Why Are Narcissists so Charming at First Sight? Decoding the
Narcissism–Popularity Link at Zero Acquaintance
Mitja D. Back
Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Stefan C. Schmukle
Westfa¨lische Wilhelms-University Mu¨nster
Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
On the basis of a realistic behavioral approach, the authors showed that narcissists are popular at zero
acquaintance and aimed to explain why this is the case. In Study 1, a group of psychology freshmen (N⫽
73) judged each other on the basis of brief self-introductions using a large round-robin design (2,628
dyads). Three main findings were revealed: First, narcissism leads to popularity at first sight. Second, the
aspects of narcissism that are most maladaptive in the long run (exploitativeness/entitlement) proved to
be most attractive at zero acquaintance. Third, an examination of observable verbal and nonverbal
behaviors as well as aspects of physical appearance provided an explanation for why narcissists are more
popular at first sight. Results were confirmed using judgments of uninvolved perceivers under 3 different
conditions for which the amount of available information was varied systematically: (a) full information
(video and sound, Study 2), (b) nonverbal information only (video only, Study 3), or (c) physical
information only (still photograph of clothing, Study 4). These findings have important implications for
understanding the inter- and intrapersonal dynamics of narcissism.
Keywords: narcissism, interpersonal attraction, popularity, zero acquaintance, lens model
Legions of lusty men and bevies of girls desired him.—Ovid, 2004,
Book III, Narcissus and Echo, line 353
Narcissism is conceptualized as a dysfunctional form of overly
high self-esteem and a grandiose view of the self that is associated
with a number of intra- and interpersonal problems (Morf &
Rhodewalt, 2001). While narcissists love the picture they have of
themselves, for most people, narcissists are annoying and dislik-
able because they behave in a manner that is rather selfish, overly
dominant, hostile, and arrogant (e.g., Colvin, Block, & Funder,
1995; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Paulhus, 1998).
Things should, however, be different when first meeting a
narcissist. We postulate that narcissists are more popular at first
sight than nonnarcissists. In sources even outside of Greek my-
thology, narcissists are often described as possessing an immedi-
ately perceived charming and charismatic air (Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001; Young & Pinsky, 2006). These anecdotal descriptions sug-
gest that the narcissist’s striving for admiration turns us off in the
long run but fascinates us at first sight. Their manipulation ten-
dencies might be ineffective for the development of intense social
relationships but effective at zero acquaintance. Few studies have
in fact analyzed the impressions that narcissists make in the early
stages of getting acquainted. As a case in point, Paulhus (1998)
found that indeed narcissists made better impressions on peers
after an initial interactive group meeting (short-term acquain-
The present study aimed to detect and decode the impressions
that narcissists make at zero acquaintance, that is, when there has
been no interaction prior to the judgments. On the basis of a
realistic behavioral approach, we investigated (a) whether narcis-
sists are indeed more popular at first sight, (b) which facets of
narcissism are most influential in predicting popularity, (c) which
aspects of physical appearance and which behaviors explain the
popularity of narcissists in real-life situations, and (d) how much
information is needed to make narcissists more popular at zero
The Interpersonal Consequences of Narcissism
Formally, narcissism can be defined as a pervasive pattern of
grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994). Since the concept of narcissism has been
introduced in the psychological literature (Ellis, 1898; Freud,
1914/1990), many researchers have analyzed the psychological
structure and the intra- and interpersonal processes of narcissism.
Psychoanalytic theory (e.g., Kernberg, 1980; Kohut, 1977) de-
Mitja D. Back and Boris Egloff, Department of Psychology, Johannes
Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany; Stefan C. Schmukle, Department
of Psychology, Westfa¨lische Wilhelms-University Mu¨nster, Germany.
This research was supported by German Research Foundation (DFG)
Grant BA 3731/1-1 awarded to Mitja D. Back. We thank Anastasia Bro¨ske,
Sarah Dudenho¨ffer, Sascha Haun, Sarah Hirschmu¨ller, Joachim Marschall,
Anna Pohl, Tina Seidel, and Juliane Stopfer for their help with data
collection and Sarah Hirschmu¨ller, Albrecht Ku¨fner, Steffen Nestler, and
Juliane Stopfer for inspiring discussions on this research and comments on
an earlier version of this manuscript.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mitja D.
Back, Department of Psychology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz,
55099 Mainz, Germany. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2010 American Psychological Association
2010, Vol. 98, No. 1, 132–145 0022-3514/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0016338
scribed narcissists as being overly engaged with the self (ego
libido), not valuing others very much (object libido), and having
premature relationships with others.
Recent conceptions similarly characterize narcissism as follows:
A grandiose yet vulnerable self-concept [. . .] underlies the chronic
goal of obtaining continuous external self-affirmation. Because nar-
cissists are insensitive to others’ concerns and social constraints and
view others as inferior, their self-regulatory efforts often are counter-
productive and ultimately prevent the positive feedback that they
seek—thus undermining the self that they are trying to create and
maintain (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001, p. 177).
Additionally, the disposition of impulsivity seems to play an
important role: Narcissists “lack the self-control necessary to in-
hibit the behaviors that thwart the attainment of their goals”
(Vazire & Funder, 2006).
In terms of their interpersonal behavior, narcissists are generally
described as craving attention and admiration, prone to demon-
strating their superiority, and showing arrogant and aggressive
communication behavior (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Vazire &
Funder, 2006). When examining interpersonal self-report corre-
lates, narcissism is, for example, related to disagreeableness, hos-
tility, selfism, and aggressive tendencies (Emmons, 1984, 1987;
Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991b; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995).
Altogether, narcissism is thus thought of as a problematic and
maladaptive interpersonal trait. But how do others actually react
when confronted with a narcissist?
Interpersonal Short-Term Consequences of Narcissism
Narcissists are more short-term oriented, looking for immediate
admiration rather than mutual liking (Emmons, 1989; Morf &
Rhodewalt, 2001). Interestingly, these interpersonal motivations
might indeed lead to short-term social benefits. Narcissists are
often described as “charming and socially facile,” and as a conse-
quence of this charm, we might be “initially attracted to such
individuals” (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001, p. 177). It is sometimes
assumed that “their extraverted behavior and desire to be liked can
make them enjoyable to work with initially” and that “narcissists
tend to create drama and, thus, are entertaining to watch” (Young
& Pinsky, 2006, p. 470).
Paulhus (1998) conducted one of the rare studies that directly
analyzed the effects of narcissism on interpersonal consequences.
He investigated student work groups that met weekly for 20 min
for 7 consecutive weeks. In each meeting, a discussion topic was
assigned (e.g., positive and negative qualities of the self, worries,
and concerns). After the first meeting of the student work groups,
narcissistic students were evaluated as more agreeable, conscien-
tious, open, competent, entertaining, and well adjusted by their
peers. Another study on perceptions of people with personality
disorders showed that targets who exhibited features of histrionic
and narcissistic personality disorders were judged as more likable
by unacquainted observers on the basis of thin slices (30 s) of their
videotaped behavior during a diagnostic interview (Oltmanns,
Friedman, Fiedler, & Turkheimer, 2004).
Colvin and colleagues (Colvin et al., 1995; Study 3), however,
report immediate negative social reactions toward people who
self-enhance—a personality characteristic closely related to nar-
cissism (e.g., John & Robins, 1994): Observers watched video-
taped dyadic debates and judged self-enhancers negatively con-
cerning a variety of social behaviors, including bragging, acting
irritable, expressing hostility, and exhibiting poor social skills.
Observers also judged the self-enhancers as being less liked by
their interaction partners. In another recent study, no effects of
narcissism on attractiveness ratings based on facial shots could be
found, and the authors concluded that narcissists “pose a unique
study of self— but not other—admiration” (Bleske-Rechek,
Remiker, & Baker, 2008, p. 424).
Interpersonal Long-Term Consequences of Narcissism
The study by Paulhus (1998) suggests that narcissists are rather
disliked at long-term acquaintance: After the seventh meeting,
people who scored higher on narcissism prior to group assignment
were rated as less agreeable, less well adjusted, less warm, and
more hostile and arrogant by their peers. This pattern of results
nicely resembles the self-report correlates of narcissism. Studies
on the interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement yielded
very similar results: Having an overly positive self-perception has
negative psychological implications on a wide range of different
indicators, including interpersonal judgments (e.g., Anderson,
Ames, & Gosling, 2008; Colvin et al., 1995; Kwan, John, Robins,
& Kuang, 2008; Robins & Beer, 2001). Whereas the self-
enhancing nature of narcissism is purported to foster self-esteem
via certain illusionary intrapersonal mechanisms (Taylor & Brown,
1988, 1994; Taylor, Lerner, Sherman, Sage, & McDowell, 2003),
it is “over the long term an ineffective interpersonal strategy with
both friends and acquaintances and, therefore, the growth or de-
velopment of self” (Colvin et al., 1995, p. 1161).
To better understand how narcissism affects interpersonal judg-
ments after short-term and long-term acquaintance, it is first nec-
essary to understand the initial (i.e., zero acquaintance) impres-
sions that others have of narcissists. The effect of narcissism on
popularity at zero acquaintance in a real-life context has yet to be
studied. In the present study, we aimed to reveal the first impres-
sions that narcissists make and to examine the processes through
which narcissism influences these important interpersonal starting
A Lens Model Approach for Understanding
Narcissism and Popularity at First Sight
How could narcissism influence popularity at zero acquain-
tance? To answer this question, one has to consider the processes
that lead from personality to interpersonal judgments in general.
Process models of interpersonal judgments, like the realistic accu-
racy model (RAM; Funder, 1995, 1999) or the lens model (Brun-
swik, 1956; Funder, 2001), have been applied for empirical exam-
inations of the accuracy of interpersonal judgments in realistic
contexts (Back, Schmukle, & Egloff, 2008c; Borkenau & Liebler,
1992; Funder & Sneed, 1993; Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli, & Morris,
2002; Mehl, Gosling, & Pennebaker, 2006; Vazire, Naumann,
Rentfrow, & Gosling, 2008). According to these models, a target’s
personality can only be inferred correctly when it is correlated with
relevant and observable cues in a given situation and when per-
ceivers observe these cues and use them correctly for their judg-
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
This line of reasoning can be adapted for investigating the
popularity of narcissists: Narcissism can only influence popularity
when (a) it correlates with observable cue differences in a given
situation (e.g., narcissism leads to smiling) and (b) perceivers
consensually observe and use these cues in their attraction ratings
(e.g., smiling leads to liking). According to this lens model ap-
proach to narcissism and popularity, the interpersonal success of
narcissists at first sight depends on the cues they immediately
produce when meeting others for the first time. At zero acquain-
tance, we do not have any direct information about the thoughts,
feelings, opinions, preferences, or the life stories of others. How-
ever, even first impressions offer some information about targets.
Most important, at zero acquaintance the targets’ physical appear-
ance and thin slices of their nonverbal and verbal behaviors are
accessible. On the basis of our lens model approach, we expect that
narcissists are indeed more popular at first sight because they
produce physical, nonverbal, and verbal cues that are related to
four generally valued aspects of targets: attractiveness, compe-
tence, interpersonal warmth, and humor (Berscheid & Reis, 1998).
Physical attractiveness is associated with social benefits in a
number of relevant situations: Physically attractive people are gen-
erally more liked and are evaluated more positively than less attractive
people (Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, &
Longo, 1991; Feingold, 1992; Jackson, Hunter, & Hodge, 1995;
Langlois et al., 2000). At zero acquaintance, narcissists may ap-
pear more attractive because they are more likely to wear expen-
sive, flashy, and neatly kept clothing as well as a more dressed-up
hairstyle (Vazire et al., 2008). These easily accessible and salient
cues are expected to be positively evaluated by most perceivers at
At zero acquaintance, competence is most clearly conveyed by
nonverbal signs of dominance or social potency (Ellyson &
Dovidio, 1985), cues that have been shown to influence the pos-
itivity of interpersonal judgments (DePaulo, 1992; Keating et al.,
1981; Murphy, 2007). For instance, nonverbal body signals of
self-assuredness (e.g., stooped vs. straight posture) might foster
popularity. Narcissism is among other characteristics defined by
striving for dominance, entitlement, and superiority (Emmons,
1987; Raskin & Hall, 1979). Self-promotional coping processes of
narcissists might protect self-esteem in the stressful context of
meeting important others for the first time (Taylor, Wayment, &
Collins, 1993) and, as a consequence, contribute to more self-
assured and less nervous behavior. Their motivation and ability to
self-present is even higher when the opportunity is given to en-
hance and compare themselves (Wallace & Baumeister, 2002).
Moreover, many of the problematic dominance-oriented commu-
nicative behaviors of narcissists, which are usually perceived as
threatening and arrogant, are not apparent at zero acquaintance.
Although their tendency to manipulate others and to show off is
not an effective strategy in the long run, it is more likely to lead to
a favorable impression at first sight (Tice, Butler, Muraven, &
Interpersonal warmth at first sight is most strongly related to
nonverbal facial cues: The attentiveness, friendliness, and self-
assuredness of facial expressions should influence attraction at
first sight (Cashdan, 1998; Friedman, Riggio, & Casella, 1988;
Harker & Keltner, 2001; Reis et al., 1990; Shrout & Fiske, 1981).
Narcissists are used to and enjoy presenting themselves and expe-
rience a rise in positive affect during an evaluative performance
(Robins & Beer, 2001). Narcissists are moreover often described
as having a charismatic air (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Young &
Pinsky, 2006), which has been defined as “a dramatic flair involv-
ing the desire and ability to communicate emotions and thereby
inspire others” (Friedman et al., 1988, p. 204). They also tend to be
more impulsive (Vazire & Funder, 2006). All of this should
provide them with a more charming facial expression at first sight.
Moreover, the same dispositional (being impulsive), motiva-
tional (desire to present themselves), affective (enjoy presenting
themselves), and behavioral tendencies (ability to entertain others)
should make narcissists appear more humorous. Joking around and
contributing original or witty verbal expressions might contribute
to the narcissist’s charisma.
In summary, we assume that narcissism predicts all of the four
relevant cue domains—attractiveness, from their flashy and neat
attire; interpersonal warmth, from their charming glances at strang-
ers; competence, from their self-assured behavior; and humor,
from their witty verbal expressions. As a result, they thus should
enjoy greater initial popularity than non-narcissists.
Facets of Narcissism and Popularity at First Sight
According to Emmons (1984, 1987), four facets of narcissism
can be distinguished: Leadership/Authority (L/A; enjoying being a
leader and being seen as an authority), Self-Absorption/Self-
Admiration (S/S; admiring one’s own physical appearance and
personality), Superiority/Arrogance (S/A; overestimation of one’s
own abilities, underlying themes of superiority and grandiosity),
and Exploitativeness/Entitlement (E/E; interpersonal manipula-
tion, expectations of favors, exploitation of others). These facets
are only moderately intercorrelated.
Most important, they are thought not only to represent different
aspects of narcissism but also to differ in their adaptiveness. The
L/A facet correlates with many self-reported personality charac-
teristics that are conceived of as being beneficial, like extraversion,
warmth, social boldness, dominance, lower neuroticism, and a less
negative self-focus (Emmons, 1984, 1987). People who score high
on this subscale report more overall social support as well as less
perceived psychological distress (Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995). It is
thus assumed that this component “may represent healthier aspects
of narcissism” (Emmons, 1987, p. 14).
In contrast, the E/E component is thought to “tap the maladap-
tive and possibly pathological aspects of narcissism” (Emmons,
1987, p. 14). It correlates positively with self-reported measures of
neuroticism, anxiety, tenseness, aggression, and suspiciousness
(Emmons, 1984), and a number of other psychological problems
(Raskin & Novacek, 1989). This facet of narcissism is related to a
lack of empathy and agreeableness, a lower perceived availability
of communication partners, and a greater number of self-reported
hassles (Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995; Watson, Grisham, Trotter, &
Biderman, 1984). It is moreover the only facet that correlates with
measures of pathological narcissism (Emmons, 1984).
Research on the interpersonal reactions that narcissists actually
evoke has, however, only concentrated on narcissism as a unique
construct thus far. What about the facets’ influence on popularity
at first sight? Following past research on narcissism facets, the
most adaptive aspect of narcissism is the L/A facet and the most
maladaptive aspect is the E/E facet (Emmons, 1984, 1987; Raskin
& Novacek, 1989). According to this view, enjoying being a leader
134 BACK, SCHMUKLE, AND EGLOFF
and being seen as an authority figure generally have fewer nega-
tive and some positive interpersonal consequences, whereas a
sense of entitlement and a tendency toward interpersonal manip-
ulation and exploitation of others are clearly interpersonally dis-
advantageous. Following this “consistent specificity” hypothesis,
the generally adaptive L/A facet should rather lead to popularity,
whereas the generally maladaptive E/E facet should lead to un-
popularity at zero acquaintance.
When considering the relevant intrapersonal processes and ob-
servable cues at zero acquaintance, the specific influence of nar-
cissism facets could, however, also be different. First, the positive
aspects of L/A might be difficult to recognize at zero acquaintance.
Perhaps more intense and task-oriented interactions are needed to
show that one is an authority and knows how to lead others.
Second, people high in E/E should be most strongly motivated to
make a good impression on their peers because the narcissist’s
striving for admiration is most strongly pronounced in the E/E
component (Emmons, 1984; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). As a
consequence, they should show more effort to impress their peers.
Third, E/E tendencies are related to higher social desirability
scores (Watson et al., 1984), higher public self-consciousness, and
a more other-directed self-monitoring style than other facets of
narcissism (Emmons, 1984), which can lead to a more streamlined
appearance and behavior at zero acquaintance. Fourth, E/E narcis-
sists have higher manipulation motivations and habits and are thus
well trained and experienced in influencing others. Their higher
effort to impress others may thus indeed be successful, even more
because manipulative and showing-off behaviors are more effec-
tive at zero acquaintance (Tice et al., 1995). Fifth, in contrast to
other facets of narcissism, E/E narcissists are known to have a
higher affective intensity and variability (Emmons, 1987): They
show more emotions and more variable emotions, potentially
making them more salient and charming at first sight. Following
this “paradoxical specificity” hypothesis, L/A should have no
relevant effect on popularity at zero acquaintance, whereas E/E
narcissists should positively impress their peers because they most
strongly possess the kinds of intrapersonal processes and observ-
able cues that should make narcissists popular at first sight.
The Present Research
In the present research, we investigated the popularity of nar-
cissists at zero acquaintance. We analyzed (a) whether narcissists
are indeed more popular at first sight, (b) which facets of narcis-
sism are most important for determining popularity, (c) how these
narcissism–popularity links can be explained by actual appear-
ances and behaviors at first sight, and (d) how much information
is necessary to make narcissists popular at first sight.
Are Narcissists Really More Popular at First Sight?
To date, there are only a few studies that have investigated the
early interpersonal consequences of narcissism and related traits,
with some showing a positive effect (Oltmanns et al., 2004;
Paulhus, 1998) and other studies finding no effect (Bleske-Rechek
et al., 2008) or a negative influence on interpersonal judgments
(Colvin et al., 1995). Interpersonal consequences of narcissism at
zero acquaintance in a meaningful social context have not yet been
investigated. On the basis of a lens model approach, we expected
narcissists to be more popular at first sight.
Which Facets of Narcissism Lead to Popularity
at First Sight?
A number of narrower traits can be distinguished, which to-
gether make up the broader personality construct of narcissism.
These facets of narcissism are reported to differ with respect to
their adaptive value (Emmons, 1984, 1987; Raskin & Novacek,
1989). We thus analyzed which specific facets of narcissism cor-
relate with being liked at zero acquaintance. According to the
consistent specificity hypothesis, the E/E facet is rather unattrac-
tive, whereas the L/A facet fosters popularity. In contrast, the
paradoxical specificity hypothesis assumes that the E/E facet
should be most strongly related to popularity, whereas L/A should
have no impact on being liked at zero acquaintance.
Which Physical Appearances and Behavioral Cues
Mediate the Effect of Narcissism on Popularity
at First Sight?
Finally, we aimed to gain a more detailed and realistic insight
into narcissism and popularity at first sight. To find out why
narcissism is related to popularity at first sight, we analyzed how
narcissism manifests at first sight and which of the observable cues
lead to popularity. To this end, we included those aspects of
physical appearance and nonverbal behavior that are observable at
zero acquaintance. Most important, we expected that the influence
of narcissism on popularity is mediated by the flashiness and
neatness of the target’s dress, the charming quality of their facial
expression, the self-assuredness of their nonverbal body move-
ments, and the humorousness of their verbal expressions.
How Much Information Is Necessary to Make
Narcissists Popular at First Sight?
Albeit first impressions occur in almost no time and without
much effort (e.g., Bar, Neta, & Linz, 2006; Duckworth, Bargh,
Garcia, & Chaiken, 2002), interpersonal attraction at zero acquain-
tance in a real-life context relies on a variety of different kinds of
information provided by targets: Physical cues like clothing and
hairdo; nonverbal cues like gestures, mimicry, and posture; and
verbal cues like the content of what targets say.
In the context of personality judgments at zero acquaintance, it
has been shown that thin slices of behavior are sufficient for
producing accurate impressions (e.g., Borkenau & Liebler, 1992;
Borkenau, Mauer, Riemann, Spinath, & Angleitner, 2004; Funder
& Sneed, 1993; Levesque & Kenny, 1993; Mehl et al., 2006). In
many cases, thinning the slices (shortening the presentation time or
reducing the number of qualitatively different kinds of informa-
tion) did not even result in a relevant loss of accuracy (Ambady &
Rosenthal, 1992, 1993; Ambady & Skowronski, 2008; Borkenau
& Liebler, 1992).
In a similar fashion, we additionally wanted to analyze how
much information is needed to make narcissists more popular at
first sight. Do observers have to be in the same room to “breathe”
the narcissist’s charismatic air? Are the voices of narcissists nec-
essary for making them popular? What about the importance of
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
nonverbal information— could nice clothing suffice for im-
pressing others at first sight? To answer these questions, we
systematically reduced the amount of information observer
judgments were based on.
Study 1: Real-Life Judgments (Round-Robin)
In Study 1, we aimed to examine popularity at first sight while
simultaneously using a realistic and meaningful social context for
both targets and perceivers involving a self-introduction to and
judging of unacquainted but prospectively important others. Are
narcissists really more popular in such a situation? Moreover, we
wished to determine whether facets of narcissism differ in their
impact on interpersonal attraction at zero acquaintance. Finally, we
aimed to explain the narcissism–popularity link at first sight. We
expected that theoretically derived physical appearances and non-
verbal and auditory cues would be correlated with both narcissism
and popularity and would mediate the impact of narcissism and its
facets on popularity.
Participants. A single age-group of psychology freshmen
encountering one another for the first time was investigated. Par-
ticipants were 52 female and 21 male students from various places
of origin in Germany.
Their average age was 22.32 years (SD ⫽
4.57). Of importance is that they were unacquainted before the
start of the experiment.
Procedure. The experiment took place at the beginning of an
introductory session for freshmen studying psychology. Students
received a randomly assigned seat number when entering the room
and took their assigned place. Beginning at the right-hand side of
each row, they were then requested to individually step forward to
a marked spot on the floor and briefly introduce themselves. These
self-introductions were videotaped and ranged in length from 4.00
to 21.30 s (M⫽7.49, SD ⫽2.99). Immediately after each
introduction, participants were evaluated by the other freshmen.
Following evaluation, the students in each respective row all
moved one seat to the right, and the evaluated participant took the
empty seat at the far left-hand side of the row. This procedure was
repeated, row by row, until all students had been rated. Finally,
participants were administered a questionnaire to be completed at
Narcissism measures. For the measurement of narcissism
and its facets, targets filled out the German version (Schu¨tz,
Marcus, & Sellin, 2004) of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory
(NPI; Raskin & Terry, 1988). In addition to the global measure of
narcissism, the Emmons’ (1984, 1987) four facets of the NPI were
Cue measures. Self-introduction videos were technically ed-
ited to obtain (a) a still photograph of the body, (b) the silent film,
and (c) the auditory tape for each target. These files were then used
to obtain multiple cue values for each target. To this end, four
groups of independent and trained observers (four observers per
group) rated (a) physical cues (e.g., colorfulness of dress) based on
pictures of the body, (b) nonverbal body cues (e.g., stooped vs.
straight posture) and (c) nonverbal facial cues (e.g., friendly vs.
grumpy facial expression) based on the silent film, and (d) verbal
cues (e.g., conventional vs. original introduction) based on the
sound only. The selection of cues was designed to cover all of the
relevant cue domains and was inspired by other established sys-
tems of behavioral observation (e.g., Asendorpf, 1987; Back,
Schmukle, & Egloff, in press; Borkenau & Liebler, 1992; Egloff &
Schmukle, 2002; Funder, Furr, & Colvin, 2000).
Ratings for stylishness of hair ranged from 1 (not at all)to7
(very much). All other ratings were performed on scales ranging
from 1 (not at all)to6(very much). Reliabilities of cue value
ratings ranged from .66 for “unfashionable versus fashionable
dress” to .87 for “conventional– original content of speech,” with a
mean alpha coefficient of .80 (SD ⫽0.06; Mdn ⫽.81). Objective
cue values were additionally gathered by categorization (e.g., uses
a salutation). Cue values were zstandardized and averaged to
obtain aggregate cue measures of “flashy and neat dress”
(uncolored– colorful dress, unfashionable–fashionable dress,
casual– chic dress, unstylish–stylish dress, unstylish–stylish hair),
“charming facial expression” (timid–self-assured facial expres-
sion, grumpy–friendly facial expression), “self-assuredness of
body movements” (stooped–straight posture, withdrawn– dominant
behavior, awkward–smooth body movement), and “humorous verbal
expression” (uses a salutation, conventional– original introduction,
serious– casual introduction). Reliabilities of these cue aggregates
were ␣⫽.75 for “flashy and neat dress,” ␣⫽.57 for “charming facial
expression,” ␣⫽.67 for “self-assuredness of body movements,” and
␣⫽.56 for “humorous verbal expression.
Popularity measure. Each participant rated all other students
on two rating scales intended to measure interpersonal attraction
that ranged from 0 (not at all)to5(very much) (“How likeable do
you find this person?”, “Would you like to get to know this
person?”). This resulted in a large round-robin design with 73 ⫻
72 ⫻2⫽10,512 ratings. Bivariate social relations analyses for
round-robin data (Bond & Lashley, 1996; Kenny, 1994; Kenny,
Kashy, & Cook, 2006) indicated that the attraction ratings each
The analyses reported in this study are based on data that were
collected in the “Mainz Freshman Study” (MFS). This is the third article to
come out of the extensive MFS data set, and the analyses do not overlap
with the previous projects, which focused on a combination of the lens
model and the social relations model (Back et al., 2008b), and the effect of
seat assignment on friendship development (Back, Schmukle, & Egloff,
Although previous acquaintance between participants was highly un-
likely, we asked participants about prior acquaintance between each pair of
students. Out of the total sum of 2,628 dyads (73 ⫻72/2), only 10 indicated
prior acquaintance. Treating the ratings of these dyads as missing data did
not change results in any significant way.
In light of the broadness of the cue aggregates and the limited number
of multiply determined, single behavioral indicators, we regarded these
numbers as acceptable. Additionally, we would like to point out that when
analyzing the reliability of behavioral measures, it is necessary to consider
the individual specificity of behavioral responses (see Asendorpf, 1988, for
a detailed discussion). Many behavioral indicators (e.g., verbal humor) that
can be identified at the group level (e.g., using an original expression) are
not interchangeable at the individual level. Some people show their humor
by using an introduction, others by being very original, and others by being
very casual. This unavoidably leads to low internal consistency of the
behavioral aggregate. In a study on the behavioral assessment of shyness,
Asendorpf (1988) was, however, able to show that an aggregate of behav-
ioral measures with low intercorrelations can nevertheless be a valid
136 BACK, SCHMUKLE, AND EGLOFF
contained a significant portion of perceiver variance (13%), target
variance (13%), and relationship variance (49%) (all ps⬍.001).
Target variance is a measure of consensus and indicates the extent
to which some targets received higher attraction ratings (are pop-
ular) and others received lower attraction ratings (are unpopular).
There was thus a highly significant agreement between perceivers
for who was likable and who was not. Target effects of attraction
for each participant constituted our measure of popularity at first
Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations for the narcis-
sism measures can be found in Table 1. In order to find out
whether narcissists were more popular at first sight, we correlated
the targets’ narcissism scores with popularity scores (see Table 2).
Results revealed that narcissists are popular at first sight. This
positive interpersonal effect was more pronounced for the E/E
To explain why narcissism in general and the E/E facet in
particular had such a positive interpersonal effect, we con-
ducted lens model analyses by examining the observable phys-
ical, nonverbal, and verbal cues (see Table 3). First, we ana-
lyzed whether narcissism is related to these cues at zero
acquaintance. Therefore, we computed partial correlations be-
tween each narcissism measure and all of the single cues as well
as the cue aggregates, thereby controlling for the targets’ gender
As can be seen on the left-hand side of Table 3,
narcissism and its facets were substantially related to all of the
cue domains with somewhat more consistent and stronger cor-
relations for the E/E facet. Second, we analyzed what kinds of
observable cues predicted popularity scores. As can be seen on
the right-hand side of Table 3, all of the cue domains that were
related to narcissism also predicted being liked by involved
observers. A path analysis using Mplus (Muthe´n & Muthe´n,
2006) showed that the effect of narcissism was mediated by the
observable cues it elicits at zero acquaintance (indirect effect ⫽
.256, p⬍.05; direct effect ⫽⫺.034, ns). The same was true for
the effect of E/E on popularity (indirect effect ⫽.211, p⬍.05;
direct effect ⫽.038, ns).
According to our lens model approach, narcissism can only
influence interpersonal attraction at first sight when (a) narcissism
is related to observable cues in the given situation and (b) perceiv-
ers detect these cues and use them for their attraction judgments at
zero acquaintance (Back, Schmukle, & Egloff, 2008b; Funder,
1995). Both prerequisites were met in Study 1. The main results of
this study are summarized in Figure 1: In the situation in which
individuals introduced themselves to potentially meaningful peers,
narcissists exhibited neater and flashier appearances, more charm-
ing facial expressions, more self-assured body movements, and
more humorous verbal expressions. Of importance is that these
cues were evaluated as positive by unacquainted peers. Conse-
quently, narcissists were indeed more popular at first sight. The
zero acquaintance adaptiveness of narcissism was moreover
mainly due to the positive impact of the E/E facet. In accordance
with the paradoxical specificity hypothesis and in contrast to the
consistent specificity hypothesis, those with a sense of entitlement
and a tendency to exploit others most strongly impressed their
fellow students at first sight.
Study 2: Video-Based Judgments (Full Information)
In Study 2, we aimed to investigate the impressions that
narcissists make on others who are exposed to the full amount
of information available from the short videotaped self-
introductions from Study 1. In comparison to involved perceiv-
ers from Study 1, unacquainted observers in Study 2 did not
perceive targets in such an immediate way (they were not in the
same room), making it impossible to “breathe” the narcissist’s
charismatic air. Moreover, perceivers knew that they were not
evaluated themselves and that they would never meet the targets
they were asked to judge—targets were thus unimportant to
them. Would narcissists nevertheless impress perceivers at zero
acquaintance? We wanted to determine whether (a) narcissists
are liked more than their peers by uninvolved perceivers at zero
acquaintance, (b) the effect of narcissism on immediate social
judgments is again specifically positive for the E/E facet, and
(c) results can be explained by the observable cues that were
Observers. Ninety-five participants (57 women) served as
observers in exchange for research participation credit or monetary
compensation. Their average age was 24.61 years (SD ⫽4.20).
Procedure. Videotaped self-introductions from Study 1 were
separately stored for each target. These files were then used to
obtain the interpersonal judgments on a personal computer using
the program Inquisit (Draine, 2001). Participants were seated in
front of a computer in separate cubicles. They were informed that
they would be required to make a series of attraction ratings. In
each trial, one of the video files was presented. Immediately after
presentation, rating scales were displayed and observers evaluated
the target. There was no time constraint for evaluations, but
observers were instructed as follows: “You don’t have to think too
much about your evaluations, just respond as spontaneously as
possible.” Trial order was randomized.
Popularity measure. Observers rated each target on two
rating scales intended to measure interpersonal attraction that
ranged from 0 (not at all)to5(⫽very much) (“likable,” “sim-
patico”). Individual popularity measures for each observer were
computed by averaging across these items. There was substantial
consensus for who was evaluated positively and who was evalu-
ated negatively, intraclass correlation [ICC](2,k) ⫽.95,
ICC(2,1) ⫽.16, p⬍.001. A total popularity measure was then
obtained by aggregating individual popularity measures across
In order to find out whether narcissists really were more popular
at first sight, we correlated popularity with the targets’ narcissism
Gender and age had almost no effect on any of our analyses. Accord-
ingly, when not controlling for gender and age, results were very similar
for all of the cue analyses reported in the article.
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
scores (see Table 4, Column 1). Results revealed an interpersonal
advantage for narcissists at first sight: They were more liked.
However, this narcissism–popularity link was not uniformly
present for each of the narcissism facets. Whereas the L/A facet
was virtually uncorrelated with first impressions, the E/E facet
significantly predicted popularity at first sight. How could
narcissism affect popularity at first sight? As can be seen in
Column 1 of Table 5, all of the cue domains that were related
to narcissism also predicted popularity. People, for instance,
who wore more colorful clothing, had more friendly facial
expressions, exhibited straighter body posture, or spoke with
more casual verbal expressions were immediately liked more.
For a more formal test of our mediational hypothesis, we
performed a path analysis using Mplus (Muthe´n & Muthe´n,
2006). Results showed that the popularity of narcissists was
indeed mediated by the flashiness and neatness of dress, the
charming quality of facial expression, the self-assuredness of
body movements, and the amount of expressed verbal humor
(indirect effect ⫽.226, p⬍.05; direct effect ⫽.005, ns). The
same cues mediated the effect of E/E on popularity (indirect
effect ⫽.180, p⬍.05; direct effect ⫽.123, ns).
In Study 2, we were able to show that narcissists indeed made
a positive impression on strangers at zero acquaintance. Unac-
quainted observers judged narcissists more favorably when
exposed to very brief video clips of their self-introductions.
Moreover, this positive effect was even more pronounced for
the facet described as the most maladaptive one: E/E. By
including all of the relevant observable physical, nonverbal, and
auditory cues of targets, we were able to explain narcissists’
popularity at fist sight. Mediational analyses suggest that nar-
cissists were more popular because they had a more neat and
flashy appearance, a more charming facial expression, more
self-assured body movements and, in the case of the E/E facet,
more humorous verbal expressions, all of which had a positive
impact on their peers.
Thus, investigating video-based judgments of uninvolved
observers, we were able to fully replicate the results of our
real-life judgment analyses. When observers (whether involved
or not) were exposed to the physical, nonverbal, and auditory
information from targets’ self-introductions, narcissism led to
popularity. We then aimed to replicate this pattern of results
after further reducing the amount of information the attraction
judgments were based on.
Study 3: Video-Based Judgments (No Sound)
Narcissism predicted popularity in a group of unacquainted
observers who were exposed to the full information available
from the targets’ self-introduction videos (Study 2). In Study 3,
we wanted to analyze whether this effect would persist when
observers had no auditory information (video without sound),
thereby omitting the verbal expression cues. Moreover, the
specific impact of the E/E facet of narcissism was to be verified.
Finally, we wanted to establish whether the remaining physical
and nonverbal cues mediated the effect of narcissism on pop-
Observers. Sixty-eight participants (49 women) served as
observers in exchange for research participation credit or monetary
compensation. Their average age was 21.16 years (SD ⫽3.43).
Procedure and popularity measure. Videotaped self-
introductions from Study 1 were technically edited to obtain a
silent film for each target. These files were then used to obtain the
interpersonal judgments on a personal computer using the program
Inquisit (Draine, 2001). The judgment procedure was as described
in Study 2. Again, there was substantial consensus in attraction
ratings, ICC(2,k) ⫽.94, ICC(2,1) ⫽.18, p⬍.001. A total
popularity measure was obtained by aggregating individual popu-
larity measures across observers.
Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelations for Targets’ Narcissism Scores
Predictor MSDL/A S/S S/A E/E
NPI 15.96 6.81 .78
Leadership/Authority subscale 3.53 2.11 .35
Self-absorption/Self-admiration subscale 3.30 2.24 .39
Superiority/Arrogance subscale 3.51 1.97 .45
Exploitativeness/Entitlement subscale 1.88 1.42
Note. NPI ⫽Narcissistic Personality Inventory total score; L/A ⫽Leadership/Authority subscale of the NPI; S/S ⫽Self-absorption/Self-admiration
subscale of the NPI; S/A ⫽Superiority/Arrogance subscale of the NPI; E/E ⫽Exploitativeness/Entitlement subscale of the NPI. The possible range of
means is 0 –40 for the NPI; 0–8 for L/A, S/S, and S/A; and 0–7 for E/E.
Narcissism as a Predictor of Popularity at First Sight (Study 1:
Meaningful Social Situation)
Leadership/Authority subscale .08
Self-absorption/Self-admiration subscale .14
Superiority/Arrogance subscale .13
Exploitativeness/Entitlement subscale .25
138 BACK, SCHMUKLE, AND EGLOFF
Correlations between narcissism scores and popularity can be
seen in the second column of Table 4. Whereas there was no effect
of the L/A facet and a higher but nonsignificant effect of the
narcissism total score, the E/E facet was again related to popularity
at first sight. As can be seen in the second column of Table 5, all
of the physical and nonverbal cue domains that were related to E/E
also predicted popularity. Path analysis using Mplus (Muthe´n &
Muthe´n, 2006) revealed that the popularity of narcissists who
have a sense of entitlement and tend to exploit others was medi-
ated by these cues: the flashiness and neatness of dress, the
charming quality of facial expression, and the self-assuredness of
body movements (indirect effect ⫽.184, p⬍.05; direct effect ⫽
In Study 3, we analyzed popularity based on brief soundless
self-introductions. Results showed that there was a specific posi-
tive effect of the E/E facet of narcissism on popularity even when
observers had no auditory information. This effect could moreover
again be explained by including the remaining observable cues:
E/E narcissists seemed to be more popular because they had neater
and flashier appearances, more charming facial expressions, and
more self-assured body movements.
Study 4: Video-Based Judgments (Still Photo of Body)
In a final study, we further reduced the amount of material
available for judgments and used still photographs of the body
with the face removed. This was to test whether the specific effect
of E/E on popularity would emerge when attraction judgments
were based on dress-related cues only.
Observers. Forty-five participants (22 women) served as
observers in exchange for research participation credit or monetary
compensation. Their average age was 26.06 years (SD ⫽4.63).
Procedure and popularity measure. Videotaped self-
introductions from Study 1 were technically edited to obtain a still
photograph of the body (with the face removed) for each target.
These files were then used to obtain the interpersonal judgments
on a personal computer using the program Inquisit (Draine, 2001).
The judgment procedure was as described in Study 2. Again, there
was substantial consensus in attraction ratings, ICC(2,k) ⫽.91,
ICC(2,1) ⫽.18, p⬍.001. A total popularity measure was obtained
by aggregating individual popularity measures across observers.
Correlations between narcissism and popularity can be found in
the third column of Table 4. Again, the E/E facet was related to
popularity at first sight: Unacquainted observers who saw only a
still photograph of the target’s body with the face removed eval-
uated E/E narcissists more positively. Again, a zero correlation
was found for the L/A facet and an intermediate effect for the total
score. As can be seen in the third column of Table 5, dress cues
that were related to E/E also predicted popularity. Consequently,
the flashiness and neatness of dress alone explained the positive
effect of E/E narcissists (indirect effect ⫽.149, p⬍.05; direct
effect ⫽.030, ns).
Study 4 revealed that the positive interpersonal effect of E/E is
already apparent when the target’s clothing is observed: E/E nar-
A Lens Model Analysis of Narcissism at First Sight (Study 1: Meaningful Social Situation)
Observable cues PopularityNPI L/A S/S S/A E/E
Flashy and neat dress .29
Uncolored–colorful dress .22
.16 .17 .19 .21
Unfashionable–fashionable dress .19
.18 .15 .28
Casual–chic dress .16
Unstylish–stylish dress .22
.17 ⫺.01 .21
.09 .11 Unstylish–stylish hair .26
Charming facial expression .65
.15 .19 Timid–self-assured facial expression .47
.09 .11 .18 .20
Grumpy–friendly facial expression .61
Self-assuredness of body movements .48
Stooped–straight posture .44
.13 .19 Withdrawn–dominant behavior .30
Awkward–smooth body movement .38
.03 ⫺.07 ⫺.03 .07 .21
Humorous verbal expression .34
.06 ⫺.01 .08 .06 .14 Uses a salutation .13
.00 ⫺.06 ⫺.13 .06 .15 Conventional–original introduction .30
.00 ⫺.09 ⫺.02 .03 .16 Serious–casual introduction .33
Note. Target age and gender were partialed out of correlations for all cues. Narcissism-cue and cue-popularity correlations for aggregate cue measures are shown
in boldface italics. NPI ⫽Narcissistic Personality Inventory total score; L/A ⫽Leadership/Authority subscale of the NPI; S/S ⫽Self-absorption/Self-admiration
subscale of the NPI; S/A ⫽Superiority/Arrogance subscale of the NPI; E/E ⫽Exploitativeness/Entitlement subscale of the NPI.
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
cissists can impress strangers by the flashiness and neatness of
their physical appearance alone.
The Popularity of Narcissists at First Sight
The present research aimed to detect and decode the impressions
that narcissists make at first sight. Specifically, we were interested
in four research questions. First, the popularity of narcissists was
examined. Second, we investigated which facets of narcissism are
most influential in predicting popularity. Third, we determined
which aspects of physical appearance and behavior explain the
interpersonal consequences of narcissism in a real-life situation.
Fourth, we analyzed the amount of information that is necessary
for revealing the effects of narcissism on popularity.
Are narcissists really more popular at first sight? When
perceivers were exposed to the full amount of information avail-
able from targets’ appearances and behaviors at zero acquaintance,
a significant positive effect of narcissism on popularity was found.
Narcissists indeed make a positive impression on strangers.
This was found for uninvolved as well as for highly involved
perceivers. Thus, despite the negative interpersonal consequences
of narcissism in long-term relationships, narcissists are more pop-
ular at first sight.
Interestingly, recent findings also show that narcissism is detect-
able at zero acquaintance (Vazire et al., 2008). Observers thus seem to
As supplementary analyses, we also examined attraction ratings of
uninvolved perceivers in an “audio only” condition (N⫽127) based on the
same videotaped self-introductions from Study 1. Results showed that
narcissism was not related to popularity based on the voice information
alone (r⫽.02, ns). The same was true for narcissism facets (L/A: r⫽.05,
ns, S/S: r⫽⫺.08, ns, S/A: r⫽⫺.03, ns, E/E: r⫽.06, ns). Although E/E
seemed to be related to a more humorous verbal expression (r⫽.21, p⬍
.05), and verbal humor was related to popularity in the audio-only condi-
tion (r⫽.28, p⬍.05), this was not sufficient to make E/E narcissists more
popular based on their voice only. For exploratory reasons, we also
analyzed some additional verbal cues like number of words used, speech
rate, tone of voice, calmness of voice, and loudness of voice. None of these
cues were related to narcissism and its facets, with the exception that L/A
narcissists had a somewhat calmer voice (r⫽.21, p⬍.05). Again,
although calmness of voice was perceived positively (r⫽.34, p⬍.01),
this did not make L/A narcissists more popular. Not surprisingly, given a
further reduced amount of information, no effects of narcissism and its
facets on popularity could be observed in an additional study using a
“transcript only” condition (N⫽60).
Figure 1. Lens model analysis of narcissism and popularity at first sight. The values on the curves of the figure
reflect the correlation of the narcissism full scale, the Leadership/Authority (L/A) facet, and the Exploitativeness/
Entitlement (E/E) facet with popularity. Personality-cue correlations are depicted on the left-hand side and refer
to associations between observable cues and narcissism (Column 1), L/A (Column 2), and E/E (Column 3),
respectively. On the right-hand side, cue-popularity correlations are presented. All cue correlations were
computed controlling for the targets’ gender and age.
140 BACK, SCHMUKLE, AND EGLOFF
like narcissists at first sight, although they accurately perceive their
narcissism. Perhaps, at zero acquaintance, people accurately perceive
those aspects of narcissism that also lead to popularity (e.g., the
narcissists’ charming expression) but do not detect or misjudge other
aspects (e.g., the narcissists’ low trustworthiness). Future research
might analyze this interesting pattern of results using diverse situa-
tional contexts as well as different sets of targets.
Which facet of narcissism fosters popularity at first sight?
It is of interest that the positive effect on popularity depended on
the facet of narcissism under consideration. In contrast to the
consistent specificity hypothesis and in line with the paradoxical
specificity hypothesis, the most maladaptive facet of narcissism
(E/E) was most strongly related to popularity at first sight. People
with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to manipulate and
exploit others were liked more at zero acquaintance. This was
consistently shown for uninvolved and involved perceivers as well
as for the different levels of information that the judgments were
based on. Future research might additionally examine a broader
array of interpersonal perceptions to analyze in more detail how
narcissists are perceived by others.
What are the physical appearances and behavioral cues that
mediate the effect of narcissism on popularity at first sight?
According to our lens model approach, narcissists were expected to
be popular at zero acquaintance because they should look and behave
in ways that are immediately perceived as positive. These predictions
were fully confirmed. Narcissism was related to fancier clothing, a
more charming facial expression, more self-assured body movements,
and more verbal humor, all of which led to popularity. For under-
standing the interpersonal consequences of narcissism, one has to
consider and analyze the physical appearances and the nonverbal and
verbal behaviors that are actually observable.
A lens model perspective can also be used to reconcile contra-
dictory findings concerning the short-term interpersonal conse-
quences of self-enhancement, a trait closely related to narcissism
(e.g., John & Robins, 1994). Paulhus (1998) reported that self-
enhancement is related to positive peer impressions at short-term
Narcissism as a Predictor of Popularity at First Sight (Study 2– 4: Video-Based Judgments)
Study 2: Full
Study 3: No
Study 4: Still
photo of body
Leadership/Authority subscale .05 .02 ⫺.01
Self-absorption/Self-admiration subscale .14 .06 .18
Superiority/Arrogance subscale .16 .17 .10
Exploitativeness/Entitlement subscale .30
Observable Cues as Predictors of Popularity at First Sight (Study 2– 4: Video-Based Judgments)
Study 2: Full
Study 3: No
Study 4: Still
photo of body
Flashy and neat dress .33
Uncolored–colorful dress .29
Unfashionable–fashionable dress .21
Casual–chic dress .16 .15 .26
Unstylish–stylish dress .20
Unstylish–stylish hair .31
Charming facial expression .59
Timid–self-assured facial expression .33
Grumpy–friendly facial expression .66
Self-assuredness of body movements .38
Stooped–straight posture .37
Withdrawn–dominant behavior .15 .19
Awkward–smooth body movement .39
Humorous verbal expression .35
Uses a salutation .11
Conventional–original introduction .28
Serious–casual introduction .37
Note. Target age and gender were partialed out of correlations for all cues. Narcissism-cue and cue-popularity
correlations for aggregate cue measures are shown in boldface italics.
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
acquaintance. Other studies, however, found that the negative
interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement are already ap-
parent at short-term acquaintance, concluding that self-enhancers
“manifest behaviors that are immediately detrimental to their so-
cial interactions” (Colvin et al., 1995, p. 1159).
According to our model, the popularity of self-enhancers de-
pends on the cues they produce in the given social situation.
Self-enhancers’ popularity is thus dependent on situational con-
straints and affordances. When an interactive situation at short-
term acquaintance fosters more intense and controversial commu-
nication (e.g., a dyadic debate about the use of capital punishment
with communication partners forced to argue for different positions;
Colvin et al., 1995), the negative social habits of self-enhancers (e.g.,
disrupting others, hostility, and arrogance) are more easily observable
and lead to more negative evaluations by others. In contrast, when the
social situation is less intense and controversial (describing a family
member’s or friend’s personality in a group meeting; Paulhus, 1998),
the positive first impressions that self-enhancers evoke in others might
hold for a longer time.
How much information is necessary to make narcissists
popular at first sight? Across studies, a very consistent pattern
of results could be revealed. Narcissists with a sense of entitlement
and a tendency to exploit others (E/E facet) were more popular at
first sight. This was true for highly involved perceivers in a
real-life setting (Study 1) as well as for uninvolved perceivers
exposed to the full information of the targets’ behaviors (Study 2),
the physical and nonverbal information (Study 3), or the physical
information only (Study 4).
These findings parallel research on the accuracy of personality
judgments based on thin slices of the targets’ behaviors and
physical appearances. In many cases, the accuracy of snap judg-
ments only increases slightly when based on more information
(Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992; Ambady & Skowronski, 2008;
Kenny, 1994). Accurate personality judgments can result even
when based solely on physical information (e.g., Borkenau &
Liebler, 1992). Specifically for narcissism, researchers have shown
that observers are able to judge targets’ narcissism on the basis of
full-body photographs (Vazire et al., 2008).
Short-Term Adaptiveness as a Reason for the
Long-Term Maladaptiveness of Narcissism
With regard to the interpersonal adaptiveness of narcissism, a
puzzling finding was revealed. Not only was narcissism—a mal-
adaptive interpersonal trait—related to popularity at first sight, but
the most maladaptive facet, E/E, was most effective in impressing
others. This paradoxical pattern is not only fascinating but al-
so—as is true for many of the narcissism paradoxes—might have
a functional meaning. We speculate that the positive social reac-
tions that narcissists evoke in others at first sight might play an
important role in maintaining their problematic interpersonal be-
havior and intrapersonal coping mechanisms that are dysfunctional
in the long run. Strangers like narcissists at zero acquaintance and
will thus immediately show more positive reactions toward them.
In this manner, however, the negative interpersonal motivations
and behavioral strategies of narcissists become reinforced, specif-
ically the most problematic aspects.
Such reinforcing signs will quickly be perceived by narcissists as a
confirmation of their superiority. Narcissists are generally “quick to
perceive (or even impose) self-esteem implications in situations that
leave room for it and then engage in characteristic social-cognitive-
affective dynamic self-regulatory strategies to maintain self-worth”
(Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001, p. 178). They generally overestimate their
positive personality characteristics (Paulhus, 1998), their contribution
to group performances (John & Robins, 1994), their physical attrac-
tiveness (Gabriel, Critelli, & Ee, 1994), and how physically attractive
they are seen by others (Rhodewalt & Eddings, 2002). But at zero
acquaintance, the feeling of being admired must be an even stronger
one because narcissists are indeed liked more, which should be
reflected in their peers’ immediate reactions.
The perception of being admired will amplify the narcissists’
problematic intra- and interpersonal strategies. Moreover, it will
strengthen their search for similar situations that will allow them to
create the positive feedback they are seeking and depend on. Being
admired by others is like a drug for narcissists. They “must
continuously ask others whether they hold admiring opinions of
the narcissists” (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001, p. 179). However,
interpersonal relationships imply a development toward more in-
timate and cooperative communication. Cooperative orientations
and behaviors are at odds with narcissists’ typical intrapersonal
processes and interpersonal strategies: They are not motivated and
not used to cooperating with others. People only serve as an
ego-booster for narcissists but do not have any value in their own
right. Moreover, due to their higher impulsivity, narcissists behave
less dependably and are less able to delay gratification (Vazire &
Funder, 2006). Narcissists also engage in status self-enhancement,
which is related to being disruptive to group processes (Anderson
et al., 2008). As time goes by, others recognize this pattern, which
leads to the typical negative interpersonal reactions and a withdrawal
of the admiration that the narcissists need. Narcissists, in turn, are not
going to change their behavior toward these persons because of their
dispositional impulsivity (Vazire & Funder, 2006) and because they
do not seek approval, but rather admiration (Raskin, Novacek, &
Hogan, 1991a). As a consequence, narcissists are continuously
searching for new acquaintances who, as they have learned, will
immediately admire them. This hinders them from establishing rela-
tionships or from sticking with social contexts in which they are
embedded for a longer period of time (Robins & Beer, 2001). In
summary, we suggest that the positive interpersonal reactions narcis-
sists evoke at zero acquaintance are an important part of the vicious
interpersonal cycle that narcissists experience.
Emmon’s Paradoxes Reconsidered
Twenty-five years ago, Robert Emmons (1984) pointed out four
apparent paradoxes that he thought should be addressed in future
research. These paradoxes are still important and prevailing topics
in research on narcissism. We summarize and reconsider them
against the background of our present research.
The first paradox Emmons (1984) mentioned refers to the dif-
ficulty of answering the adaptiveness question. In his words:
“Where the distinction is between healthy and pathological nar-
cissism is difficult to say” (p. 298). Research in the last two
decades has shown that the general adaptiveness of narcissism
depends on (a) the facet being considered (E/E narcissism being
more maladaptive; Emmons, 1987; Raskin & Novacek, 1989;
Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995) and (b) the particular situational affor-
dances implied in short-term or long-term interpersonal relations
142 BACK, SCHMUKLE, AND EGLOFF
(more negative interpersonal consequences in the long run;
Paulhus, 1998). We were able to show that the specific combina-
tions of facet and time point can have an additional value for
predicting interpersonal consequences (E/E narcissists being more
popular at zero acquaintance). Altogether, these findings suggest
that both approaches—the consideration of facets as well as of
situational circumstances that allow for the expression of person-
ality— can be combined for a better understanding of the social
consequences of narcissism.
Second, Emmons termed the most apparent contradiction of
narcissists, devaluating others/not caring about others versus need-
ing the admiration of others, the narcissistic paradox. This para-
dox has repeatedly been described in narcissism research. Kern-
berg (1975) speaks of “a curious apparent contradiction between a
very inflated concept of themselves and an inordinate need for
tribute from others” (p. 655). Other studies have confirmed this
view: “Paradoxically, although narcissists feel contempt and dis-
trust for others, they are dependent on positive social feedback”
(Morf & Rhodewalt, 1993). In turn, as narcissists “yearn and reach
for self-affirmation, they destroy the very relationships on which
they are dependent” (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001, p. 179). It is
interesting to note that narcissists could “solve” this paradox by
relying on positive feedback from unacquainted others whom they do
not have to value. Because others truly like narcissists at first sight,
they contribute to the maintenance of the narcissist’s most paradoxical
mindset. This also shows why getting-acquainted situations are so
essential for narcissists, particularly for those with a sense of entitle-
ment and a tendency to exploit others: These situations are needed so
that the narcissist can be admired by others.
The third issue Emmons referred to were developmental deter-
minants of narcissism, particularly the influence of parental social
reactions on a child’s narcissism. Emmons concluded that research
should be directed toward a resolution of the devaluation (Kern-
berg, 1975; Kohut, 1977) versus overvaluation (Millon, 1981)
theories of narcissistic development. A combination of both de-
velopmental factors, parental overvaluation and parental devalua-
tion, has already been suggested by Freud (1914/1990) and was
recently supported using quantitative analyses of childhood recol-
lections (Otway & Vignoles, 2006). The existence of both exces-
sive but indiscriminate parental praise as well as continuous im-
plicit parental messages of coldness and rejection, rather than
warmth and acceptance, “may help to explain the paradoxical
combination of grandiosity and fragility that is so characteristic of
adult narcissists” (Otway & Vignoles, 2006, p. 113).
Together with prior studies on the long-term interpersonal con-
sequences of narcissism, the present results show that a similar
pattern of social reactions applies to peers of adult narcissists:
admiration for superficial reasons at zero acquaintance as well as
rejection and a lack of warmth and acceptance later on. Research
on the conditions and processes that are responsible for the main-
tenance of narcissists’ problematic intra- and interpersonal pro-
cesses could consider the importance of these peer reactions.
Fourth, Emmons identified the narcissist’s lack of insight as a
major issue to investigate. This topic is closely related to the
former points. We speculate that the short-term positive feedback
narcissists get from their peers might make them believe that they
are behaving in an optimal way and might boost their ego. Con-
sequently, they stick to their maladaptive interpersonal behavior
and do not feel a need for self-criticism. Because of their ongoing
selfishness, they do not get affective support in the long run, and
they do not manage to develop intimate relationships. As a con-
sequence, their self stays vulnerable, making immediate admira-
tion even more necessary, and so forth. In research on as well as
treatments of narcissists’ self-insight, one should focus on both the
intrapersonal mechanisms of narcissists and the social reactions
that narcissists actually receive.
Prospects for Future Research: Revealing the
Developmental Course of Narcissists’
In summary, research shows that narcissists are popular at first
sight (present studies), (sometimes) popular at short-term acquain-
tance (Paulhus, 1998), and unpopular in the long run (Colvin et al.,
1995; Paulhus, 1998). This reversal of impressions on others is
remarkable because it is at odds with the usually fairly high stability
of early impressions (Ambady & Skowronski, 2008; Funder, 1999;
Kenny, 1994; Newcomb, 1961). Peers of narcissists indeed have to
unlearn their positive initial impressions (Paulhus, 1998).
How does this happen? What remains unclear is why exactly
narcissists become unpopular over time. In the Paulhus (1998)
study, narcissists were unpopular after a 7-week period (about 2.5
hrs in contact). Different factors might explain this reversal of
narcissists’ impressions on others over time, for instance, discrep-
ancies between their self-promotional claims and their actual be-
havior; the lack of sensitivity to feedback from their peers; or
arrogant, hostile, self-absorbed, and defensive behaviors (Colvin et
al., 1995; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Paulhus, 1998). However,
none of these plausible explanations has been tested yet. What
needs to be examined is the exact time course of narcissists’ effects
on others, the situational features that accelerate or decelerate the
decline of narcissists’ popularity, and, most importantly, the actual
behaviors (Baumeister, Vohs, & Funder, 2007) of narcissists that
turn others off. A complete account of the development and the
interpersonal consequences of narcissism research should, more-
over, incorporate the social perceptions and behaviors of narcis-
sists’ social partners. A variety of research tools might help to
realize such studies, including detailed behavioral observation and
interaction analysis, continuous online attraction judgments, and
ambulatory assessments of impressions and behaviors of narcis-
sists and their social partners within a real-life context.
Such research can also help to specify present dynamic self-
regulatory process models of narcissism (Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001) with regard to the behaviors narcissists show (depending on
the situation as well as on characteristics of the social partner), the
social impressions these behaviors evoke (depending on the situ-
ation as well as characteristics of the social partners), and the
behavioral reactions social partners of narcissists show.
In the present research, we showed that narcissists, particularly
those with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to manipulate and
exploit others, are popular at zero acquaintance. We moreover
aimed to explain why this is the case: Our analyses suggest that
narcissists are liked more at first sight because of their flashy and
neat clothing, their charming facial expressions, their self-assured
body movements, and their humorous verbal expressions. Of in-
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT
terest is that this pattern of results could be replicated when
examining attraction judgments of uninvolved perceivers based on
full information, nonverbal information, or even solely based on
physical information. We hypothesized that the immediate popu-
larity of narcissists might ironically be a major reason for their
interpersonal problems in the long run—a perspective that seems
worthy of follow-up in future studies. We hope that the result of
such approaches will promote a deeper understanding of the fas-
cinating paradoxes of narcissism.
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Received February 2, 2009
Revision received April 17, 2009
Accepted April 20, 2009 䡲
NARCISSISM AND POPULARITY AT FIRST SIGHT