kitchen table math, the sequel: something I have always wondered about

Friday, March 12, 2010

something I have always wondered about

Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance.

Back MD, Schmukle SC, Egloff B.
J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 Jan;98(1):132-45.


I have always wondered about this.

Are narcissists really more popular at first sight?
[answer: yes]

When perceivers were exposed to the full amount of information available 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 popular at first sight.

Interestingly, recent findings also show that narcissism is detectable at zero acquaintance (Vazire et al., 2008). Observers thus seem to 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 situational contexts as well as different sets of targets.

Which facet of narcissism fosters popularity at first sight?
[answer: sense of entitlement; tendency to manipulate & exploit others]

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?
[answer: flashy and neat clothing; charming facial expressions; self-assured body movements; humorous verbal expressions]

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 understanding 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 contradictory findings concerning the short-term interpersonal consequences 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 acquaintance. Other studies, however, found that the negative interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement are already apparent at short-term acquaintance, concluding that self-enhancers “manifest behaviors that are immediately detrimental to their social interactions” (Colvin et al., 1995, p. 1159).

According to our model, the popularity of self-enhancers depends on the cues they produce in the given social situation. Self-enhancers’ popularity is thus dependent on situational constraints and affordances. When an interactive situation at shortterm acquaintance fosters more intense and controversial communication (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?
[answer: a full-body photograph will do. with the face removed ]

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 judgments 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).

Narcissists with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to exploit others were more popular at first sight.

I'm sure there's a very good explanation for that.


Katharine Beals said...

Fascinating! I've also often wondered about this. But what about "on second glance"? It seems to me that narcissists often continue to be successful in their social lives and their careers even after people have a chance to take a second look at them. Does the charm continue to work its magic even as we start to have doubts?

Laura said...

From what I've read about psychopaths (not the same as narcissists, but some traits in common, I believe), someone who has doubts will be retaliated against in some way to keep them in their place. Other people are only ever going to have superficial contact, and so will never have a real "second glance," while with those whom the narcissist wants to keep charming, he or she will make more of a concerted effort to keep up the positive appearance.

Catherine Johnson said...

You know - I've only skimmed it but the article seemed to be saying that these qualities produce trouble on second glance ---

I can send people copies if you wan to read.

Meanwhile I'm thinking: 'neat' clothes --- I can do that!

I love the list of reasons why people are instantly attractive.

Although I'd like to see a picture of what a "charming" facial expression looks like --- !

Catherine Johnson said...

Is it different from a friendly expression?

Or a happy expression?

Or an interested expression?

I'm guessing 'charming facial expression' is a thing unto itself.