Narcissism self enchantment

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1. Journal of Research in Personality 34, 329–347 (2000)doi:10.1006/jrpe.2000.2282, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on Narcissism and Comparative…
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  • 1. Journal of Research in Personality 34, 329–347 (2000)doi:10.1006/jrpe.2000.2282, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on Narcissism and Comparative Self-Enhancement Strategies W. Keith Campbell Case Western Reserve University Glenn D. Reeder Illinois State University Constantine Sedikides University of Southampton, Southhampton, England and Andrew J. Elliot University of Rochester Two experiments examined narcissism and comparative self-enhancement strate- gies. Participants either completed an interdependent (Experiment 1) or an indepen- dent (Experiment 2) achievement task and then received bogus success or failure feedback. Across experiments, narcissistic individuals self-enhanced. Nonnarcis- sists, however, showed more flexibility in self-enhancement. They did not self-en- hance when doing so meant comparing themselves favorably to a partner (a compar- ative strategy). Otherwise, they did self-enhance, particularly when estimating the importance of the task (a noncomparative strategy). These findings are discussed from a narcissistic self-enhancement perspective and a strategic flexibility perspec- tive. © 2000 Academic Press A portion of this research was presented at the meeting of the Midwestern PsychologicalAssociation, May, 1995. We thank Maneesha Bhatia, Dion Bushman, Bryan Joslin, WendyKrull, Warren Lindley, Beth Nardiello, and Steve Palmatier for their help in conducting theseexperiments. We also thank Michael Wexler for statistical advice and Craig Foster, RobertKrueger, Bill McMahan, and Carolyn Morf for helpful insights. Address correspondence and reprint requests to W. Keith Campbell, Department of Psychol-ogy, Case Western Reserve University, 11220 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106-7123.E-mail: wkc@po.cwru.edu. 329 0092-6566/00 $35.00 Copyright © 2000 by Academic Press All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
  • 2. 330 CAMPBELL ET AL. The study of narcissism has encountered a resurgence of theoretical andempirical attention. This has occurred both in personality and social psychol-ogy (Emmons, 1987; Raskin & Hall, 1979; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995) andin clinical psychology and psychiatry (Akhtar & Thompson, 1982; Kernberg,1975; Kohut, 1977; Masterson, 1988; Westen, 1990). Although the currentconceptualization of narcissism has changed in several ways since Freud’s(1914/1957) work on the topic, some agreement exists on the profile ofthe typical narcissist [see Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders, IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994 (DSM IV); see alsoAkhtar & Thompson, 1982; Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1977].1 The typical narcissist is characterized by distortions in several areas ofpsychological functioning. The self-concept of the narcissist is marked bypositivity (i.e., thinking about oneself in a highly positive way), egocentrism(i.e., thinking about oneself without taking the perspective of others), and asense of uniqueness or ‘‘specialness.’’ Narcissists also regulate strategicallyself-concept positivity in several ways. These include outward displays ofself-importance, fantasies of fame and power, and negative affective reac-tions to perceived self-threats. Finally, narcissists are described as havingpoor interpersonal relationships. Narcissistic relationships are characterizedby a sense of personal entitlement, exploitation of the partner, indifferencetoward the partner’s needs, and a dearth of genuine love.TWO PERSPECTIVES ON NARCISSISTIC SELF-ENHANCEMENT A central characteristic of narcissism is self-enhancement (Sedikides,1993; Sedikides & Strube, 1997). Narcissists, relative to nonnarcissists, re-port inflated self-descriptions (Gabriel, Critelli, & Ee, 1994), performanceratings (John & Robins, 1994), and estimates of positive acts (Gosling, John,Craik, & Robins, 1998). Likewise, narcissists make self-serving ability attri-butions following performance feedback on achievement tasks (Farwell &Wohlwend-Lloyd, 1998; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1998). Narcissists’ predilection for self-enhancement may be part of a broaderself- versus other-orientation. Narcissists will not only implicitly derogateothers in the process of maintaining positive self-views (i.e., report inflatedvaluations of self versus other; Gabriel et al., 1994; John & Robins, 1994),but narcissists also explicitly derogate others (Kernis & Sun, 1994; Morf & 1 The present research focuses on the continuous personality variable of narcissism ratherthan on the personality disorder (Emmons, 1987; Raskin & Hall, 1979; Raskin, Novacek, &Hogan, 1991; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995). For the sake of convenience, we us the term ‘‘narcis-sists’’ to describe individuals lying at the upper end of the continuum of the NarcissisticPersonality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979) and the term ‘‘nonnarcissists’’ to describeindividuals lying on the lower end of the continuum of the NPI.
  • 3. NARCISSISM AND SELF-ENHANCEMENT 331Rhodewalt, 1993), for example, by providing poor assessments of evaluators(Kernis & Sun, 1994). In short, it seems clear that narcissists self-enhance to a greater extentthan nonnarcissists and that this self-enhancement is part of a more generalself- versus other-orientation. Narcissistic self-enhancement, however, maybe more complex than this statement implies. We ask: ‘‘Will narcissists self-enhance to a greater extent than nonnarcissists across self-enhancement strat-egies, including even those strategies that do not involve comparing the selffavorably to others?’’ Alternatively, are there strategies with which narcis-sists will self-enhance to a similar extent to nonnarcissists, particularly strate-gies that do not involve such comparisons? In the present manuscript, wefocus on self-enhancement strategies evidenced by narcissists and nonnarcis-sists in response to feedback on achievement tasks. We identify two generaltypes of these strategies. Comparative strategies entail the favorable compar-ison of the self with another person. For example, blaming a partner foran unsuccessful task outcome would be a comparative strategy. In contrast,noncomparative strategies do not entail a comparison with another person.This type of strategy is exemplified by stating, after the fact, that the outcomeon the same unsuccessful task was not very important. We approach these issues from two general perspectives, which we termthe narcissistic self-enhancement perspective and the strategic flexibility per-spective. The narcissistic self-enhancement perspective predicts that narcis-sists will self-enhance across both comparative and noncomparative strate-gies. According to this perspective, narcissists should self-enhance to agreater extent than nonnarcissists using both comparative and noncompara-tive strategies. The strategic flexibility perspective shifts attention away from narcissistsand toward nonnarcissists and interpersonal relatedness. Nonnarcissists, incomparison to narcissists, are more interpersonally oriented. Nonnarcissistsdo not report that they are better than others to the extent that narcissists do,and nonnarcissists, in comparison to narcissists, are agreeable, empathetic,and communally oriented. The relative interpersonal graciousness on the partof nonnarcissists may reduce their use of self-enhancement strategies thatviolate their communal orientation. Thus, nonnarcissists may be unlikely toself-enhance when doing so means taking credit away from a partner (i.e.,comparative measures). However, when nonnarcissists are given opportuni-ties to use self-enhancement strategies that do not involve derogating a part-ner (i.e., noncomparative strategies), they may be more likely to self-en-hance, perhaps to the extent of narcissists. In sum, the strategic flexibilityperspective predicts that nonnarcissists will self-enhance, but with a flexibil-ity consistent with a more interpersonal orientation. In contrast, narcissistsare predicted to be more rigidly self-enhancing across strategies.
  • 4. 332 CAMPBELL ET AL. THE PRESENT RESEARCH We conducted two experiments to capture narcissistic self-enhancementstrategies. We included two measures of self-enhancement: the self-servingbias (SSB) and ratings of task importance. The SSB is defined as takingcredit for successful outcomes and blaming the situation or other personsfor unsuccessful outcomes (Heider, 1958; Campbell & Sedikides, 1999;Weary-Bradley, 1978; Zuckerman, 1979). As suggested by Emmons (1987)and demonstrated by Rhodewalt and Morf (1995, 1998) and Farwell andWohlwend-Lloyd (1998), the SSB is a fertile domain for examining narcis-sistic self-enhancement. Measures of the SSB have been used with both interdependent tasks (John-ston, 1967; Larson, 1977; Wolosin, Sherman, & Till, 1973) and independenttasks (Luginbuhl, Crowe, & Kahan, 1975; Bar-Tal & Frieze, 1976). A typicalinterdependent task involves giving a pair of participants a bogus combined-ability task. This task is followed by randomly determined success or failurefeedback at the dyadic level (i.e., participants are unaware of the magnitudeof their individual contributions to the task outcome). Participants are thenasked to divide responsibility for the task outcome between the self and thepartner. The SSB is evident if individuals take responsibility for success andblame the partner for failure (i.e., a comparative self-enhancement strategy).A typical independent task follows a similar format, except that participantsengage in the task individually and receive feedback at the individual level.Each participant is given the option to attribute the outcome to internal orexternal factors. The SSB is evident if individuals take responsibility forsuccess and blame external factors for failure (i.e., a noncomparative self-enhancement strategy). The second measure we used for studying self-enhancement involved ask-ing participants to rate the importance of a task after either success or failure(Wyer & Frey, 1983). A self-enhancing pattern is observed when individualsrate tasks at which they succeeded as important and rate tasks at which theyfailed as unimportant. Calculus, for example, might be viewed as an impor-tant topic of inquiry by a student who receives a final grade of an ‘‘A’’ inthe course, but might be viewed as a topic of minor importance by the samestudent if the final grade is a ‘‘D.’’ This technique for examining self-en-hancement is well-suited for our theoretical objectives because it is inher-ently noncomparative. That is, an individual can rate strategically the impor-tance of the task without diminishing a partner’s performance. In Experiment 1, we used an interdependent task. We included a measureof the SSB that called for dividing responsibility between the self and thepartner (i.e., a comparative strategy). We also included an importance mea-sure of self-enhancement (i.e., a noncomparative strategy). Experiment 2used an independent task. After receiving feedback, participants responded
  • 5. NARCISSISM AND SELF-ENHANCEMENT 333to a responsibility and an importance measure of self-enhancement (i.e.,noncomparative strategies). EXPERIMENT 1 In Experiment 1, we examined the self-enhancement strategies exhibitedby narcissist and nonnarcissists in an interdependent achievement task. Bothof the theoretical perspectives guiding our research predict that the moderat-ing role of narcissism should emerge when comparative self-enhancementstrategies are measured. Specifically, narcissists are expected to be more self-serving, on average, than nonnarcissists on the comparative SSB measure.The strategic flexibility perspective would predict further that narcissists andnonnarcissists should differ to a lesser extent on the importance measure.That is, both narcissists and nonnarcissists are expected to self-enhance onthis measure. To investigate the generalizability of our findings, we variedtwo additional factors in our design. The first variable concerns relationshipcloseness. Half of the participants engaged in a self-disclosure task with theperson who would become their partner on the interdependent achievementtask; the other half worked with a stranger. The second variable was partici-pant gender. MethodDesign We used a four-factor, between-participants design. Three variables were dichotomous:feedback type (success/failure), relationship closeness (close/distant), and participant gender(male/female). The fourth variable, narcissism, was continuous.Participants Participants were 160 undergraduates (80 women, 80 men) enrolled in introductory psychol-ogy courses at Illinois State University. Participants volunteered for the experiment as a meansof fulfilling partially a course option. We tested only same-gender dyads who were unac-quainted at the start of the experiment. The procedure allowed four participants (two same-sex dyads) to provide data in each session. We used both male and female experimenters. Wedropped from the study two participants who expressed suspicion about the veridicality ofthe feedback during debriefing.Procedure and Materials Overview. The two experiments reported in this manuscript followed a similar procedure.First, participants completed personality measures of self-esteem and narcissism. Second, eachparticipant was paired with a partner and a relationship closeness induction was conducted(this was not done in Experiment 2). Third, participants took a bogus test of creativity. Fourth,participants received randomly determined success or failure feedback. Finally, participantsmade attributions for their successful or unsuccessful outcomes on the creativity test and ratedthe importance of their outcomes.
  • 6. 334 CAMPBELL ET AL. Pretest. Approximately 2 weeks prior to the start of the experiment, participants filled outa series of measures. Participants were also given the opportunity to write down their namesand phone numbers if they wanted to be a part of another, unrelated experiment to be conductedin ‘‘a few weeks.’’ The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965) was admin-istered first. This 10-item measure of global self-esteem has adequate validity (Lorr & Wunder-lich, 1986). The RSE was followed by the 40-item version (range: 0–40) of the NarcissisticPersonality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979). The NPI is a forced-choice scale designedto measure the personality dimension of narcissism in normal populations (although the NPIhas been validated on clinical samples; Prifitera & Ryan, 1981). The NPI has been used exten-sively and found to exhibit adequate reliability and validity (Raskin & Terry, 1988; Rhode-walt & Morf, 1995). Relationship closeness induction task. A research assistant telephoned consenting partici-pants and invited them to the laboratory in pairs. Only pairs of participants who were unfamiliarwith each other were tested. Participants were informed that they would be participating intwo short and unrelated studies, the first of which involved a communication task. Participantswere then seated across from each other in a small room where the experimenter handed themthe Relationship Closeness Induction Task (RCIT; Sedikides, Campbell, Reeder, & Elliot,1998). The RCIT instructed participants to spend 9 min mutually disclosing personal informa-tion to their partners while engaging in as natural a conversation as possible. Specifically,participants were given three lists of questions to ask each other. These lists became progres-sively more personal. The experimenter then moved outside the room and closed the door. At the end of the task, participants were given a relationship privacy measure. This was toensure that the conversation was perceived to be private—it was for all but one participant—as well as to enhance the perception that the RCIT was a part of an independent study. Partici-pants were then informed that it was time for ‘‘Study 2.’’ Half of the participants remainedwith the same partner for ‘‘Study 1’’ and ‘‘Study 2’’; half of the participants were placedwith a stranger in ‘‘Study 2.’’ Manipulation check on the closeness induction. ‘‘Study 2’’ began with a second consentform in order to further reinforce the impression on the part of participants that this was aseparate experiment. Next, participants filled out a manipulation check of relationship close-ness. The manipulation check consisted of four single-item, 9-point scales. These scales mea-sured how ‘‘close’’ and ‘‘similar’’ participants felt toward their partner, how much they‘‘liked’’ their partner, and if they felt they could be ‘‘friends’’ with their partner. Anchorswere not at all (1) and very much (9). Interdependent outcomes task. Participants then took the ‘‘Lange–Elliot Creativity Test.’’Ostensibly, this test was part of a study on ‘‘brainstorming’’ and the creativity of dyads.Participants were told that reliable data had already been gathered on this test from 130 ISUstudents and that more data were needed to ‘‘add to our knowledge.’’ Participants were in-structed to list as many conceptually distinct uses as possible for a brick (part one) and acandle (part two)(Bartis, Szymanski, & Harkins, 1988). The total number of nonoverlappinguses generated by the dyad would ostensibly be summed to create an overall creativity testscore for the dyad. All participants were told that they were in the ‘‘control condition’’ andthus would by seated alone in a different room from their partner during the test. Participants’perception of own actual performance on this measure was thus highly ambiguous because:(a) the task was novel, (b) only conceptually distinct ‘‘uses’’ counted toward the score,(c) ‘‘uses’’ that overlapped with the partner’s only counted once toward final score, and(d) participants were not able to see their partner’s actual performance. Participants were allotted 5 min to complete each part of the test. Participants first generateduses for a brick. They wrote down each use on a separate slip of paper which they then placedin a box. The experimenter warned the participants when 4 min of time had passed. After the5-min period ended, the experimenter emptied both participants’ responses into a box and
  • 7. NARCISSISM AND SELF-ENHANCEMENT 335presented participants with part two of the test (i.e., uses for a candle). The same procedurewas repeated. Feedback. After each participant completed the ‘‘creativity test,’’ he or she received ran-domly determined dyad-level (i.e., combined) success and failure feedback. A bogus z scorerepresenting the combined number of uses generated by both participants was shown in textand on a bell-shaped frequency distribution. Participants in the success condition were showna mark at the 93rd percentile and were informed that they ‘‘did well.’’ Participants in the failurecondition were shown a mark at the 31st percentile and informed that they ‘‘did poorly.’’ Dependent measures. After receiving the feedback, participants filled out a booklet con-taining the dependent measures. On the front of the booklet, participants read that, ‘‘Becausethe Lange–Elliot Creativity Test was based on pooled scores . . . we were unable to determinewhich of you was most responsible for the overall positive or negative results obtained bythe pair.’’ Participants were told that their answers would be confidential and that they wouldnot see their partners again in this experiment. Afterward, participants were asked to answerthe questions described below. Each question appeared on a separate page of the booklet. We examined the effectiveness of the success and failure manipulations by asking how wellthe participants believed the dyad, the individual, and the partner performed on the ‘‘creativitytest.’’ Participants responded to these questions on 10-point scales with anchors at not at allwell (1) and very well (10). Participants responded to a measure of the SSB that reflected a comparative self-enhance-ment str
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