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Narcissism

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Abstract

Narcissism is an epiphenomenon, arising due to various combinations and constellations of underlying traits and motivations. Although the underlying motivations and their behavioral outcomes are heterogeneous, the common core of narcissism is typified by a tendency for these individuals to be entitled, arrogant, self-centered, and vain, using their considerable social potency and tendency towards exploitative behavior to leverage themselves into positions of authority or social prominence (Holtzman and Donnellan 2015).
N
Narcissism
Scott W. Semenyna
University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge
AB, Canada
Synonyms
Egocentrism;Grandiose self-esteem;Narcissistic
Personality Disorder (NPD);Self-aggrandizement;
Vanity
Definition
Narcissism is an epiphenomenon, arising due to
various combinations and constellations of under-
lying traits and motivations. Although the under-
lying motivations and their behavioral outcomes
are heterogeneous, the common core of narcis-
sism is typied by a tendency for these individuals
to be entitled, arrogant, self-centered, and vain,
using their considerable social potency and ten-
dency towards exploitative behavior to leverage
themselves into positions of authority or social
prominence (Holtzman and Donnellan 2015).
Introduction
Narcissism has existed in both the psychiatric and
early psychological literature since the early
1900s, but this construct has only been under
earnest empirical investigation since the latter
half of the twentieth century (Raskin and Terry
1988). Only a minority (perhaps 1%) of the
population surpasses the clinical threshold for a
diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
(NPD). However, narcissistic personality traits
are normally distributed within the population,
meaning that there are far more individuals with
narcissistic tendencies than there are people with
pathological levels (Skodol et al. 2014). For that
reason, it is often preferable to focus on narcissis-
tic traits and employ the term narcissistto mean
someone who scores highly on these traits instead
of denoting someone who has received a clinical
diagnosis.
Narcissistic traits are rarely associated with
the internalizing symptoms of psychopathology
(e.g., distress, anxiety, depression) (Miller and
Campbell 2012). As such, some researchers have
proposed that narcissism should only be consid-
ered pathological when it is comorbid with other
personality disorders (reviewed by Skodol et al.
2014). In addition, narcissistic traits facilitate a
social strategy that allows individuals to garner
status, resources, and mating opportunities with
desirable partners (Holtzman and Donnellan
2015). Thus, narcissistic traits expressed in appro-
priate circumstances may provide a selective
advantage. Only considering the negative out-
comes associated with narcissism under a patho-
logical framework impoverishes our understanding
of the construct. Greater insights are gained by
#Springer International Publishing AG 2018
T.K. Shackelford, V.A. Weekes-Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_675-1
considering the proximate and ultimate causes of
narcissism, as well as its potential adaptive func-
tions. In other words, a thorough understanding of
whether or not narcissism is adaptive is only pos-
sible after considering: (1) the behavioral, person-
ality, and interpersonal features associated with
narcissistic traits; (2) the etiology of narcissistic
traits among individuals, and whether they repre-
sent normal development or development gone
awry; (3) the tness benets (or costs) of narcis-
sistic traits to individual carriers; and (4) the roots
of narcissistic traits in the human lineage, and how
they have been maintained across time.
The Narcissist in Context
Narcissism is not a unitary phenomenon. Modern
researchers in the eld differentiate between
several prominent facets of narcissism grandiose-
exhibitionism, authoritative-leadership, and exploit-
ative-entitlement with the latter two slightly
more common in men than in women (Grijalva
et al. 2015). Grandiose-exhibitionism is associ-
ated with an overly ambitious and inated sense
of self, as well as a tendency to be gregarious and
extraverted. Authoritative-leadership is character-
ized by a strong desire for leadership or author-
ity in a group and the self-assured belief that
ones leadership ability outstrips that of rivals.
Exploitative-entitlement is marked by a pervasive
belief that one deserves high social status and
attention and a willingness to use manipula-
tive tactics to get it. Generally, authoritative-
leadership and grandiose-exhibitionism are seen
as relatively more prosocial and less problem-
atic (for the individual and the group) than
exploitative-entitlement (Grijalva et al. 2015;
Skodol et al. 2014).
Researchers have noted that individuals who
score high on narcissism primarily employ two
tactics to gain social status. One tactic is to
use charm and assertive social styles to strive
for admiration. The second tactic is to raise
ones own social standing by bringing others
down (i.e., rivalry), by engaging in hostile and
antagonistic social competition, derogating
others, or devaluing their accomplishments
(Back et al. 2013). The rst of these tactics is
most strongly associated with grandiose narcis-
sism, which encapsulates the grandiose, leader-
ship, and arrogant aspects of narcissism. The
second tactic (rivalry) is more closely aligned
with vulnerable narcissism typied by emo-
tional sensitivity, pervasive fears of rejection
or abandonment, and exploitative tendencies (see
Back et al. 2013; Foster et al. 2016; Grijalva et al.
2015). While there are several (nonmutually
exclusive) ways to bea narcissist, they all
share in common a self-centered entitlement,
social competitiveness, and striving for social
validation.
Unsurprisingly, narcissistic traits tend to be
positively correlated with self-esteem and extra-
version and negatively correlated with agree-
ableness and conscientiousness (Holtzman and
Donnellan 2015). Individuals high in narcissistic
traits also report that they have an easier time
starting new relationships, often perceive a greater
availability of viable alternatives to current rela-
tionships, and report more lifetime sexual partners
along with more favorable attitudes towards
casual sex (i.e., higher sociosexuality) (Holtzman
and Donnellan 2015). These associations are
sensible given that converging lines of evidence
indicate that narcissists are perceived as more
attractive by others (Dufner et al. 2013). These
ratings are likely a result of social charm and a
focus on appearance enhancement, rather than
narcissists being objectively more good-looking
(Holtzman and Donnellan 2015). Despite these
arguably positive outcomes, narcissistic traits
such as exploitative-entitlement (Foster et al.
2016) and rivalry (Back et al. 2013) tend to be
associated with poor social outcomes (social iso-
lation, rejection, turbulent relationships, etc.). The
condence and charm of narcissists often facili-
tates social interaction, drawing people in to their
constantly shifting social circles in the short term,
whereas their tendency towards un-empathetic
and aggressive social competition, along with
2 Narcissism
their persistent ego-centrism, tends to push people
away in the long term (Back et al. 2013).
A Selfish Mind: How Does Narcissism
Develop?
Narcissism has been shown to be substantially
heritable, with as much as 59% of trait variance
being due to underlying genetic variation, and
the rest resulting from the impact of environmen-
tal factors unique to the individual (Vernon et al.
2008). Such a pattern is indicative of an inherited
propensity towards narcissism that then interacts
with the experiences of the individual, crystalizing
ultimate levels of the trait. Specically, an early
desire for social validation and prominence,
coupled with charming and extraverted social
strategies, likely kick-starts a spiral wherein nar-
cissists learn to regulate their behavior in ways
that maximize the amount of positive social feed-
back they can garner, with desired outcomes only
making these behavioral tendencies more likely in
the future (Holtzman and Strube 2010). As noted
above, the social strategy of narcissists tends to be
relatively short term, and the substantial impact
of genes on the development and expression of
narcissistic traits calls into question how natural
selection has tolerated such a selsh and (at times)
exploitative strategy to exist in humans, a decid-
edly social species.
Selfish by Design? Natural Selection and
Narcissistic Traits
Extremely high levels of narcissistic traits are
often associated with signicant social impair-
ment, heightened alcohol abuse, aggression, and
antisocial behavior (Miller and Campbell 2012).
Furthermore, certain narcissistic traits (e.g.,
exploitative-entitlement, antagonistic rivalry) are
related to psychopathic and Machiavellian ten-
dencies, whereas the more prosocial facets of
narcissism such as authoritative-leadership are
associated with high self-esteem and more healthy
interpersonal qualities (Foster et al. 2016). While
it is tempting to see the socially corrosive nature
of some narcissistic traits as an obvious
disadvantage or indicator of pathology, such a
value judgment should not cloud our evaluations
of whether or not these traits (and their associated
social strategies) are an advantage to their car-
riers. Indeed, the boldness of narcissists allows
them to use their self-assured charm to gain the
higher social standing they think they deserve.
The enticement of enhanced social standing
serves to ensure that narcissists both seek, and
often obtain, social status, which in turn allows
them to garner resources. In addition to striving
for social dominance, narcissists tend to have a
less restricted sociosexuality, which facilitates
a short-term mating strategy in both men and
women. For men, such a strategy usually entails
maximizing the number of female sexual partners
and hence their reproductive output. For women,
this likely means placing greater importance on
the genetic quality (i.e., symmetry, health, mascu-
linity) of her partner than on the partners
commitment to a long-term relationship. The
combination of heightened status and a propensity
to engage in short-term mating serves to explain
both the proximate advantage to carriers and the
ultimate origins of narcissistic traits in the human
lineage.
Elevated status is a means of controlling
resources (both social and physical), which con-
fers a survival advantage. A short-term mating
strategy serves to make a high number or greater
quality of offspring more likely, with high status
facilitating even more opportunity to engage in
short-term mating. This dual selective pressure
(rst detailed by Holtzman and Donnellan 2015)
helps to explain why natural selection would
favor narcissistic traits and would allow them to
persist across generations despite their potential
social cost.
Adaptation or Disorder: Is Narcissism an
Advantage?
The clinical psychology literature is replete with
examples of the social malfunctioning of narcis-
sistic individuals (see Skodol et al. 2014). Despite
the potential pitfalls of narcissistic traits at
extremely high levels (Back et al. 2013; Foster
et al. 2016), new data are challenging old
Narcissism 3
assumptions regarding the benets of narcissistic
traits at low to moderate levels (Foster et al. 2016;
Holtzman and Donnellan 2015). The substantial
heritability of narcissistic traits, and the way they
facilitate not only heightened acquisition of status
and resources, but also the securing of short-term
mates, leaves open the possibility that narcissistic
personalities can be thought of as a suite of
(largely) adaptive traits, whose benets tend to
outweigh their costs. The psychopathology typi-
cally associated with narcissistic personality dis-
order (NPD) only exists in a small percentage of
the population, and even these maladaptations
may be better explained by comorbid personality
disorders or other psychopathologies (see Skodol
et al. 2014). In sum, narcissistic traits can be
thought of as an adaptive cognitive and behavioral
style giving carriers not only the entitlement to
take what they want (resources, status, desirable
mates), but also the social tools to obtain them.
Conclusion
Narcissistic traits are associated with a grandiose
sense of self, entitlement, and the use of bold and
exploitative social strategies to gain social atten-
tion and prominence. While at extreme levels (i.e.,
NPD) narcissistic traits can be construed as mal-
adaptive, the demonstrable social benets associ-
ated with low to moderate levels of narcissism
reveal the possibility of adaptive design via natu-
ral selection. Future research should test hypoth-
eses associated with the positive benets of
narcissism, such as status attainment, favorable
mating opportunities, and most importantly mea-
surable reproductive output. Such considerations
must be balanced against the potential social costs
of narcissistic traits dissolution of social rela-
tionships, social isolation, and antagonistic or
hostile interpersonal styles. Only rigorous hypoth-
esis testing will inform our understanding of nar-
cissism as an adaptation, a disorder, or both, and
reveal whether narcissists see success or failure
when they peer into the (gene)pool.
Cross-References
Egoistic Versus Prosocial
Self-esteem
Sociosexuality
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4 Narcissism
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