The effect of overt and covert narcissism on self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy
Department of Psychology, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby DE22 1GB, UK
Received 23 March 2015
Received in revised form 6 May 2015
Accepted 7 May 2015
Past literature has suggested a dual nature of trait based narcissism, comprising overt and covert forms.
While several studies have examined the two subtypes in relation to self-esteem, very few studies have
examined narcissistic subtypes and self-efﬁcacy. 115 Psychology undergraduates ﬁlled in self-report
measures of overt narcissism, covert narcissism, self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy. Results demonstrated no
signiﬁcant relationship between overt and covert narcissism, suggesting two distinct subtypes. Overt
and covert forms of narcissism were found to signiﬁcantly contribute to self-efﬁcacy beyond
self-esteem. Further, overt narcissism positively predicted both self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy beyond
self-esteem. Conversely, covert narcissism was found to negatively predict self-esteem and
self-efﬁcacy beyond self-esteem. Overt narcissism subscale associations were also computed, with
Power being associated with higher self-efﬁcacy but not self-esteem, suggesting Power to be a more
adaptive subscale. The Special Person subscale was associated with higher self-esteem but not
self-efﬁcacy, suggesting it forms the maladaptive core of overt narcissism. Exhibitionism was not associ-
ated with either self-esteem or self-efﬁcacy. Results appear congruent with past literature, and have
given an additional insight into the implications of trait based narcissism regarding self-efﬁcacy.
Findings appear to suggest trait based overt narcissism is a more adaptive construct to individual
self-concept than covert narcissism.
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It has been suggested that there are two distinct forms of patho-
logical (Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971, 1977) and more recently
non-pathological narcissism (Wink, 1991). Several studies have
explored the associations of overt and covert narcissism and
self-esteem (Miller et al., 2011; Pincus et al., 2009; Rohmann,
Neumann, Herner, & Bierhoff, 2012; Rose, 2002). However, narcis-
sism and its subtypes have not been considered in relation to the
associated domain of self-efﬁcacy. Exploring associations between
narcissistic subtypes and self-efﬁcacy may further highlight adap-
tive and maladaptive elements of these multifaceted personality
constructs. Moreover, differences in self-efﬁcacy may have impli-
cations for associated behavioural distinctions between overt and
covert subtypes of narcissism, such as aggression (Okada, 2010).
It has been conceptualised that there are two forms of trait
based narcissism, overt and covert (Wink, 1991). The overt form,
described as Grandiosity–Exhibitionism consists of exhibitionism,
an exaggerated sense of self-importance, grandiosity and desire
for attention (Wink, 1991). Conversely, the covert or Vulnerabilit
y–Sensitivity form of narcissism is characterised by hypersensitiv-
ity to criticism, a lack of self-conﬁdence, being socially withdrawn,
but similar to the overt form, an element of grandiosity (Wink,
1991). Whilst covert narcissism is comprised of grandiosity as a
constituent part, there is an element of insecurity in grandiosity
(Miller, Gentile, Wilson, & Campbell, 2013).
Since the binary conceptualisation of trait based narcissism,
growing empirical attention has examined the overt and covert
constructs. Research has afﬁrmed the independence of these sub-
types (Rathvon & Holmstrom, 1996). Findings have additionally
suggested fundamental differences in terms of expression, with
covert narcissism being characterised by greater distress
(Dickinson & Pincus, 2003). However, differences in reported dis-
tress may be partially attributed to overt narcissists’ tendency to
deny problems (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003). Nonetheless, the lack
of a signiﬁcant relationship between overt and covert measures
of narcissism (Smolewska & Dion, 2005) appears to afﬁrm the sug-
gestion of their independence.
Research has identiﬁed a variety of factor structures corre-
sponding to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, with two/three
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Personality and Individual Differences 85 (2015) 172–175
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(Kubarych, Deary, & Austin, 2004), four (Emmons, 1984) and even
seven (Raskin & Terry, 1988) factors being suggested. The four and
seven factor solutions have been derived exclusively through
Principal Components Analysis (Emmons, 1984; Raskin & Terry,
1988). Conversely, the two and three factor solutions were addi-
tionally explored using Conﬁrmatory Factor Analysis, with the
three factor solution demonstrating the best ﬁt (Kubarych et al.,
2004). Therefore, the present research will consider the three
subscales of Power, Exhibitionism and Special Person identiﬁed
in Kubarych et al. (2004).
Psychoanalytic perspectives have identiﬁed pathological narcis-
sism as a defensive grandiosity in compensation for underlying
feelings of inferiority (Kernberg, 1975). Alternatively, social learn-
ing perspectives have suggested that narcissism consists of
genuine underlying beliefs of superiority (Millon, 1981). Given
these alternate suggestions of self-concept regarding pathological
narcissism, it is unsurprising that research has extended to trait
based narcissism and self-esteem. Self-esteem can be deﬁned as
the view people have of themselves; whether they view them-
selves to be a good and valuable person or not (Kernis, 2003).
Higher overt narcissism has been associated with higher
self-esteem, with covert narcissism being conversely associated
with lower self-esteem (Miller et al., 2011; Pincus et al., 2009;
Rohmann et al., 2012; Rose, 2002). Thus, ﬁndings may be inter-
preted as suggesting that regarding individual self-concept, overt
narcissism is a more adaptive construct than covert narcissism.
Equally, subscale level associations with self-esteem have been
explored, with the Special Person and Power subscales being asso-
ciated with increased self-esteem (Brunell, Staats, Barden, & Hupp,
2011). Conversely, no signiﬁcant association has been found
between Exhibitionism and self-esteem (Brunell et al., 2011).
This demonstrates differing subscale effects which may be sup-
pressed if total scale scores are exclusively considered.
Another element within the domain of self-concept is
self-efﬁcacy. Self-efﬁcacy can be deﬁned as how people judge their
ability to both organise and carry out tasks (Bandura, 1986).
Moreover, as a concept it has implications for feelings, thoughts,
motivation and in turn, behaviour (Bandura, 1994). Self-efﬁcacy
can be inﬂuenced by whether or not success in tasks is achieved,
hence may vary depending on recent events (Andersson, Moore,
Hensing, Krantz, & Staland-Nyman, 2014). In this respect,
self-efﬁcacy bears similarity to self-esteem which is liable to ﬂuc-
tuation in response to life events, especially in narcissistic individ-
uals (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). It has been identiﬁed that
self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy are distinct, but related concepts
which are moderately correlated (Brown, Hoye, & Nicholson,
2012). The similarity between self-efﬁcacy and self-esteem may
suggest that self-efﬁcacy is likely to differ between narcissistic
subtypes. Despite there having been several studies examining
narcissistic subtypes and self-esteem, research has not considered
narcissism in relation to self-efﬁcacy. Exploring self-efﬁcacy in
relation to narcissism may further expand understandings of
differences between narcissistic subtypes and shed more light on
the variation in self-concept associated with the differing presenta-
tions of narcissism.
This study examined overt narcissism, covert narcissism,
self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy. Due to self-esteem being moderately
correlated to self-efﬁcacy, it appeared appropriate to consider the
impact of overt and covert narcissism on self-efﬁcacy, beyond
the variance accounted for by self-esteem. The aims for the study
were to (i) assess the relationship between overt and covert narcis-
sism, (ii) assess overt and covert narcissism’s link to self-esteem,
and (iii) assess whether overt and covert narcissism independently
predicted self-efﬁcacy, beyond self-esteem. To further explore
speciﬁc facets of overt narcissism, Narcissistic Personality
Inventory subscale analyses were also computed.
A total of 115 participants (27 males and 88 females) were
recruited from an in-house research participation system at a
British University. Although age demographics were not directly
collected, all participants were Psychology undergraduates and
therefore primarily aged between 18 and 21 years.
2.2.1. Overt narcissism
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) (Raskin & Terry,
1988) was used to gain a measure of overt narcissism. While a
number of scales have been used to assess narcissism, the NPI
has been suggested to be a strong measure of overt narcissism,
with good internal reliability (Cronbach’s
= .80) respectively
(Hendin & Cheek, 1997). The NPI consisted of 40 questions, with
a choice between two statements for each question. Statements
which were characteristic of overt narcissism were counted as a
score of one, with opposing statements scored as zero.
2.2.2. Covert narcissism
The Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale (HSNS) (Hendin & Cheek,
1997) has been suggested to be an adept measure of covert narcis-
sism, and has been found to have good internal reliability
= .72). The scale consisted of a ten question likert
scale, with responses ranging from 1 (very uncharacteristic or
untrue, strongly disagree) to 5 (very characteristic or true, strongly
To obtain an overall score for self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self
Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used. Previous ﬁndings have
indicated good internal reliability of the scale (Cronbach’s
found by Brown et al. (2012)). The scale used a four point likert
scale, which ranged from 0 (strongly disagree) to 3 (strongly
agree). Questions (2, 5, 6, 8 and 9) were negatively phrased, hence
were reverse coded.
The Generalized Self-Efﬁcacy Scale (Schwarzer & Jerusalem,
1995) has been found to have good internal reliability, ranging
= .75 to
= .91 (Scholz, Doña, Sud, & Schwarzer, 2002).
Hence the Generalized Self-Efﬁcacy scale was administered to
acquire an overall measure of self-efﬁcacy. The scale employed a
four point likert scale, ranging from 1 (not at all true) to 4 (exactly
The study was advertised on an in-house internet accessible
board. A questionnaire comprising several scales was administered
to gather self-report measures of overt narcissism, covert narcis-
sism, self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy. Following informed consent,
the four overall scales (Narcissistic Personality Inventory,
Hypersensitive Narcissism scale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale and
Generalized Self-Efﬁcacy scale) were administered in a computer
randomised order. Participants viewed the debrief form which
identiﬁed the aims of the study. Research was conducted in line
with the code of ethics set out by the British Psychological Society.
J. Brookes / Personality and Individual Differences 85 (2015) 172–175 173
3.1. Descriptive statistics
An exploration of the descriptive statistics revealed that Overt
Narcissism and its subscales (Power, Exhibitionism and Special
Person) were all positively skewed. These variables were square
root transformed, which brought skewness into tolerance for all
variables except Exhibitionism. Hence, a more cautious signiﬁ-
cance level of P6.01 was employed for Exhibitionism (Kirk, 1982).
3.2. Correlation of overt and covert narcissism
Using a Pearson’s correlation, a very weak positive but
non-signiﬁcant correlation was found between overt narcissism
and covert narcissism (r= .103, p= .274).
3.3. Multiple regression analyses predicting self-esteem
A summary of multiple regression analyses predicting
self-esteem is presented in Table 1. The ﬁrst model, comprising
overt and covert narcissism signiﬁcantly predicted self-esteem.
Overt narcissism independently predicted increased self-esteem,
with covert narcissism independently predicting lower
self-esteem. The second model explored subscale level associations
with self-esteem. Results revealed that NPI Special Person was sig-
niﬁcantly linked to higher self-esteem. NPI Power and NPI
Exhibitionism subscales demonstrated no signiﬁcant association
with self-esteem, whilst controlling for other variables in the
3.4. Multiple regression analyses predicting self-efﬁcacy
A summary of multiple regression analyses predicting
self-efﬁcacy is presented in Table 2. The ﬁrst model, which consid-
ered self-esteem, overt and covert narcissism signiﬁcantly pre-
dicted self-efﬁcacy. Whilst controlling for self-esteem, overt
narcissism signiﬁcantly predicted higher self-efﬁcacy, with covert
narcissism signiﬁcantly predicting lower self-efﬁcacy. The second
model considered self-esteem, NPI subscales and covert narcis-
sism, and signiﬁcantly predicted self-efﬁcacy. Whilst controlling
for other variables in the model, NPI Power predicted higher
self-efﬁcacy. NPI Exhibitionism and NPI Special Person did not sig-
niﬁcantly predict self-efﬁcacy.
Findings appeared congruent with past literature, suggesting no
signiﬁcant association between the two forms of narcissism.
Further, overt narcissism was associated with higher self-esteem
and covert narcissism with lower self-esteem, congruent with past
ﬁndings (Rohmann et al., 2012; Rose, 2002). NPI subscale analyses
were partially consistent previous ﬁndings (Brunell et al., 2011),
however the Power subscale failed to reach signiﬁcance when
predicting self-esteem in the present study. The primary additional
ﬁndings of the present research are the exclusive associations
between overt narcissism, covert narcissism, NPI subscales and
Results identiﬁed no signiﬁcant relationship between overt and
covert narcissism, with only a very slight correlation being found
between the two measures. Hence the results sit in line with both
the original suggestion (Wink, 1991), and subsequent research
which has suggested the independence of narcissistic subtypes
(Dickinson & Pincus, 2003; Rathvon & Holmstrom, 1996). Indeed,
results directly support past ﬁndings demonstrating no signiﬁcant
relationship between overt and covert narcissism (Smolewska &
Results indicated that overt and covert narcissism were signiﬁ-
cant predictors of self-esteem. Overt narcissism was positively
related to self-esteem, congruent with past literature (Miller
et al., 2011; Rohmann et al., 2012; Rose, 2002). Covert narcissism
was found to negatively predict self-esteem, similarly in line with
past research (Miller et al., 2011; Rohmann et al., 2012; Rose,
2002). Since the overt form of narcissism relates to a more positive
self-concept, results may be interpreted as suggesting overt narcis-
sism is a more adaptive construct on an individual basis than cov-
ert narcissism, consistent with previous suggestions within the
literature (Rose, 2002). However, this assertion is only made with
regard to the personal adaptive properties of each trait; the impact
on others has not been assessed. Certainly, higher levels of either
form of narcissism may have a negative impact on interpersonal
functioning, with problems in interpersonal functioning being
commonplace among pathologically narcissistic individuals
(Miller, Campbell, & Pilkonis, 2007). It is worthy of note however,
that self-report ﬁndings regarding those at the higher end of overt
narcissism may need to be treated with caution, since previous lit-
erature has highlighted the propensity of overtly narcissistic indi-
viduals to deny and minimise problems (Dickinson & Pincus,
2003). Moreover, since narcissism is characterised by the inability
to distinguish between the ideal and real self (Rhodewalt & Morf,
1995), the discord between individuals’ self-views in comparison
to objective measures may provide a more valid assessment of nar-
cissism. Nonetheless, the sample in the present study were drawn
from a non-clinical population, potentially minimising this
Since overt narcissism does not present a unitary construct
(Kubarych et al., 2004), subscale level analyses were also com-
puted. NPI Special Person was the only subscale which signiﬁcantly
predicted self-esteem. The signiﬁcant positive association suggests
the Special Person facet relates to the most inﬂated self-view. The
NPI Power subscale failed to reach statistical signiﬁcance in associ-
ation with self-esteem, contrary to previous ﬁndings (Brunell et al.,
2011). This may be due to the multiple regression in the present
study controlling for potential spurious associations, perhaps
stemming from NPI subscale intercorrelations (Kubarych et al.,
2004), contrary to previous explorations which exclusively per-
formed zero-order correlations (Brunell et al., 2011).
Summary of multiple regression analyses predicting self-esteem.
Model 1 – Narcissism .328 <.001
Overt narcissism 2.005 .345 <.001
Covert narcissism .502 .494 <.001
Model 2 – Subscales .351 <.001
NPI power 1.411 .188 .052
NPI exhibitionism .272 .032 .703
NPI special person 1.969 .251 .009
Covert narcissism .496 .489 <.001
Summary of multiple regression analyses predicting self-efﬁcacy.
Model 1 – Narcissism .477 <.001
Self-esteem .331 .408 <.001
Overt narcissism 1.540 .326 <.001
Covert narcissism .192 .233 .005
Model 2 – Subscales .471 <.001
Self-esteem .350 .432 <.001
NPI power 1.725 .283 .002
NPI exhibitionism .473 .069 .367
NPI special person .097 .015 .864
Covert narcissism .164 .199 .017
174 J. Brookes / Personality and Individual Differences 85 (2015) 172–175
Alternatively, it is conceivable that the NPI Power subscale is
weakly positively associated with self-esteem, however failed to
reach signiﬁcance in the present study due to lack of statistical
power. Hence, ﬁndings may warrant further explorations of the
NPI Power subscale in relation to self-esteem utilising another lar-
ger sample. NPI Exhibitionism was not signiﬁcantly associated
with self-esteem, which may position the Exhibitionism facet
between the Power and Special Person subscales.
Despite the aims of the present study not being to assess the
impact of self-esteem on self-efﬁcacy, results were congruent with
past ﬁndings of self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy being positively asso-
ciated (Brown et al., 2012). Findings demonstrated that overt nar-
cissism made a unique positive contribution to individual
self-efﬁcacy, beyond both self-esteem and covert narcissism.
Therefore, individuals higher in overt narcissism tend to have a
greater level of belief in their own ability to attain their goals,
which suggests a generally more positive outlook on life, especially
when considered in addition to the aforementioned increased
self-esteem. Covert narcissism was found to negatively predict
self-efﬁcacy, beyond self-esteem and overt narcissism. Hence, ﬁnd-
ings regarding self-efﬁcacy appear congruent with the earlier sug-
gestion that overt narcissism is a reasonably adaptive trait within
non-pathological individuals, compared to the more maladaptive
covert form of narcissism (Rose, 2002).
Findings revealed that NPI Power was the only overt narcissism
subscale to signiﬁcantly predict self-efﬁcacy. The positive link
between NPI Power and self-efﬁcacy may suggest it presents a
more adaptive element of overt narcissism, especially due to either
a weak (Brunell et al., 2011) or no signiﬁcant link to self-esteem.
Certainly, a stronger belief regarding goal attainment without such
an inﬂated self-image may present the most adaptive element of
overt narcissism. NPI Exhibitionism and NPI Special Person were
not signiﬁcantly linked to self-efﬁcacy. Hence, despite NPI Special
Person being linked to higher self-esteem, it was not related to
self-efﬁcacy. This may suggest the Special Person facet is charac-
terised by magical thinking due to an enhanced self-image, with-
out higher self-efﬁcacy to inform a greater belief of actions
facilitating goal attainment. Therefore, NPI Special Person may rep-
resent the maladaptive core of overt narcissism. Since NPI
Exhibitionism is not associated with either self-esteem or
self-efﬁcacy, the Exhibitionism facet may be located between the
more adaptive NPI Power and more maladaptive NPI Special
Person subscale. Moreover, the present exploration has highlighted
the importance of distinction between Power and Special Person
subscales within the NPI, since they demonstrate differing rela-
tionships with external correlates. These differences would not
have been observed utilising the alternative two factor structure
(Kubarych et al., 2004).
Future research may consider additional external correlates of
the three NPI components to further validate their adaptive and
maladaptive natures. These explorations may shed further light
on whether NPI Special Person forms the maladaptive core of overt
narcissism. Research may consider NPI subscale associations in
relation to both self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy in another, larger
sample. This may clarify whether NPI Power reaches signiﬁcance
in relation to self-esteem, while controlling for other NPI subscales.
Further studies may include an exploration of possible gender
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