How Narcissistic People Do (and Don’t) Present Themselves

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Think about the people you know who are high in narcissism. Are they particularly polite? Or do they interrupt, take control of the conversation, and focus only on their own needs when in social situations? Who is the first to take a seat at the table? Who refuses to share a chocolate dessert? People high in narcissism can act in ways that others perceive as rude due not only to their self-entitlement and grandiosity, but also to their inability to see things from someone else’s point of view. The situation can be particularly rough when the individual also appears to be on a mission to make other people feel bad as they brutally seek to accomplish their own goals above all else.

New research on self-presentation tactics of people high in a version of narcissism suggests not only that they can be rude, but also why they’re rude. University of Alabama’s William Hart and colleagues examined the relationship between the personality traits associated with the so-called “Dark Triad” traits. “Regular” narcissism involves feelings of grandiosity, entitlement, and a preoccupation with validating one’s own self-esteem. Those high on the Dark Triad additionally have traits associated with psychopathy—including lack of impulse control, an inability to empathize with others, lack of remorse, a somewhat erratic lifestyle—as well as “Machiavellianism,” or the tendency to seek power, exploit others, and do what they need to do in order to get their way. According to Hart et al., the combination of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism should lead to “a relatively malignant approach to self-presentation.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if people high on these traits could learn better ways to behave?  We’ll return to some practical implications of this study after looking more closely at the findings.

Hart and his colleagues recruited an online sample of 524 adults with a mean age of 48 (61% female) and asked them to complete a standard Dark Triad inventory assessing psychopathy and Machiavellianism along with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Their measure of self-presentation tactics (SPTS) included 12 subscales intended to assess common behaviors that people use in social situations. Those 12 subscales divided into the two categories of “Assertive” and “Defensive.” Here are example of each of these subscales:

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