Study: The world views Americans as narcissists — and so do other Americans

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The citizens of the United States are viewed as narcissistic by both Americans themselves and people living in other countries, according to new psychology research. An international team of researchers, led by Joshua Miller and Jessica L. Maples of the University of Georgia, published their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Americans and non-Americans alike perceive other Americans as highly narcissistic,” the researchers wrote. Key features of narcissism include attention-seeking, a sense of entitlement, immodesty, self-absorption, grandiosity, and manipulativeness.

The study only examined the perception of narcissism in America — not the actual levels of narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder is relatively rare. Fewer than one in 100 individuals meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder.

Americans in general may be viewed as narcissists simply because of the high visibility of narcissistic American celebrities and politicians. “Via multiple media sources (e.g., TV, social media, print), Americans and non-Americans are inundated with possible examples of American narcissism — whether it be politicians, actors/actresses, reality TV celebrities, athletes, and criminals,” the researchers noted. Famous public figures tend to more narcissistic than average individuals, who are much less visible.

However, other factors could be at play.

The foreign policy of the United States could also be influencing the perceptions of Americans. “Being a global military and economic leader for several generations places America in a position of power and control, which may lead to perceptions that America acts in an arrogant and/or self-serving manner; America’s actions and inactions on a world stage may then be used as a way to form or reinforce beliefs about the broader citizenry of the United States,” Miller and Maples explained in their study.

The research consisted of six scientific surveys, which included a total of 2,917 people.

Miller and Maples started off by surveying 100 older individuals at a local mall in Athens, Georgia. This initial study was a replication of previous narcissism research published in 2010. The individuals, who were all over 40 years of age, viewed their acquaintances and Americans in general as more narcissistic than themselves.

Miller and Maples expanded on this research by conducting a second survey on 322 University of Georgia students. This second, more detailed survey again found that people viewed their acquaintances and Americans in general as more narcissistic than themselves. In addition, the survey revealed that the students viewed Americans in general as more antagonistic, more likely to drink and use drugs, and more likely to commit crimes than themselves.

After confirming that Americans as view other Americans as narcissistic, Miller and Maples sought to better understand the specific characteristics that are associated with the “typical American.” Their online survey of 183 Americans found that the typical American was perceived as being a middle-aged, middle-class married man who was religious, of average health, and lived in an urban area. However, these characteristics were not associated with narcissism.

So who are the Americans that people think of when asked about narcissistic Americans?

The researchers’ fourth study provided some clues. The online survey of 1,202 Americans found people in high profile jobs were viewed as more narcissistic. American actors and actresses, athletes, and politicians were rated as being more narcissistic than American health care workers, teachers and wait staff. In addition, men were perceived as being more narcissistic than women, and people between the ages of 18 and 30 were perceived as more narcissistic than older Americans.

“We believe these results support the notion that perceptions of Americans as narcissistic are driven, at least in large part, by an availability heuristic in which certain features of some Americans (e.g., visibility, high status, wealth) drive the perception that Americans are highly self-centered, grandiose, and exploitative,” the researchers wrote. In other words, when people think of Americans in general, the first thing that comes to mind are high profile figures like movie stars and political figures.

With an international survey of 733 individuals, Miller and Maples uncovered that the pattern found in the United States occurred in other countries as well. Like Americans, individuals the Basque Country, China, Turkey, and the United Kingdom were also more likely to perceive residents of their own country as more narcissistic than themselves. But the pattern in the United States was substantially larger.

“Although the perception of narcissism among the general citizenry exists across regions, these perceptions were strongest for America,” the researcher said.

This fifth survey also found that individuals in the Basque Country, China, Turkey, and the United Kingdom perceived Americans as being more narcissistic than the residents of their own country. “Individuals from these countries rate Americans as so narcissistic that most would meet criteria for this personality disorder, which generally has a low base rate in the United States and elsewhere,” the researchers noted. These findings were confirmed by a sixth survey of 377 adults from 19 different countries.

The perceptions of Americans were not entirely negative.

“They also said Americans are less neurotic, as well as more extroverted and conscientious, so it wasn’t just an indiscriminate criticism of Americans,” Miller explained. “It was a specific profile of traits that just happens to be very consistent with what we call grandiose narcissism-these sort of hyper confident, aggressive, assertive individuals.”

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