Narcissists Win – At First Impressions

Standard

This is excerpted from a Psychology Today blog post by by Scott Barry Kaufman

  • Narcissists with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to exploit others tended to be more popular at first sight
  • Since most narcissists don’t care about the long-term (they tend to be more impulsive anyway), their desire to exploit others and their sense of entitlement is adaptive for them in the short-term, even if it hurts others
  • narcissists scoring high on the Exploitativeness/Entitlement facet are more popular at zero acquaintance. 

Why are Narcissists (Initially) so Popular?

We tend to be attracted to people who possess four qualities (flashy and neat dress, charming facial expression, self-assured body movements, and humorous verbal expression) that narcissists tend to (initially) possess.   And to complicate matters, if someone at first encounter has all four qualities, chances are they are a narcissist.  And not just any kind of narcissist, but the very worst kind- the kind that enjoys exploiting others while feeling a sense of entitlement in doing so.

So what are we supposed to do — intentionally go for those who show the traits that are exactly the opposite of what is generally considered attractive? 

Narcissism involves unusually high levels of self-esteem, grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance.  The four facets of narcissism are: 

  • Leadership/Authority(those who enjoy being a leader and being seen as an authority)
  • Self-Absorption/Self Admiration (those who admire their own physical appearance and personality)
  • Superiority/Arrogance (those who overestimate their own abilities)
  • Exploitativeness/Entitlement (those who enjoy manipulating and exploiting others and expect favors from others).  

Please note that these four facets are only moderately related to one another and there is a lot of variability amongst narcissists in terms of how their narcissism is expressed.  Narcissists don’t play well with others, and this becomes clearer in the long-term.  Narcissists don’t tend to do well in long-term relationships, and suffer from all sorts of intra- and interpersonal problems. 

Paulhus (1998) found that after the seventh roughly 2.5 hour student work group session, narcissists were rated by the other members of the group as less agreeable, less well adjusted, less warm, and more hostile and arrogant. 

But here’s the kicker (or paradox).  In that same study, Paulhus found that after the first meeting, narcissists were rated as more agreeable, conscientious, open, competence, entertaining, and well adjusted by the other members of the group. 

What a contrast to what the group members thought of the very same narcissistic individuals on the seventh day! 

What’s going on here?  What’s so attractive about narcissists, at least initially, that explains their popularity?  What cues are they broadcasting? Which facets of the narcissist are most related to their popularity?

They propose that narcissists are more popular at first sight because of the cues they produce, which people at first acquaintance can use to “thin-slice” and form an impression of that person without any further information about that person. 

Four cues related to the popularity of narcissists at first sight and why people often describe narcissists as having a “charismatic air”– attractiveness, competence, interpersonal warmth, humor. 

“We assume that narcissism predicts all of the four relevant cue domains-attractiveness, from their flashy and neat attire; interpersonal warmth, from their charming glances at strangers; competence, from their self-assured behavior; and humor, from their witty verbal expressions.  As a result, they thus should enjoy greater initial popularity than non-narcissists.”   

Narcissists tended to be more liked at first sight.  Also as predicted, narcissists exhibited:

  • neater and flashier appearances
  • more charming facial expressions
  • more self-assured body movement
  • more humorous verbal expressions.  

But what they report next really shocked me.  Not all facets of narcissism were equally predictive of popularity.  In fact, the Leadership/Authority facet was almost completely unrelated with first impressions.  They found that — the facet that most strongly predicted popularity was the Exploitativeness/Entitlement facet.

Additionally, while all of the facets of narcissism were substantially related to all of the cues that were rated by the observers the Exploitativeness/Entitlement facet had more consistent and stronger correlations with the cues than any of the other facets! 

Flashy and neat clothing was all that was needed to show a correlation between the Exploitativeness/Entitlement facet of Narcissism and popularity.  In other words, when the only cue was fancy dress, fancy dress predicted popularity, and those with this style of dress tended to score higher in the Exploitativeness/Entitlement facet of Narcissism. 

Narcissism Paradoxes – How They Lose by Winning (Like Any Addiction)

The positive social reactions that narcissists evoke in others at first sight might play an important role in maintaining their problematic interpersonal behavior and intra-personal coping mechanisms that are dysfunctional in the long run. 

  • So the positive feedback that narcissists receive at first acquaintance confirms their superiority and strengthens their search for similar situations that will allow them to get similar responses. “being admired by others is like a drug for narcissists
  • ”The problem for narcissists is that their addiction to admiration “hinders them from establishing relationships or from sticking with social contexts in which they are embedded for a longer period of time
  • the positive interpersonal reactions narcissists evoke at zero acquaintance are an important part of the vicious interpersonal cycle that narcissists experience.” 

The narcissistic paradox, is:

  • the narcissists’ tendency to simultaneously devalue others while at the same time needing the admiration of others
  • Narcissists “yearn and reach for self-affirmation, they destroy the very relationships on which they are dependent”
  • narcissists can ‘solve’ the paradox by only relying on positive feedback from those with zero acquaintance whom they do not have to value ”
  • Because others truly like narcissists at first sight, they contribute to the maintenance of the narcissists’ most paradoxical mindset.” 

A paradox is the narcissist’s lack of insight. Back and colleagues suggest that it is this short-term positive feedback that contributes to the narcissist’s lack of self-criticism because they don’t see a need for it.

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