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Not Everyone Loves a Narcissist

Does the lure of a narcissist depend on our values?

vjapratama / Pexels
In some cultures, nice guys and gals may finish first
Source: vjapratama / Pexels

When society teaches us that confidence is the holy grail of success, there is only one clear winner – the narcissist. In Western society, narcissists enjoy success across various domains of life. They are more likely to win over strangers and to score a date. They even do better in job interviews to the extent that researchers recommend for job candidates to “emulate narcissists”.

We may, then, feel defenseless against the lure of a narcissist. We may feel like they always win. But is this the case?

I didn’t think so. I was raised by Asian immigrant parents. Many of the values they instilled in me have clashed, throughout my life, with American values. Instead of being taught to be confident and self-assured, I, like many other Asian Americans, was told to be humble and self-critical, qualities that sadly don’t bode well in Western society. I was also taught, however, to value traits like caring and kindness over boldness and charm. When I was a teenager, my mother advised me to, “Never trust a man who knows how to talk.”

As I filtered through the literature on narcissists’ attractiveness, I noticed that as with most psychological literature, nearly all of the studies had been conducted using predominantly European or European American samples. I wanted to know whether Asian Americans, who often prioritize interdependent qualities, would also succumb to the allure of narcissists. To answer this question, my research team and I conducted a speed-dating study, testing whether personality traits, including narcissism and communal attributes (kindness, tolerance, and trustworthiness), predicted speed-dating success. We held 15 speed-dating sessions in which 262 single Asian Americans went on 3-minute speed-dates with the other gender. We predicted that even in these quick dates, participants would be attracted to niceness (i.e., communal attributes) and other traits that emphasize care for others, rather than narcissism.

We found just this. Communal attributes predicted greater speed-dating success. While narcissism didn’t turn out to be a turn-off, it wasn’t a turn-on either. These findings were consistent across gender. Thus, while studies using a predominantly European/European American sample have found that nice guys finish last, we found instead that among Asian Americans, nice guys and gals finish first.

We don’t have the full story yet about why Asian Americans were not drawn to narcissists. I would love to know exactly what narcissists did or said to lose their charm. I would also love to pinpoint the specific values that conferred “resistance” against narcissists. However, this study tells us something very important --- narcissists don’t have to win. Therefore, we may not always have to “emulate narcissists” to be liked or to get the job. To move towards this goal for everyone, perhaps we can try to cultivate and recognize kindness over unwarranted confidence.


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