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?
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
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