Why Some Narcissists Are Obsessed with IQ

A new study finds an interesting twist in the way narcissists view intelligence.

Posted Nov 06, 2019

     "I'm much smarter than them. I think I have a much higher IQ."

This is one of President Donald Trump's quotes about his self-perceived high IQ. He has many more. While it is clear that the president believes he is an intelligent person and is not afraid to say it, many psychologists would interpret his obsession with IQ to be indicative of a narcissistic personality.

As if it could be any more timely, new research published in the Journal of Personality examined the association between narcissism and intelligence. A team of researchers led by Marcin Zajenkowski of the University of Warsaw in Poland found that certain types of narcissists are especially likely to hold the belief that they are more intelligent than others.

"Intelligence and narcissism are among the oldest constructs studied in contemporary psychology, each having more than a century of research tradition," state Zajenkowski and his team. "The current research indicates that a belief in intellectual superiority is an important building block of self‐concept among individuals with high grandiose narcissism."

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 232 Polish individuals to take part in an in-person study. In the experiment, the researchers asked participants to fill out personality scales measuring two forms of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable. For readers not familiar with the different types, grandiose narcissism is characterized by interpersonal dominance, elevated self-esteem, and a tendency to overestimate one's abilities. Vulnerable narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by avoidant, defensive, and hypersensitive attitudes in social contexts.

Next, the researchers asked participants to complete a series of intelligence tests. Then, they had participants gauge their own level of intelligence by responding to the statement, "People differ with respect to their intelligence and can have a low, average, or high level. Using the following scale, please indicate where you can be placed compared to other people."

The researchers hypothesized that people high in grandiose narcissism would report higher-than-average levels of self-perceived intelligence and that people high in vulnerable narcissism would report the opposite. They also expected that neither form of narcissism would be reliably associated with objective intelligence, as measured by the intelligence tests.

What they found was slightly different than what they expected. Grandiose narcissists were, as predicted, more likely to view themselves as more intelligent than others, even though the intelligence tests showed no reliable pattern of intellectual superiority. For vulnerable narcissists, no evidence was found to support the idea that they viewed their own intelligence as inferior, or superior, to others' intelligence. They did, however, report experiencing more anxiety while taking the intelligence tests. This, the researchers suspect, reflects a general tendency toward negative emotion and an unfounded anticipation of aversive experiences.

The researchers surmise that grandiose narcissists view intelligence as an integral part of their self-concept, which explains why they place such high importance on IQ testing. They conclude, "Individuals with high grandiose narcissism maintain unrealistically positive self‐views with regard to intelligence. They feel that high intelligence is a resource that buys people benefits in multiple domains, and they feel that they possess that resource. Thus, people scoring high on grandiose narcissism are indeed preoccupied with the topic of intelligence."


Zajenkowski, M., Czarna, A. Z., Szymaniak, K., & Dufner, M. (2019). What Do Highly Narcissistic People Think and Feel about (Their) Intelligence?. Journal of personality.

CNN. Politics. (n.d.). Donald Trump's IQ obsession, in 22 quotes. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/10/politics/donald- trump-tillerson-iq