New research published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests that grandiose narcissists are more likely to make bad decisions, owing to an overconfidence in their abilities and a tendency to ignore the advice of experts.
Grandiose narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, feelings of superiority over others, and a readiness to exploit others. People with these characteristics tend to make their way up the hierarchy within organizations, often ending up in positions of power. Whether narcissists make good or bad leaders is another story.
Study authors Charles A. O’Reilly and Nicholas Hall wanted to investigate an underexplored topic — whether the decision-making tendencies of grandiose narcissists can jeopardize the organizations they lead.
In a first study, 252 Americans of an average age of 36 completed a measure of narcissistic personality and then were presented with a scenario designed to assess their decision making. The decision involved making a monetary offer to acquire another company, and subjects were given the opportunity to read the opinions of three experts. The researchers took note of how many expert opinions subjects accessed and how much time they spent consulting them.
After controlling for a range of socioeconomic variables, the researchers found that participants with heightened narcissism were more confident in their responses to the problem and spent less time considering the expert opinions at their disposal. They also rated expert opinions less useful when making difficult decisions than those lower in narcissism.
The subjects who gave answers that were the least correct had higher confidence, were more impulsive, rated expert advice as less useful, and made less use of expert opinions when formulating their answers. As the authors observed, “It was not narcissism per se that led to the increased probability of making an incorrect choice but the effects of narcissism on how respondents accessed information.”
The findings also revealed that, after discovering that their responses were incorrect, narcissists showed more confidence than non-narcissists, and were more likely to blame external sources for their incorrect decisions.
A second study among 249 Americans presented subjects with a different problem which asked them to provide dates for important events in American History. This time, subjects gave their initial responses before being shown accurate estimates from experts and being given the chance to alter their answers.
As in the first study, narcissists were more confident in their responses and rated expert advice as less useful. They were also less likely to change their responses after seeing the answers from experts. Moreover, this confidence was associated with reduced accuracy in responses. Specifically, “more confident respondents were less likely to adjust their estimates and had fewer correct answers.”
As the researchers emphasize, their findings offer insight into how narcissism can contribute to poorer decision-making. “A decision maker who is overly confident in their own abilities who makes impulsive decisions, and who does not value the advice of experts is likely to make bad decisions,” the researchers say. “These tendencies make them potentially dangerous as leaders when their decisions can affect the lives and livelihoods of others.”
As a real-world example, the authors acknowledge the link that some have made between Donald Trump’s narcissistic tendencies and his failure to effectively lead the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that Trump’s shortcomings were “not a lack of information but his overconfidence in his own abilities, his unwillingness to listen to experts, and to his impulsive decision making. ”
The study, “Grandiose narcissists and decision making: Impulsive, overconfident, and skeptical of experts–but seldom in doubt”, was authored by Charles A. O’Reilly and Nicholas Hall.