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Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic?

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Empathy plays a critical role in fostering and maintaining social relations. Narcissists lack empathy, and this may account for their interpersonal failures. But why do narcissists lack empathy? Are they incapable, or is change possible? Three studies addressed this question. Study 1 showed that the link between narcissism and low empathy generalizes to a specific target person presented in a vignette. The effect was driven by maladaptive narcissistic components (i.e., entitlement, exploitativeness, exhibitionism). Study 2 examined the effect of perspective-taking (vs. control) instructions on self-reported responses to a video. Study 3 examined the effect of the same manipulation on autonomic arousal (heart rate) during an audio-recording. Perspective-taking ameliorated negative links between maladaptive narcissism and both self-reported empathy and heart rate. That is, narcissists can be moved by another’s suffering, if they take that person’s perspective. The findings demonstrate that narcissists’ low empathy does not reflect inability, implying potential for intervention.
... Similar to the CTL group, participants in the NPD group acted more self-beneficially when prosociality was believed to be highly detrimental, and acted more prosocially when their own benefit was conditional on punishing others. Prosocial behavior can be shaped by inducing prosocial motives (Hein et al., 2016), and explicit instructions to consider others' perspectives can increase prosocial responding in non-clinical narcissistic individuals (Hepper et al., 2014). Although we did not provide such explicit instructions, our task was effective for pitting self-beneficial against prosocial motives. ...
... Collectively, our data indicate that self-beneficial behavior in NPD relies on diminished consideration of prosocial motives, which obviates the need to resolve conflict with self-beneficial tendencies. However, this may reflect a reduced propensity, not ability, to act prosocially (Hepper et al., 2014;Meffert et al., 2013). Potentially, this reflects differences between NPD and, for instance, antisocial personality disorder, which could be tested explicitly in future studies. ...
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) entails severe impairments in interpersonal functioning that are likely driven by self-beneficial and exploitative behavior. Here, we investigate the underlying motivational and neural mechanisms of prosocial decision-making by experimentally manipulating motivational conflict between self-beneficial and prosocial incentives. One group of patients diagnosed with NPD and a group of healthy controls (CTL) were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a prosocial decision-making task. In this task, we systematically varied the level of conflict between self-beneficial and prosocial options on each trial. We analyzed choice behavior, response times, and neural activity in regions associated with conflict monitoring to test how motivational conflict drives prosocial choice behavior. Participants in the NPD group behaved less prosocially than the CTL group overall. Varying degrees of motivational conflict between self-beneficial and prosocial options induced response variability in both groups, but more so in the CTL group. The NPD group responded faster than the CTL group, unless choosing prosocially, which slowed response times to a level comparable to the CTL group. Additionally, neural activity tracking motivational conflict in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was reduced in the NPD group. Collectively, low generosity in NPD appears to arise from reduced consideration of prosocial motives, which obviates motivational conflict with self-beneficial motives and entails reduced activity in neural conflict monitoring systems. Yet, our data also indicate that NPD is not marked by an absolute indifference to others' needs. This points to potentials for improving interpersonal relationships, effectively supporting the well-being of patients and their peers.
... Regarding the negative association found between NN and healthy concern, similar results were obtained by Hepper et al. (2014). As previously mentioned, NN, while being mostly related to adaptive traits, is also associated with interpersonal dominance behaviors (Brown & Zeigler-Hill, 2004), exploitation of others (Emmons, 1984), relationship problems (Miller & Campbell, 2008), and an approach to others generally rooted in competitiveness and status-seeking (Bernard, 2014). ...
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Some studies suggest that narcissism, either grandiose, vulnerable, or normal, is empirically associated with healthy or pathological concern towards others. These relationships remain poorly documented, and existing research only offers theoretical rationales as to the nature of the narcissism–concern association. The present study aims to assess the relationships between the various types of narcissism and concern while including the mediating role of explicit motives. French-speaking adults (n = 213) completed self-report questionnaires measuring these constructs. Results of mediation analyses suggest that specific motives mediate the positive associations observed between vulnerable or grandiose narcissism and pathological concern as well as the negative associations observed between grandiose or normal narcissism and healthy concern. Thus, it seems that pathological concern could be used as a maladaptive self-regulation mechanism by both forms of pathological narcissism. Fear motives mediate both relationships, suggesting avoidance as the main drive behind pathological concern in pathological narcissism. Also, the negative association between normal narcissism and healthy concern is coherent with the antagonistic interpersonal style of this form of narcissism. Results add to the practical knowledge of narcissism through a better understanding of the factors involved in self-regulation mechanisms.
... Narcissism can be characterized by a motivation to build and maintain a grandiose self-view (Rhodewalt & Peterson, 2009) and has frequently been referred to as a "mixed blessing" (Paulhus, 1998(Paulhus, , p. 1207): On the one hand, narcissism is associated with positive aspects such as self-esteem, charisma, and leadership emergence (Bosson et al., 2008;Grijalva et al., 2015;Rogoza & Fatfouta, 2020). Yet, on the other hand, narcissism is associated with negative aspects such as feelings of entitlement, aggression, and lack of empathy (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998;Exline et al., 2004;Fatfouta et al., 2022;Hepper et al., 2014). ...
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Broad sections of the population try to be more mindful, often with quite self-centered motives. It is therefore not surprising that there is growing interest in the investigation of narcissism and mindfulness. Despite theoretical and empirical ties, however, existing research on this association is scarce. In two studies (N = 3,134 and 403) with English- and German-speaking participants, we apply structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the relationships between facets of grandiose narcissism and trait mindfulness. Across both studies and, using different narcissism and mindfulness measures, SEM consistently revealed opposing patterns for agentic and antagonistic narcissism, with agentic narcissism being positively related to trait mindfulness, and antagonistic narcissism being negatively related to it. Findings highlight the necessity to acknowledge the conceptual heterogeneity of narcissism when examining its relationship with trait mindfulness. Practical implications regarding how agentic and antagonistic narcissists might profit differently from mindfulness practice are discussed.
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Chapter
Publisher Summary It is possible for one person to experience an emotion when he or she perceives that another person is experiencing an emotion. The relationship between action and the sharing of feelings is obviously not a simple or direct one. It is possible to study so subtle and important a phenomenon as empathy in the laboratory and to examine some of the determinants of empathy. The process leading to empathy can be understood in terms of cognitive variables such as the mental set that the person has when he or she observes the other. The form or type of social relationships between one person and another influences the amount of empathy, presumably because the form of the social relationship influences the manner of perceiving the other and thinking about him or her. Individual differences in reactions to social situations, in perceiving the other, and in thinking about him or her must be considered in predicting how much empathizing will occur. These individual differences appear to be determined in part by the birth order of the person.