Narcissists love themselves. Even in psychology experiments.

This is a problem for psychologists trying to study narcissists in the laboratory because narcissists are likely to present themselves in the best possible light, inflating their abilities on self-report surveys, and generally being oblivious to their own true selves (Vazire, 2010).

Enter an awesome new study conducted by Nick Holtzman and his colleagues. They set out to find out what happens when you stick audio recorders on a bunch of narcissists and listen to them naturally go about their day. What do they say?

First the researchers administered a self-report scale of narcissism with items such as "Everybody likes to hear my stories". Then participants wore a small, pocket-sized digital audio recorder for four days during their waking hours. Every 12.5 minutes, the recorder recorded 30-second snippets of audio from their environment. Participants had no clue as to when the recorder was on.

The researchers then transcribed the audio and submitted the transcriptions to a well-validated psychological text analysis program. They focused their analysis on variables particularly related to narcissism: extraverted acts (talking, being in a group, and socializing), disagreeable acts (using swear words or anger words), academic disengagement (class attendance), and sexual language use (e.g., "fuck, "naked").

They found that narcissism was correlated with extraverted acts, being especially predictive of being in a group, socializing with others, and talking about friends. The correlation seemed to be much stronger among female narcissists  and remained significant after controlling for the personality trait Extraversion, suggesting that there is something unique about narcissism that predicts extraverted acts above and beyond Extraversion.

Narcissism was positively related to engagement in disagreeable behaviors, including arguing, using swearing words, and using anger words. For both genders, narcissists high in exploitativeness/entitlement were the most disagreeable lot. This is interesting since the exploitativeness/entitlement facet of narcissism is considered to be the most maladaptive facet of narcissism (Raskin & Novacek, 1989).

As the researchers note, this combination of high Extraversion and low agreeableness in narcissists has both benefits and disadvantages:

"Specifically, while most narcissists (especially women in this particular sample) exhibit many extraverted behaviors that are likely to make a good first impression (e.g., socializing, talking about friends), they also exhibit disagreeable behaviors, which probably helps to explain the difficulties they have maintaining favorable reputations over time (Back, et al., 2010; Campbell, 2005; Paulhus, 1998). 

While the total narcissism composite wasn't related to class attendance, the exploitativeness/entitlement facet of narcissism was positively related to academic disengagement in both men and women. Also, this link remained after controlling for the personality trait of Conscientiousness. The researchers note that "this finding suggests a mechanism by which self-enhancement is associated with academic disengagement over time (Robins & Beer, 2001)—inflated self-importance may lead to shirking academic obligations, which may potentially contribute to disappointing academic outcomes."

Narcissism was also positively correlated with greater use of sexual language. This link was strongest among narcissists high in exploitativeness/entitlement and leadership/authority. This link remained after controlling for potential overlap with the use of anger and swear words that had sexual connotations. The researchers note that this "impulsive sexual strategy" is "consistent with the view that narcissists tend to be impulsive and seek short-term gains (Vazire & Funder, 2006)."

So it's official: narcissists don't sound pretty. Who would have thought?

© 2010 by Scott Barry Kaufman


Back, M.D., Schmukle, S.C.,& Egloff, B. (2010). Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 132-145.

Campbell, W.K. (2005). When you love a man who loves himself. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

Holtzman, N.S., Vazire, S., & Mehl, M.R. (in press). Sounds like a narcissist: Behavioral manifestations of narcissism in everyday life. Journal of Research in Personality, doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.06.001. 

Paulhus, D.L. (1998). Interpersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait self-enhancement: A mixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1197-1208.

Raskin, R., & Novacek, J. (1989). An MMPI description of thenarcissistic personality. Journal of Personality Assessment, 53, 66-80.

Robins, R.W., & Beer, J.S. (2001). Positive illusions about the self: Short-term benefits and long-term costs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 340-352.

Vazire, S. (2010). Who knows what about a person? The self-other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 281-300.

Vazire, S., & Funder, D.C. (2006). Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 154-165.

Recent Posts in Beautiful Minds

New Sensitivity Gene Discovered

A new gene was discovered that is highly sensitive to supportive conditions.

Social and Mechanical Reasoning Inhibit Each Other

The brain can't engage social and mechanical reasoning at the same time.

The Pesky Persistence of Labels

Just because a label has been lifted doesn't make it disappear.

Interview with Author and Magician Alex Stone

Interview with Author and Magician Alex Stone about his book "Fooling Houdini."

Social Rejection Can Fuel Creativity

Social rejection fuels creativity for people with an independent mindset.

The Cognitive Psychology of Pick-up Lines

How perception and cognition influences receptivity to pick-up lines.