Tipultech logo


Author: Dr Simon Moss


Narcissism is a personality trait in which individuals tend to inflate their sense of power and autonomy--such as their intelligence, attractiveness, and reputation (Brown & Zeigler-Hill, 2004). In addition, they tend to perceive themselves as unique and special (Emmons, 1984). Furthermore, they experience a sense of entitlement& that is, they feel they should be entitled to special treatment and benefits (Campbell, Bonacci, & Shelton, 2004).

Because of these tendencies, they become defensive and aggressive or distressed and upset when criticized. They also disregard the needs of other individuals, exhibiting an egocentric perspective.

Individuals who exhibit narcissism show an interesting, sometimes paradoxical, range of traits. For example, they become very aggressive or distressed when criticized. However, they seldom exhibit this aggression if criticized by someone in their own social collectives.

Narcissism can be conceptualized as a continuous measure in the population or as a personality disorder. This article primarily relates to studies that conceptualize narcissism as a continuous measure.

Mechanisms that underpin narcissism

Agency rather than communion

Individuals who exhibit narcissism often perceive themselves as powerful, competent, and autonomous but also as disliked rather than accepted. Consistent with this premise, Sakellaropoulo and Baldwin (2006) showed that individuals who show narcissistic tendencies often perceive their initials as attractive, but less likeable, than other letters. The extent to which individuals perceive their initials as attractive is assumed to reflect their sense of agency and power. In contrast, the extent to which individuals perceive their initials as likeable is assumed to reflect their sense of acceptance rather than rejection.

This proposition partly explains the aggression these individuals display. That is, when individuals feel powerful and superior, they feel they will prevail in conflicts-provoking an aggressive temperament. They will, therefore, often engage in conflicts, especially because they do not feel accepted and thus feel any discord will not undermine their existing relationships.

Suppression of limitations

Narcissistic individuals tend to focus their attention and memory on their past achievements and strengths& yet their failures and deficiencies are stored unconsciously. When they receive unfavorable feedback, these unconscious deficiencies are primed and their mood declines (Konrath, Bushman, & Campbell, 2006). This tendency to disregard their limitations can explain their outbursts of anger, aggression, or distress when criticized.


Impulsivity might also underpin the narcissistic personality (see Vazire & Funder, 2006). As a consequence, these individuals seek immediate avenues to enhance their self concept, such as suppress limitations and exaggerate strengths, rather than more deliberate approaches, such as develop their skills and capabilities.

Hypervigilance and avoidance

According to Horvath and Morf (2009), many of the hallmarks and characteristics of narcissistic individuals can be ascribed to hypervigilance and then avoidance of threatening information. That is, after individuals feel their perception of themselves has been threatened--perhaps after they have been criticized--they are momentarily very sensitive to information that might indicate they are worthless. They are hypervigilant or overly sensitive, perhaps provoking bouts of uncontrollable aggression. Yet, soon afterwards, they become especially avoidant of information that might indicate they are worthless. Consequently, they do not address their shortcomings.

Horvath and Morf (2009) presented some empirical evidence of this argument. In one study, participants completed a lexical decision task. On each trial, they needed to decide whether a string of letters, such as "leipised" was a word or not. Some of these words related to worthlessness, such as useless. Other words related to other negative or neutral characteristics. However, on some trials, either 150 or 2000 ms earlier, a subliminal threat appeared. In particular, participants were rapidly exposed to the word "failure". In addition, participants completed a measure that gauges level of narcissism.

Whenever the threat was presented 150 ms before the string, narcissistic individuals tended to recognize words that relate to worthlessness more rapidly than other participants, indicating hypervigilance. In contrast, whenever this threat was presented 2000 ms before the string, narcissistic individuals tended to recognized words that relate to worthlessness more slowly than other participants, indicating avoidance.

Practices that curb narcissism

A communal focus

People who exhibit narcissism often inflate their sense of agency, power, autonomy, and achievement. They do not, however, tend to inflate their communal tendencies, such as their sympathy or empathy. Consequently, if communal motives are primed, narcissism may diminish, at least temporarily.

This possibility was indeed substantiated by Giacomin and Jordan (2014). In one study, participants were induced to feel empathy. In particular, they read about a drink driving accident. To prime empathy, some individuals were instructed to imagine how the victim feels. In the control condition, individuals were instructed to remain detached and to read the story as objectively as possible. In addition, participants completed the Narcissism Personality Inventory both before and after reading this account. If empathy was primed, individuals tended to report less narcissism. Self-esteem, however, did not differ between these conditions.

The other studies were similar, except other protocols were used to prime or inhibit a communal focus. For example, in the second study, participants were asked to consider similarities between themselves and their friends, purportedly to prime an interdependent self-construal, or to differences between themselves and their friends, purportedly to prime an independent self-construal. An interdependent self-control, associated with a communal focus, tended to curb narcissism as well as decrease the desire to achieve fame.

Exposure to economic recession during young adulthood

As Bianchi (2014) showed, if people are aged between 18 and 25 during an economic recession, they are less likely to exhibit the signs of narcissism later in life. These individuals not only report fewer symptoms, as gauged by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, but also exhibit less entitlement: For example, in one study of CEOS, individuals who experienced recession during their emerging adulthood were not as likely to award themselves an exorbitant salary.

During this period of their lives, individuals experience increased independence and hence their attitudes are malleable and more susceptible to events during this time. Economic hardship amplifies the recognition that people are dependent on each other. This dependence primes the need in individuals to be cooperative rather than competitive, diminishing narcissism. Furthermore, this hardship also highlights how everyone is affected by the same events, diminishing the sense of feeling special, unique, and thus entitled.

Empirical associations


The personality of individuals who exhibit narcissism is characterized by high extraversion but low agreeableness (see Miller & Campbell, 2008& Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

Romantic behavior

Individuals who exhibit narcissism primarily form relationships to enhance their self concept or reputation rather than experience intimacy, warmth, or honesty (Campbell, 1999& Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006). For example, to enhance their self esteem, these individuals seek relationships in which they can emphasize their qualities and achievements (cf., Buss & Chiodo, 1991) as well as highlight their association with attractive members of the opposite sex (Campbell, 1999). However, these individuals shun relationships that demand closeness or empathy (Campbell & Foster, 2002)

In romantic relationships, however, narcissists engage in many maladaptive behaviors, such as infidelity or game playing (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002& Le, 2005& Schmitt & Buss, 2001). They also like to control the other person (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002) but avoid commitment (Campbell & Foster, 2002& Foster, 2008), consistent with their need to maintain a sense of power and autonomy. They are also more likely to be unfaithful (Buss & Shackelford, 1997) as well as seek alternative partners (Campbell & Foster, 2002).

Nevertheless, in some instances, as shown by Finkel, Campbell, Buffardi, Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2009), individuals who demonstrate narcissism can actually be as committed, if not more committed, in relationships relative to other individuals. Specifically, in this study, some participants were exposed to photographs that epitomize communal or cooperative inclinations, such as an old man assisting an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Other participants were exposed to photographs of neutral objects, such as a tree.

If participants had been exposed to the communal pictures, the extent to which individuals perceived themselves as committed, devoted, faithful, loving, and loyal was positively related to the extent to which they were narcissistic, as gauged by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. If participants had not been exposed to these pictures, commitment was inversely related to narcissism.

Presumably, in general, communal motivations are usually dormant in narcissistic individuals. In contrast, communal motivations are often active in other individuals. Hence, the activation of these motivations should greatly change the inclinations of narcissistic individuals but not the tendencies of other participants.

Social behavior

Individuals who are narcissistic tend to be liked initially (Oltmanns, Friedman, Fiedler, & Turkheimer, 2004). Over time, however, they are less inclined to be liked (Paulhus, 1998).

Individuals who exhibit narcissism tend to overestimate their capacity to identify dishonesty and decipher emotions in another person (Ames & Kammrath, 2004).

In social networking sites, such as face book, they tend to develop many contacts and friends (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008), consistent with their motive to enhance their self concept rather than forge a sense of intimacy. They are also more inclined to promote themselves positively on these sites.

Tendency to mimic people high in status

Individuals with narcissism tend to mimic the gestures of people who are high, but not low, in status. Narcissistic individuals do not tend to conceptualize social interactions as opportunities to develop genuine social connections. Instead, these social interactions are perceived as opportunities to garner positive feedback from credible people. Consequently, if people are narcissistic, they are motivated to impress individuals who are high in status. Mimicking the behavior of these credible individuals may reflect an unconscious attempt to be liked and fulfill this goal.

These possibilities were outlined and validated by Ashton-James and Levordashka (2013). In their study, undergraduate students interacted with someone who was either high in status--a tall, older PhD male student--or low in status--a shy, younger female research assistant. Both the PhD student and shy research assistant were instructed to exhibit 10 or so behaviors, such as touch their hair, touch their nose, cross their arms, cross their legs, and so forth. The number of times participants mirrored these gestures or postures was recorded. Finally, participants completed a measure of narcissism. In contrast to other participants, participants who reported elevated levels of narcissism were more likely to mimic the older PhD student but less likely to mimic the shy, young research assistant.

Anger and aggression

Threatened egotism theory explains the association between narcissism and aggression (e.g., Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996& Rutz, Smith, & Rhodewalt, 2001). According to this perspective, individuals who report narcissism attempt to construct a positive image of themselves. This positive image can, at least momentarily, enhance their emotional state (Sedikides, Rudichm Gregg, Kumashiro, & Rusbult, 2004).

Nevertheless, this positive image diverges from the actual inclinations and qualities of individuals. As a consequence, individuals often experience inconsistencies between their positive image of themselves and the feedback they receive. They might, for example, receive grades that contradict the belief in their competence--and such information damages their emotional state.

Because feedback about themselves can dramatically affect their emotional state, these individuals are very sensitive to such information. They incessantly seek validation (e.g., Crocker & Park, 2004). Furthermore, they reject any feedback that contradicts this positive image of themselves. They feel the need, for example, to denigrate anyone who challenges this image.

In addition, because of their sensitivity to negative feedback, they overreact to adverse information. That is, if someone expresses an ambiguous remark, these individuals might perceive this comment as critical, disapproving, and disrespectful. Hence, they often feel that other individuals are too critical or disdainful. The expectation of critical remarks, therefore, translates into hostility. Furthermore, this hostility, in which other individuals are perceived as competitive and threatening, can provoke aggression. Many studies relate narcissism to aggressive behavior (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998) and vengeance (Brown, 2004) rather than forgiveness (Exline, Baumeister, Bushman, Campbell, & Finkel, 2004).

To illustrate, individuals who exhibit narcissism are also less inclined to forgive anyone else after a conflict or dispute. In particular, because they do not forgive, they are able to convince themselves the other individual was immoral. This conviction enables these employees to maintain their own sense of superiority and entitlement (Excline, Baumeister, Bushman, Campbell, & Finkel, 2004).

Individuals who seem narcissistic are more inclined to act aggressively towards someone who is very different from themselves. In contrast, individuals who are not all narcissistic are sometimes more inclined to act aggressively towards someone who is similar to themselves. That is, narcissistic individuals tend to focus their attention and memory on their past achievements and strengths& yet their failures and deficiencies are stored unconsciously. When they receive criticism, these unconscious deficiencies surface and their mood declines. Hence, they attempt to bias their attention and memory even more towards their achievements and strengths. Because they focus so vigorously on their strengths, they also perceive anything that is related to themselves--for example, anyone else with similar attitudes, background, or features--as superior as well. They will, therefore, forgive anyone who is similar to themselves, such as a person who shares the same initials (Konrath, Bushman, & Campbell, 2006).


As Hodson, Hogg, and MacInnis (2009) showed, narcissism also seems to be related to prejudice. Specifically, participants who exhibited elevated levels of narcissism were more likely to perceive immigrants as threatening. That is, they were likely to endorse descriptions of immigrants as dangerous, violent, and untrustworthy, for example. They were also more likely to reject the proposition that immigrants are subjected to discrimination.

Structural equation modeling clarified the role of narcissism in the evolution of prejudice. Specifically, according to Hodson, Hogg, and MacInnis (2009), narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy all generate a social dominance orientation--in which some collectives are perceived as inherently superior and deserving of privileges (see Social dominance theory). That is, these factors all shape a competitive, hierarchical perspective, which in turn fosters prejudice.

Consistent with this proposition, social dominance orientation did mediate the relationship between narcissism and prejudice. Other authors have also referred to the possible association between narcissism and social dominance orientation (Carnahan & McFarland, 2007).

Self enhancement and self-esteem

In general, people who report elevated levels of narcissism tend to overestimate themselves. That is, they do not perform as well on tasks as they believe. Specifically, they have been shown to overestimate their creativity (Goncalo, Flynn, & Kim, 2010), academic ability (Robins & Beer, 2001), and intelligence (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002).

Similarly, people who exhibit narcissism report an elevated explicit self-esteem but a limited implicit self-esteem, at least on some measures (Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003& Zeigler-Hill, 2006& but see Gregg & Sedikides, 2010 for a different pattern of findings). That is, when asked directly, people who exhibit narcissism claim to perceive themselves as worthy and superior. But, when measured with indirect techniques, they sometimes demonstrate signs of doubt about themselves.

This pattern of findings might imply that narcissistic individuals are not aware of their personal doubts. Yet, Myers and Zeigler-Hill (2012) challenged this assumption. They showed that narcissistic individuals may be aware of their personal doubts, at least in particular settings.

In this study, 71 female participants first completed a measure of narcissism and self-esteem. Next, half the participants were informed that various physiological indices, such as their blood pressure, will be monitored while they complete the next questionnaire, to gauge whether or not they are lying--a procedures called the bogus pipeline technique. The other participants were also connected to this equipment but they were not told the honesty of their answers would be monitored. While connected to this equipment, they completed a self-esteem measure.

If participants were told their honesty would be monitored, self-esteem was negatively related to narcissism. In contrast, if participants were not told their honesty would be monitored, self-esteem was positively related to narcissism. These findings imply that people who are narcissistic, on some level, are aware of their personal doubts.

Sexual appeal

In general, people who are narcissistic are perceived as more physically attractive, appealing, and bold than other people. For example, in one study, conducted by Dufner, Rauthmann, Czarna, and Denissen (2013), Polish participants read about someone who had, supposedly, completed the Polish version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. They were informed this person is low, medium, or high on this scale. Next, they were asked to indicate the extent to which they perceive this person as sexually appealing as well as appealing as a friend, merely from the responses to this questionnaire. Narcissism was positively associated with sex appeal but not friendship appeal.

In the second study, participants rated the level of mate appeal ("People feel attracted to my friend"), friend appeal ("I like my friend"), and physical attractiveness ("My friend is ugly") of someone they know--someone who is either the same or a different sex to them. The target of these ratings also evaluated their own narcissism (e.g., "I am more capable than other people"), self-esteem, and social boldness (e.g., "I feel shy among people of the opposite sex"). Narcissism was positively associated with mate appeal, even after controlling self-esteem, and this relationship was mediated by physical attractiveness and social boldness. A subsequent study showed that narcissism did indeed increase the number of advances from people of the opposite sex. These studies showed the tendency of narcissistic people to overestimate their capabilities and importance, and not their limited levels of communion, were related to mate appeal.

These findings imply that narcissism may correspond to a strong need to attract mates quickly. Consequently, these individuals may devote more effort into their appearance (Holtzman & Strube, 2012) as well as embrace the risks of approaching members of the opposite sex. Alternatively, physical attractiveness may even increase levels of narcissism.


When people are narcissistic, they are often initially perceived as effective leaders. However, they tend to compromise the level of cooperation in their workgroups or organizations and, ultimately, impair workplace performance. Therefore, narcissistic leaders tend to be overrated (Nevicka, Velden, De Hoogh, & Van Vianen, 2011).

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Nevicka, Velden, De Hoogh, and Van Vianen (2011), participants were assigned to teams of three individuals. The task of each team was to decide which of three candidates would be most suitable to a position as a secret agent. The members of each team received a different description of each candidate. The team, therefore, could reach an informed decision only if they shared information about the candidates with one another. In addition, one person in each team was assigned the position of leader. This person was to reach the final decision, but could be advised by the other two candidates.

The individuals also completed a series of questionnaires. The leaders rated the degree to which they exhibit narcissism. The other individuals rated the extent to which the leader was effective and demonstrated authority. Furthermore, the extent to which these individuals were aware of the traits and characteristics of three candidates was assessed.

In general, leaders who exhibited elevated levels of narcissism were perceived as more effective and were assumed to demonstrate more authority& their personality, presumably, epitomized the prototypical leader. Nevertheless, these leaders impaired the communication of information and the performance of teams. That is, when the leaders were narcissistic, the individuals had not shared information with each other. Their knowledge of these candidates was limited. Their capacity to identify the best candidate was thus impaired.

Presumably, when leaders are narcissistic, they cultivate a more competitive rather than cooperative environment. That is, they often emphasize or refer to power and competence rather than support and cooperation.


In a sales setting, narcissists tend to be more unethical and unsuccessful (e.g., Soyer, Rovenpor, & Kopelman, 1999). Because of their egocentric orientation, they do not readily consider or appreciate the needs of other individuals and thus do not adapt their behaviour appropriately. Furthermore, because they overlook the needs of other individuals, they are more likely to engage in unethical or deceitful behaviour to guarantee a sale. Nevertheless, they tend to enjoy sales roles, which afford these individuals the necessary autonomy to circumvent regular criticism and feedback.


The association between narcissism and creativity is complex. Goncalo, Flynn, and Kim (2010) did not show any association between levels of narcissism and performance on tasks that assess creativity. Nevertheless, people who report narcissism tend to perceive themselves as more creative as the average person. Similarly, the extent to which people tend to feel special or entitled in general, a key facet of narcissism, is not significantly associated with creativity (Zitek & Vincent, 2015).

However, whenever people experience events that augment their levels of entitlement transiently, their creativity tends to improve. For example, after people contemplate why they deserve more respect, rewards, or recognition than other individuals, instilling a sense of entitlement, they tend to become more creative. They can, for example, identity many mnvel uses of household objects, like a brick (Zitek & Vincent, 2015). They also become more proficient on another measure of creativity called the Remote Associates Task, in which they need to identify a word that is related to three other terms, such as "falling", "actor", and "dust". This sense of entitlement, however, does not affect performance on tasks that do not entail creativity, such as verbal comprehension.

Arguably, when people feel entitled, they experience the motivation to be unique. That is, they feel they should be special and, therefore, strive to differentiate themselves from other people. This motivation to be unique fosters originality and thus creativity.

Risky financial decisions

As Foster, Reidy, Misra, and Goff (2011) showed, individuals who exhibit elevated levels of narcissism tend to invest in risky stocks--stocks that are especially volatile. In particular, narcissism often corresponds to the capacity of individuals to focus their attention only on desirable, rather than undesirable, events. For example, people with narcissism may be aware of their strengths instead of their limitations. Similarly, they focus more on the opportunities or rewards that some act could attract, often neglecting the complications and problems. Consequently, they may invest in stocks that could attract sizeable rewards, even if these investments may also incur major costs.

In one study, for example, participants completed the narcissistic personality inventory. Next, the performance of a series of stocks was presented on graphs. Some of the stocks were more volatile and erratic than other stocks. Participants were asked to select the stocks in which they would prefer to invest. In general, if these individuals exhibited elevated levels of narcissism, they were more likely to prefer the volatile stocks.

The second study was similar, except participants completed a different task to gauge their investment strategies as well as a measure that gauges sensitivity to rewards and sensitivity to punishment. To assess their investment strategies, these individuals participated in a simulated stock market. First, they learned about an index that represents the volatility of stock. High values on this index indicate the stock fluctuates considerably but can perform very well. Next, they received information about 30 companies, including this index. They were granted contrived money to invest in these companies, and their performance over the next four weeks was monitored, during late 2008.

If participants exhibited higher levels of narcissism, they were more likely to invest in volatile stocks. Their performance, admittedly during a period of economic decline, was not as proficient as the performance of other individuals. Sensitivity to reward mediated these relationships.

Physiological responses to stress

Research indicates that people who exhibit elevated levels of narcissism actually demonstrate more pronounced physiological responses to stress. This finding is consistent with the notion that narcissism reflects a fragile ego.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Cheng, Tracy, and Miller (2013), participants provided saliva samples 4 times a day for three days to measure cortisol and alpha amylase. In addition, on the first day, participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a measure of narcissism. In addition, at the end of each day, they completed a measure of mood.

Whenever people with narcissism reported negative emotions, levels of cortisol and alpha amylase escalated--hormones that reflect activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system respectively. In contrast, in people with low narcissism, negative emotions were not associated with cortisol or alpha amylase levels. These findings are consistent with the notion that unpleasant events provoke strong physiological reactions in narcissistic individuals. These reactions, over time, can accumulate to impair physical health.

Similarities with other personality traits


Narcissistic individuals tend to ascribe their failures to factors they cannot control-unclear instructions, incompetent managers, and so forth. This self serving bias is also common in histrionic individuals and obsessive individuals (McAllister, Baker, Mannes, Stewart, & Sutherland, 2002).

Measures and variants of narcissism

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory is often administered to gauge this trait (see Raskin & Terry, 1988& for a version applicable to children, see Ang & Yusof, 2006). This inventory comprises 40 items. For each item, participants must decide which of two statements is most applicable to their personality. Examples include "My body is nothing special" versus "I like to look at my face and body" or "I am more capable than other people" versus "There is a lot than I can learn from other people". Cronbach's alpha for the total scale is about .78.

This scale conceptualizes narcissism as a personality variable that varies continuously throughout the population-distinct from the narcissism personality disorder, as defined by the DSM IV. Nevertheless, high scores on this measure do align closely with clinical prototypes of the narcissism personality disorder.

Collective narcissism

Typically, narcissism refers to individuals who adopt an inflated perception of themselves. Nevertheless, according to de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, and Jayawickreme (2009), some individuals adopt an inflated perception of their social groups, called collective narcissism.

Specifically, de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, and Jayawickreme (2009) developed a measure of collective narcissism. The items were derived from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Emmons, 1987) and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (Millon, 2006). Items that could be adapted to collectives or groups were included. Typical items include "My group has all the predispositions to influence and direct others", "My group is extraordinary", "I like when my group is the center of attention", and "I want my group to amount to something in the eyes of the world".

A single factor, comprising nine items, was extracted and substantiated using confirmatory factor analysis. The psychometric properties of this scale were encouraging. Internal consistency was .86. Furthermore, this scale was correlated with blind patriotism. In addition, this scale was related to social dominance orientation& presumably, individuals who feel that some groups are inherently superior, called social dominance orientation, are more likely to experience collective narcissism. Finally, this scale was associated with right wing authoritarianism, which represents an adherence to authorities and conventions. That is, if individuals report collective narcissism, they perceive their group as supreme, and thus assume the norms of this collective should be followed.

In addition, de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, and Jayawickreme (2009) showed that collective narcissism and individual narcissism are moderately correlated but distinct. In particular, collective narcissism, but not individual narcissism, if included in the same model, predicted aggression directed at other groups. Specifically, collective narcissism was related to racist attitudes against another race. In contrast, individual narcissism, but not collective narcissism, was associated with aggression against other individuals.

Collective narcissism, like individual narcissism, relates to positive explicit rather than implicit values of themselves (see Optimal self esteem). For example, in one of the studies conducted by de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, and Jayawickreme (2009), participants answered questions about collective narcissism in which the group was their nation. Participants who reported an elevated level of collective narcissism also maintained their nation was exemplary, as gauged by a measure of explicit collective self esteem. Nevertheless, these participants did not report a high implicit collective self esteem, as measured by the implicit association test).

These findings are consistent with the mask model of narcissism (Bosson, Lakey, Campbell, Zeigler-Hill, Jordan, & Kernis, 2008). According to this model, individuals seek evidence of an inflated image of themselves--or their collectives--to mask feelings of shame and doubt. Hence, they often report a high explicit, but not implicit, self esteem.

Related characteristics


Machiavellianism refers to the inclination of some individuals to be fixated on their status and wealth. That is, to enhance their status and wealth, these individuals are especially willing to exploit other people.

The Mach-IV test, comprising 20 items, is sometimes administered to assess Machiavellianism. Participants are asked to indicate the extent to which they, for example, "Never tell anyone the reason you did something unless it is useful to do so".

As Verbeke, Rietdijk, van den Berg, Dietvorst, Worm, and Bagozzi (2011) showed, if people demonstrate Machiavellianism, several neural regions, such as the basal ganglia, left prefrontal cortex, insular cortex, right hippocampus, and left parahippocampal gyrus, tend to be larger. This finding is consistent with the concept of neuroplasticity--the notion that neural regions that are utilized frequently may increase in size.

To illustrate, individuals who demonstrate Machiavellianism are especially motivated to enhance their status and wealth, often at the expense of other people, sometimes despite limited ability or expertise. They will, therefore, often need to disregard or to override disappointment. To fulfil this goal, they strive to focus their attention to rewarding experiences, increasing activation of the reward centers in the basal ganglia.

In addition, to avoid disappointment, these individuals often need to regulate their emotions. Regions that regulate such emotions, such as the left prefrontal cortex, especially in the lateral regions, will tend to be activated and will thus increase in size. The left prefrontal cortex may also enable these individuals to manipulate other people.

Individuals who report Machiavellianism may, besides suppressing their frustrations, often experience disgust towards other people. That is, they tend to be dismissive, rather than supportive, of other individuals. Both the suppression of negative emotions and the experience of disgust correspond to activation of the insular cortex.

Finally, to manipulate other people, these individuals are often sensitive to subtle cues in the environment. They learn techniques that can be utilized to exploit other individuals. The capacity of individuals to learn which techniques are suitable in specific contexts is partly underpinned by the hippocampus and the parahippocampal gyrus.


Ames, D. R., & Kammrath, L. K. (2004). Mind-reading and metacognition: Narcissism, not actual competence, predicts self-estimated ability. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 28, 145-165.

Ang, R. P., & Yusof, N. (2006). Development and initial validation of the Narcissistic Personality Questionnaire for Children: A preliminary investigation using school-based Asian samples. Educational Psychology, 26, 1-18.

Ashton-James, C. E., & Levordashka, A. (2013). When the wolf wears sheep's clothing: Individual differences in the desire to be liked influence nonconscious behavioral mimicry. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 643-648. doi: 10.1177/1948550613476097

Baumeister, R. F., Bushman, B. J., & Campbell, W. K. (2000). Self esteem, narcissism, and aggression: Does violence result from low self-esteem or from threatened egotism? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 26-29.

Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103, 5-33.

Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Narcissism as addiction to esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 206-209.

Bianchi, E. C. (2014). Entering adulthood in a recession tempers later narcissism. Psychological Science, 25, 1429-1437 doi:10.1177/0956797614532818

Bizumic, B., & Duckitt, J. (2008). "My group is not worthy of me": Narcissism and ethnocentrism. Political Psychology, 29, 437-453.

Bosson, J. K., Lakey, C. E., Campbell, W. K., Zeigler-Hill, V., Jordan, C. H., & Kernis, M. H. (2008). Untangling the links between narcissism and self-esteem: A theoretical and empirical review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1415-1439.

Brown, R. (2004). Vengeance is mine: Narcissism, vengeance, and the tendency to forgive. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 576-584.

Brown, R. P., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2004). Narcissism and the non-equivalence of self-esteem measures: A matter of dominance? Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 585-592.

Buffardi, L. E., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking web sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1303-1314.

Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 219-229.

Buss, D. M., & Chiodo, L. M. (1991). Narcissistic acts in everyday life. Journal of Personality, 59, 179-215.

Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221.

Campbell, W. K. (1999). Narcissism and romantic attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1254-1270.

Campbell, W. ., Bonacci, A. M., & Shelton, J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83, 29-45.

Campbell, W. K., Bosson, J. K., Goheen, T. W., Lakey, C. E., & Kernis, M. H. (2007). Do narcissists dislike themselves "deep down inside "? Psychological Science, 18, 227-229.

Campbell, W. K., Brunell, A. B., & Finkel, E. J. (2006). Narcissism, interpersonal self-regulation, and romantic relationships: An agency model approach. In E. J. Finkel & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Self and relationships: Connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes (pp. 57-83). New York: Guilford.

Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., Brunell, A. B., & Shelton, J. (2005). Understanding the social costs of narcissism: The case of the tragedy of the commons. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1358-1368.

Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2002). Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships: An investment model analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 484-495.

Campbell, W. K., Foster, C. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2002). Does self-love lead to love for others? A story of narcissistic game playing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 340-354.

Campbell, W. K., Rudich, E. A., & Sedikides, C. (2002). Narcissism, self-esteem, and the positivity of self-views: Two portraits of self love. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 358-368.

Carnahan, T., & McFarland, S. (2007). Revisiting the stanford prison experiment: Could participant self-selection have led to cruelty? Personality and SocialPsychology Bulletin, 33, 603-614.

Carroll, L. (1987). A study of narcissism, affiliation, intimacy, and power motives among students in business administration. Psychological Reports, 61, 355-358.

Cheng, J. T., Tracy, J. L., & Miller, G. E. (2013). Are narcissists hardy or vulnerable? The role of narcissism in the production of stress-related biomarkers in response to emotional distress. Emotion, 13, 1004-1011. doi:10.1037/a0034410

Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 392-414.

de Zavala, A. G., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 1074-1096.

Dufner, M., Rauthmann, J. F., Czarna, A. Z., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2013). Are narcissists sexy? Zeroing in on the effect of narcissism on short-term mate appeal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 870-882. doi: 10.1177/0146167213483580

Emmons, R.A. (1984). Factor analysis and construct validity of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 291-300.

Excline, J. J., Baumeister, R. F., Bushman, B. J., Campbell, W. K., & Finkel, E. J. (2004). Too proud to let go: Narcissistic entitlement as a barrier to foregiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 894-912.

Finkel, E. J., Campbell, W. K., Buffardi, L. E., Kumashiro, M., & Rusbult, C. E. (2009). The metamorphosis of narcissus: Communal activation promotes relationship commitment among narcissists. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1271-1284.

Foster, J. D. (2008). Incorporating personality into the investment model: Probing commitment processes across individual differences in narcissism. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25, 211-224.

Foster, J. D., & Campbell, W. K. (2007). Are there such things as "narcissists" in social psychology? A taxometric analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1321-1332.

Foster, J. D., Reidy, D. E., Misra, T. A., & Goff, J. S. (2011). Narcissism and stock market investing: Correlates and consequences of cocksure investing. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 816-821.

Foster, J. D., Shrira, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2006). Theoretical models of narcissism, sexuality, and relationship commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 367-386.

Gabriel, M. T., Critelli, J. W., & Ee, J. S. (1994). Narcissistic illusions in self-evaluations of intelligence and attractiveness. Journal of Personality, 62, 143-155.

Giacomin, M., & Jordan, C. H. (2014). Down-regulating narcissistic tendencies: Communal focus reduces state narcissism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 488-500. doi: 10.1177/0146167213516635

Goncalo, J. A., Flynn, F. J., & Kim, S. H. (2010). Are two narcissists better than one? The link between narcissism, perceived creativity, and creative performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1484-1495.

Gregg, A. P., & Sedikides, C. (2010). Narcissistic fragility: Rethinking its links to explicit and implicit self-esteem. Self and Identity, 9, 142-161.

Hodson, G., Hogg, S. M., & MacInnis, C. C. (2009). The role of "dark personalities" (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy), Big Five personality factors, and ideology in explaining prejudice. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 686-690.

Holtzman, N. S., & Strube, M. J. (2012). People with dark personalities tend to create a physically attractive veneer. Social Psychological & Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550612461284

Horvath, S., & Morf, C. C. (2009). Narcissistic defensiveness: Hypervigilance and avoidance of worthlessness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 1252-1258. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.07.011

John, O. P., & Robins, R. W. (1994). Accuracy and bias in self-perception: Individual differences in self-enhancement and the role of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 206-219.

Jordan, C. H., Spencer, S. J., Zanna, M. P., Hoshino-Browne, E., & Correll, J. (2003). Secure and defensive high self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 969- 978.

Kohut, H. (1966). Forms and transformations of narcissism. Journal of American Psychoanalitic Assotiation, 14, 243-272.

Konrath, S., Bushman, B. J., & Campbell, W. K. (2006). Attenuating the link between threatened egotism and aggression. Psychological Science, 17, 995-1001.

Le, T.N. (2005). Narcissism and immature love as mediators of vertical individualism and ludic love style. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 542-560.

McAllister, H. A., Baker, J. D., Mannes, C., Stewart, H., & Sutherland, A. (2002). The optimal margin of illusion hypothesis: Evidence from the self-serving bias and personality disorders. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21, 414-426.

Miller, J. D., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Comparing clinical and social-personality conceptualizations of narcissism. Journal of Personality, 76, 449-476.

Miller, J. D., Campbell, W. K., & Pilkonis, P. A. (2007). Narcissistic personality disorder: Relations with distress and functional impairment. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 48, 170-177.

Millon, T. (2006). Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III) manual (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Pearson Assessments.

Morf, C. C., & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: A dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 177-196.

Myers, E. M., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2012). How much do narcissists really like themselves? Using the bogus pipeline procedure to better understand the self-esteem of narcissists. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 102-105. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.09.006

Nevicka, B., Velden, F. S. T., De Hoogh, A. H. B., & Van Vianen, A. E. M. (2011). Reality at odds with perceptions: Narcissistic leaders and group performance. Psychological Science, 22, 1259-1264. doi: 10.1177/0956797611417259

Oltmanns, T. F., Friedman, J. N., Fiedler, E. R., & Turkheimer, E. (2004). Perceptions of people with personality disorders based on thin slices of behavior. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 216-229.

Paulhus, D. L. (1998). Interpersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait self-enhancement: A mixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1197-1208.

Paulhus, D.L., & Williams, K. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556-568.

Raskin, R., Novacek, J., & Hogan, R. (1991). Narcissism, self-esteem, and defensive self-enhancement. Journal of Personality, 59, 19-38.

Raskin, R., & Terry, H. (1988). A principal-components analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and further evidence of its construct validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 890-902.

Rhodewalt, F., Madrian, J. C., & Cheney, S. (1998). Narcissism, self-knowledge organization, and emotional reactivity: The effect of daily experiences on self-esteem and affect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 75-87.

Rhodewalt, F., & Morf, C. C. (1995). Self and interpersonal correlates of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory: A review and new findings. Journal of Research in Personality, 29, 1-23.

Rhodewalt, F., & Morf, C. C. (1998). On self-aggrandizement and anger: A temporal analysis of narcissism and affective reactions to success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 672-685.

Robins, R. W., & Beer, J. S. (2001). Positive illusions about the self: Short-term benefits and long-term costs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 340-352.

Robins, R. W., & John, O. P. (1997). Effects of visual perspective and narcissism on self-perception: Is seeing believing? Psychological Science, 8, 37-42.

Robins, R. W., & Paulhus, D. L. (2001). The character of self-enhancers: Implications for organizations. In B. W. Roberts & R. Hogan (Eds.), Personality psychology in the workplace (pp. 193-219). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Ruiz, J. M., Smith, T. W., & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Distinguishing narcissism and hostility: Similarities and differences in interpersonal circumplex and five factor correlates. Journal of Personality Assessment, 76, 537-555.

Sakellaropoulo, M., & Baldwin, M. W. (2006). The hidden sides of self esteem: Two dimensions of implicit self esteem and their relations to narcissistic reactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 995-1001.

Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 894-917.

Sedikides, C., Rudich, E. A., Gregg, A. P., Kumashiro, M., & Rusbult, C. (2004). Are normal narcissists psychologically healthy? Self-esteem matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 400-416.

Soyer, R. B., Rovenpor, J. L., & Kopelman, R. E. (1999). Narcissism and achievement motivation as related to three facets of the sales role: Attraction, satisfaction, and performance. Journal of Business and Psychology, 14, 285-304.

Vazire, S., & Funder, D.C. (2006). Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 154-165.

Verbeke, W. J., Rietdijk, W. J., van den Berg, W. E., Dietvorst, R. C., Worm, L., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2011). The making of the Machiavellian brain: A structural MRI analysis. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 4, 205-216. doi: 10.1037/a0025802

Young, S. M., & Pinsky, D. (2006). Narcissism and celebrity. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 463-471.

Wallace, H. M., & Baumeister, R.F. (2002). The performance of narcissists rises and falls with perceived opportunity for glory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 819-834.

Warren, M., & Capponi, A. (1996). The role of culture in the development of narcissistic personality disorders in American, Japan and Denmark. Journal of Applied Social Sciences, 20, 77-82.

Zeigler-Hill, V. (2006). Discrepancies between implicit and explicit self-esteem: Implications for narcissism and self-esteem instability. Journal of Personality, 74, 119-143.

Zitek, E. M., & Vincent, L. C. (2015). Deserve and diverge: Feeling entitled makes people more creative. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 242-248. doi: /10.1016/j.jesp.2014.10.006

Academic Scholar?
Join our team of writers.
Write a new opinion article,
a new Psyhclopedia article review
or update a current article.
Get recognition for it.

Last Update: 6/15/2016