mechanical Turk (a network of volunteers who are paid for their time online) and they answered questions about their personality, behaviour and reputation.

Carlson found that participants who scored more highly on a narcissism questionnaire also tended to describe themselves as condescending and disagreeable and as people who criticise and brag. They also realised that other people see them this way. The narcissists recognised that their traits and behaviour weren't good for other people but they believed they were good for themselves.

In other words, narcissists are arrogant and they know it, but they don't care. In fact many said they aspired to be more narcissistic. "Narcissists do have genuine insight into their narcissism," said Carlson. "[They] seem to perceive narcissism as a 'get ahead' trait that brings them personal gain ... a personal strength, and justify their narcissism in terms of the benefits it has for them."

It's an intriguing finding but there are some limitations in the study. It's important to note this was a subclinical sample - overall levels of narcissism were not that high and it's not clear if the results would apply to people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Also, I found myself wishing for some kind of comparison. How did the narcissists' insight compare with high scorers on other personality traits? Are they unusually insightful and honest? Might that honesty be a hidden virtue of the narcissistic personality type?

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Carlson, E. (2013). Honestly Arrogant or Simply Misunderstood? Narcissists' Awareness of their Narcissism. Self and Identity, 12 (3), 259-277 DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2012.659427

--Further reading--
For group creativity, two narcissists are better than one
A deadly sin for modern times - Narcissistic myopia.
A psychopath, a narcissist & a Machiavellian enter a room, who was perceived more favourably? (journal abstract)

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

These are also college undergraduates and the traits one might be able to justify as being good for oneself in college are probably not the same for people who are older.This is one finding which I think can be questioned for generalizability to a wider age range of adults.

Christian Jarrett said...

Don't forget there was also a sample from Amazon's mechanical Turk - this will have been mixed, not just students.

Dorothy Marie Kucera said...

When narcissistic individuals know their attitudes and behavior are alienating people, they often justify and defend their stance, loudly stating: "This is the way I am; I cannot change; take it or leave it." Instead of seeking steps to unravel the mess, they go into denial and demand that everyone else put up with it and support it. NOTE: it's one thing to admit your weakness (we can handle honesty) and quite another to provoke people by defending your right to use your weakness to oppress individuals or entire groups. Such people are viewed as bullies. Choleric personalities who are narcissistic are dangerous because they have a very aggressive, manipulative agenda to get their "goals" accomplished. They will trample or humiliate anyone who dares question them and if confronted too often, they will fire them under other pretexts to remove the "competition."

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