Narcissistic individuals are a bit more prone to exercise addiction than their less narcissistic counterparts, according to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The new findings provide insight into how different motivations to exercise are related to narcissistic personality features.
“I have been very interested in trying to understand the connections that narcissistic personality features have with certain attitudes and behaviors,” said study author Virgil Zeigler-Hill, a professor at Oakland University.
“In recent years, I have been examining some of the possible mechanisms for these connections such as the activation of particular motives. The present study allowed us to examine whether narcissism may activate certain exercise-related motives which, in turn, may contribute to exercise addiction.”
The researchers were interested in two dimensions of narcissism: admiration and rivalry. Narcissistic admiration is characterized by exhibitionism and charmingness, while narcissistic rivalry is characterized by aggressiveness and defensiveness.
The study, based on survey responses from 2,629 Israeli adults, found that heightened levels of both narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry were associated with heightened levels of exercise addiction.
In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “I manage to be the center of attention with my outstanding contributions” (admiration) and “I want my rivals to fail” (rivalry) were slightly more likely to agree with statements such as “Exercise is the most important thing in my life” and “Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of exercise I do.”
In addition, narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry were both associated with interpersonal motives for exercise.
“Narcissistic individuals may be so focused on certain interpersonal rewards connected with exercise (e.g., enhancing their physical appearance, outperforming others at the gym) that they fail to recognize how costly it is for them to dedicate so much of their lives to exercise (e.g., they have less time to spend with family and friends),” Zeigler-Hill told PsyPost.
“It appears that narcissistic individuals may use exercise as one strategy for demonstrating their value and worth to others. However, it is possible that this addiction to exercise may unintentionally create an escalating pattern in which narcissistic individuals may have even more difficulty actually feeling satisfied and secure with themselves.”
The findings are in line with some previous research, which has found that narcissism is linked to increased levels of physical activity and heightened concerns about one’s physical appearance.
But the new study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“One of the major limitations of this work is that we relied exclusively on self-report measures,” Zeigler-Hill explained. “This is an issue because it is possible that our results may have been influenced by socially desirable response tendencies or individuals having limited insights into their own motives and behaviors. It would be beneficial for future research concerning this topic to complement self-reports with other strategies such as including direct behavioral measures of exercise-related behaviors.”
The study, “Narcissism and Exercise Addiction: The Mediating Roles of Exercise-Related Motives“, was authored by Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Avi Besser, Maor Gabay, and Gracynn Young.