Why narcissists make poor social decisions

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I am not a narcissist

Narcissism is the excessive interest in oneself. It can hurt one’s relationships with other people. Narcissists believe they know everything and assume everyone adores them. They also feel superior to others and may boost their egos by implying others are inferior.

Narcissism can lead to poor decisions in social interactions (e.g., business), but the mechanism behind this is not clear. In a study newly published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers answered the question.

In many social environments, we need to consider other people’s attitudes and choices to make decisions. The social decisions involve trust, compromise, feeling of fairness, and forgiveness.

Generally, people give more when receivers have the option to retaliate (e.g., punishing the giver), and people tend to punish those who behave selfishly.

In the study, one question is how narcissists show generous behavior when their interaction partner can/cannot punish them. Another question is how narcissists punish others’ unfair behaviors.

Researchers recruited 122 adults and divided them into a low narcissism group and a high narcissism group based on their narcissism scores.

Participants then played several economic games. In these games, they could give money to others, punish others based on the money they received, and decide how much money one player should give to another player.

Not surprisingly, all participants gave more money when they knew that their partners could punish them. In addition, people with high narcissism gave less money to the partners in all games.

People also gave more punishment for low offers than for high offers. Additionally, high narcissists punished low offers much more than low narcissists.

Further analyses showed that when the money offer decreased, high narcissists reported more anger and sadness. This group also reported less perspective-taking and higher personal distress than the low narcissism group. Moreover, they reported more Machiavellianism.

The finding suggests that narcissists cannot take others’ perspectives well, which may make them less generous to others even when their interaction partners can punish them. On the contrary, when facing unfair choices, narcissists show more anger and revenge-seeking behavior.

The two features of narcissists, reduced generosity and enhanced aggressive actions, can cause troubles in social interactions and lead to poor decision-making.

Therefore, trainings in perspective-taking and emotion regulation can help narcissists build better relationships.


Citation: Böckler A, Sharifi M, Kanske P, Dziobek I, Singer T. (2017). Social decision making in narcissism: Reduced generosity and increased retaliation are driven by alterations in perspective-taking and anger. Personality and Individual Differences, 104: 1-7. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.07.020

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