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Do Narcissists Dislike Themselves "Deep Down Inside"?

Short Report
Do Narcissists Dislike
Themselves ‘‘Deep Down
W. Keith Campbell,
Jennifer K. Bosson,
Thomas W. Goheen,
Chad E. Lakey,
and Michael H. Kernis
The University of Georgia,
The University of South Florida, and
The University of Oklahoma
Narcissism is a personality trait associated with an inflated,
grandiose self-concept and a lack of intimacy in interpersonal
relationships. A popular assumption is that narcissists’ positive
explicit (conscious) self-views mask implicit (nonconscious)
self-loathing. This belief is typically traced to psychodynamic
theory, especially that of Kohut (1966; Morrison, 1983). Em-
pirically, this view predicts that narcissists will reveal negative
self-views when these are measured with unobtrusive instru-
ments—such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald,
McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998)—that record people’s automatic,
uncontrolled responses. Using the IAT, however, researchers
found no simple relation between narcissism and implicit self-
esteem (rs5.13 and .03; Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-
Browne, & Correll, 2003; Zeigler-Hill, 2006).
According to another line of thought, narcissists’ explicit self-
views are not uniformly positive; rather, narcissism is associated
with positive self-views in agentic domains (e.g., status, intel-
ligence), but not in communal domains (e.g., kindness, moral-
ity). Evidence for this idea comes from both explicit trait ratings,
which show an association between narcissism and positive self-
views only on agentic traits (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides,
2002), and from analyses showing that narcissism is particularly
strongly associated with self-esteem measures that capture
dominance (Brown & Zeigler-Hill, 2004). Bradlee and Emmons
(1992) and Paulhus and Williams (2002) have also reported
personality data supporting this distinction.
As narcissists do not evaluate themselves uniformly positively
across all dimensions—and the self-esteem IAT measures the
strength of cognitive associations between the self and an
evaluative dimension—the lack of correlation between narcis-
sism and implicit self-esteem might reflect the words used in
the IAT. Specifically, IATs employing more agentic words may
correlate positively with narcissism, whereas those using more
communal words may correlate negatively or not at all with
narcissism. Indeed, this pattern is seen in narcissists’ implicit
responses on the Thematic Apperception Test. On this test,
narcissism correlates positively with nPower and negatively
with nIntimacy and nAffiliation (Carroll, 1987).
Researchers often use IAT words that activate respondents’
communal self-views more than their agentic ones. For example,
the IAT words used by Jordan et al. (2003; friend,gift,happy,
roach,death,disaster,disease,evil,garbage,pain,stink, and
vomit) and by Zeigler-Hill (2006; happy,joy,paradise,pleasure,
smile,sunshine,agony,death,grief,pain,sickness, and tragedy)
include several communal terms and few agentic terms. Twenty-
four pilot respondents rated both word lists along agentic and
communal dimensions. Both lists conveyed significantly more
communion than agency, t(23)s>4.50, p
s>.997, which
might explain the weak associations these researchers observed
between narcissism and IAT scores.
We tested our logic that narcissism correlates positively with
implicit agency and negatively or not at all with implicit com-
munion in two studies. Using the IAT words from Jordan et al.
(2003), we tested the link between narcissism and implicit self-
esteem in a sample of undergraduates. Next, we created separate
IATs to measure agentic and communal implicit self-views and
tested their associations with narcissism.
Subjects (N5154) completed the Narcissistic Personality In-
ventory (NPI; Raskin & Terry, 1988), the Rosenberg (1965) self-
esteem scale (RSES), and the IAT (Jordan et al., 2003). Results
replicated past findings: Narcissism was uncorrelated with im-
plicit self-esteem, r5.13, p
5.872, and positively correlated
Address correspondence to W. Keith Campbell, Department of
Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, e-mail: wkc@
Although our main interest here is in the simple correlation between nar-
cissism and implicit self-esteem, these researchers focused on the interaction of
implicit and explicit self-esteem in predicting narcissism. We tested this
interaction in the two data sets reported here, but did not find it. We did,
however, find a similar interaction pattern using explicit self-esteem and the
communion IAT in Study 2.
Volume 18—Number 3 227Copyright r2007 Association for Psychological Science
at Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen on April 28, 2011pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
with explicit self-esteem, r5.30, p
5.987. A meta-analysis
of the link between the NPI and IAT, combining our current data
with those of Jordan et al. (2003) and Zeigler-Hill (2006),
yielded an overall association not different from zero (r5.04,
5.636, combined N5331). Thus, IATs that assess pri-
marily communal self-views do not correlate with narcissism.
We tailored three new IATs to measure implicit agency, implicit
communion, and implicit self-esteem. Our agency IAT used
words that reflected high versus low agency (assertive,active,
silent,withdrawn,submissive, and inhibited); pilot ratings
confirmed that these words were more agentic than communal,
t(23) 59.20, p
>.999, d53.84. The communion IAT used
words that reflected high versus low communion (kind,friendly,
quarrelsome,grouchy, and cruel); pilot ratings confirmed that
these words were more communal than agentic, t(23) 54.95,
5.998, d52.06. The self-esteem IAT used positive and
negative words (good,wonderful,great,right,bad,awful,ter-
rible, and wrong) that reflected agency and communion equally,
t(23) 51.20, p
5.796, d50.50.
Subjects (N5114) completed the three IATs (in varied order,
which did not affect the findings), then rated themselves explic-
itly on the agentic and communal IAT words and completed the
NPI and RSES. As Figure 1 shows, the NPI correlated positively
with explicit and implicit agency (rs5.52 and .29, p
and .987), but not with explicit or implicit communion (rs5
.12 and .01, p
s5.816 and .530). The association between
narcissism and the agency IAT was reliably stronger than that
between narcissism and the communion IAT, t(112) 52.21,
5.939, d50.42. Moreover, narcissism correlated with both
the RSES and the self-esteem IAT (rs5.25 and .21, p
.971 and .944).
These results suggest that narcissists do not uniformly dislike
themselves ‘‘deep down inside.’’ Rather, narcissists report high
explicit and implicit self-views on measures of agency, and
neutral self-views on measures of communion. Thus, the asso-
ciation of narcissism with implicit self-esteem depends, in part,
on the proportions of agency and communion captured by the
implicit instrument. As Figure 1 shows, the existing self-esteem
IAT, which activates primarily communal self-views, produced a
nonsignificant correlation similar to that found with our com-
munion IAT. However, our self-esteem IAT—which captures
agency and communion equally—correlated positively with
In sum, it may be imprecise to conceptualize narcissism as a
positive explicit self-concept blanketing a negative implicit
self-concept. Rather, narcissists exhibit a somewhat imbalanced
self at both explicit and implicit levels, with favorable agentic
self-views that are not necessarily matched by favorable com-
munal self-views.
Acknowledgments—The first two authors contributed equally
to this manuscript.
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Fig. 1. Correlations between narcissism (the Narcissistic Personality
Inventory; Raskin & Terry, 1988) and measures of explicit and implicit
self-esteem, agency, and communion in Studies 1 and 2. Asterisks indicate
correlations significantly different from zero,
p<.05, p
IAT 5Implicit Association Test; RSES 5Rosenberg’s (1965) self-esteem
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The authors hypothesized that both narcissism and high self-esteem are associated with positive self-views but each is associated with positivity in different domains of the self. Narcissists perceive themselves as better than average on traits reflecting an agentic orientation (e.g., intellectual skills, extraversion) but not on those reflecting a communal orientation (e.g., agreeableness, morality).In contrast, high-self-esteem individuals perceive themselves as better than average both on agentic and communal traits. Three studies confirmed the hypothesis. In Study 1, narcissists rated themselves as extraverted and open to experience but not as more agreeable or emotionally stable. High-self-esteem individuals rated themselves highly on all of these traits except openness. In Study 2, narcissists (but not high-self-esteem individuals) rated themselves as better than their romantic partners. In Study 3, narcissists rated themselves as more intelligent, but not more moral, than the average person. In contrast, high-self-esteem individuals viewed themselves as more moral and more intelligent.
There are few topics so fascinating both to the research investigator and the research subject as the self-image. It is distinctively characteristic of the human animal that he is able to stand outside himself and to describe, judge, and evaluate the person he is. He is at once the observer and the observed, the judge and the judged, the evaluator and the evaluated. Since the self is probably the most important thing in the world to him, the question of what he is like and how he feels about himself engrosses him deeply. This is especially true during the adolescent stage of development.
This research examined the intercorrelations of scores on narcissism and the motives for affiliation, intimacy, and power. 65 students in a Master's program for business administration were given the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and the Thematic Apperception Test. A significant difference in narcissism was found between men and women. Men and women also were significantly different on the need for intimacy. Narcissism was significantly and negatively correlated with the need for intimacy and significantly and positively correlated with the need for power. The hypothesized association between narcissism and the need for affiliation was not substantiated.
We examined the internal and external validity of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). Study 1 explored the internal structure of the NPI responses of 1,018 subjects. Using principal-components analysis, we analyzed the tetrachoric correlations among the NPI item responses and found evidence for a general construct of narcissism as well as seven first-order components, identified as Authority, Exhibitionism, Superiority, Vanity, Exploitativeness, Entitlement, and Self-Sufficiency. Study 2 explored the NPI's construct validity with respect to a variety of indexes derived from observational and self-report data in a sample of 57 subjects. Study 3 investigated the NPI's construct validity with respect to 128 subject's self and ideal self-descriptions, and their congruency, on the Leary Interpersonal Check List. The results from Studies 2 and 3 tend to support the construct validity of the full-scale NPI and its component scales.