Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Are Narcissists Sexy?

Why are narcissists more attractive? What’s going on?

Research has suggested that more narcissistic persons may be more sexually attractive, particularly in short-term dating relationships. A recent group of studies explored this notion, and tried to get at the dynamics behind it.

In the first study, researchers simply manipulated scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; high, medium, low) and asked participants to rate the sex appeal of the bogus person. The high scores on the NPI were rated sexiest.

The second and third studies tried to get at the reasons why narcissists might be more sexually attractive. In study two, surveys of persons who were in heterosexual relationships were surveyed, along with a same-sex friend. The friends rated the participants’ appeal as a mate, physical attractiveness, and social boldness. It was found that narcissists are rated as more physically attractive and more socially bold, and these two factors contribute to their appeal as a mate.

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A third study was a bit more realistic. Male participants completed a narcissism measure and were asked to approach 25 women in public and ask them for contact information. This time, the measure of sexual attractiveness/mate appeal was the amount of contact information (phone numbers, email addresses, etc.) that the participant was able to get from the women strangers. Participants were also rated for physical attractiveness and social boldness. Once again, narcissists were more sexually appealing, but it was mediated by physical attractiveness and social boldness.

So what’s going on? More than 20 years ago, in my own research lab, we distinguished between “static” and “dynamic” attractiveness. Static attractiveness is the physical qualities of beauty a person is born with. Dynamic attractiveness is the attractiveness that comes from grooming, dress, and particularly from how you carry and express yourself. We found, as the Beatles song suggests, “Something in the way she [he] moves, attracts me like no other lover.” In these studies, dynamic attractiveness and social boldness seem to influence participants’ sexiness – and narcissists seem to have more of both (it makes sense because narcissists give more attention to grooming and are more self-confident in social situations).

Of course, it is important to emphasize that narcissists sexual attractiveness only seems to hold for short term dating relationships – not for long-term, committed relationships.

Here is the references for the recent study and the older study on dynamic attractiveness:

Dufner, M., Rauthmann, J.F., Czarna, A.Z., & Denissen, J.J.A. (2013). Are narcissists sexy? Zeroing in on the effect of narcissism on short-term mate appeal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(7), 870-882.

Riggio, R.E., Widaman, K.F., Tucker, J.S., & Salinas, C. (1991). Beauty is more than skin deep: Components of attractiveness. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(4), 423-429.

 

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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