New research from Poland sheds light on how narcissistic personality traits are related to personal values. The findings, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, provide evidence that valuing self-enhancement is a core aspect of narcissism. But the study also indicates that different facets of narcissism are associated with different personal values.
“I am (along with my lab) interested in any kind of motivation that is related to self-esteem and self-perception,” said study author Magdalena Żemojtel-Piotrowska, an associate professor at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw and the head of the Cross-Cultural Psychology Centre. “I have conducted studies on entitlement and narcissism for 20 years, so it is a long-term adventure. This particular topic — linking narcissism with personal values — is a result of our lab’s interest in values as a reflection of personal motivation.”
The new research was based on a theory of human values developed by social psychologist Shalom H. Schwartz. The theory outlines 19 basic values “that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person.” The 19 values are organized into four different higher-order groups. In addition, rather than examining narcissism in general, the researchers examined four specific facets of narcissism: agentic, communal, antagonistic, and neurotic.
“Narcissistic people are characterized by self-centered exceptionalism along with social egoism, and the phenomenon of narcissism has gained a lot of attention from the public. Our study aimed to uncover what values are important for narcissistic persons, taking into account different manifestations of narcissism,” Żemojtel-Piotrowska explained.
Agentic narcissism is characterized by a grandiose belief in one’s own intelligence and abilities, while communal narcissism is characterized by a grandiose belief in one’s own empathy and helpfulness. Antagonistic narcissism is characterized by competition and the derogation of others, while neurotic narcissism is characterized by insecurity and hypersensitivity.
The study, which included 421 participants, found that all four narcissism facets were associated with increased endorsement of self-enhancement values. The facets, with the exception of agentic narcissism, were also associated with reduced endorsement of self-transcendence values.
“Self-enhancement values in Schwartz model are an expression of focus on one’s own interest, while self-transcendence values are an expression of focus on others’ welfare,” Żemojtel-Piotrowska told PsyPost. “This dimension is crucial for our study. The second dimension is related to attitude toward novelty (openness to change values) versus traditional way of life (conservatism values).”
The researchers found that agentic narcissism was associated with increased endorsement of openness to change values, while communal narcissism was associated with reduced endorsement of openness to change values. Agentic narcissism and antagonistic narcissism were also associated with reduced endorsement of conservation values.
“We show two main things here: one – there is something like a ‘core’ of narcissism, congruent with recent review work of Sedikides (2020) and other prominent scholars in the field,” Żemojtel-Piotrowska said. “The narcissistic core is, according to our findings, not necessarily antagonistic, but definitely egocentric: higher levels of narcissism are accompanied by higher attachment to self-enhancement values, but it does not mean that the narcissists are always less attached to values related to caring for others’ interest.”
“The other issue is whether specific manifestations of narcissistic personality are reflected in different values priorities, in other words – what narcissistic people really want to get in life and whether all narcissists want the same? We have found that apart from being just a narcissistic person, some manifestations of narcissism could be socially aversive, which is reflected in lower attachment to self-transcendence values.”
“Only agentic narcissism was unrelated with lower care for others’ interest, so it could be understood as focusing on one’s own interest while ignoring (but not rejecting) others,” Żemojtel-Piotrowska continued. “Therefore, it is not necessarily harmful for others. Surprisingly, even communal narcissists in our study, that is, people who believe that they are extraordinarily friendly and caring, do not prioritize those values which are focused on others’ welfare. Therefore, they are egoistic.”
“Finally, our study shows that some forms of narcissism are related to greater plasticity, as reflected in attachment to openness to change values, but it is limited only to agentic narcissism. Contrary to this, communal narcissism is related to openness to change values negatively, suggesting that communal narcissists are not open to new ideas or thoughts. To summarize, agentic narcissism seems to be the most adaptive form of narcissism, without negative social costs. At least when we ask for ‘what is important in your life?'”
But the researchers noted that the findings are based on self-reported assessments, which can be prone to bias. “Therefore, we need to continue our studies searching for real-life behaviors, including real-life choices,” Żemojtel-Piotrowska said. “Narcissistic people are particularly good at showing us what is desirable or could impress others, so they might not be totally honest in their answers.”
It is also unclear how well the results generalize to other countries and cultures. Poles tend to have a relatively low level of narcissism, particularly communal narcissism, Żemojtel-Piotrowska said. “I encourage other researchers to replicate our findings in different cultural contexts, but also to adopt our methodological approach (centering the scores of Schwartz values) to avoid methodological biases.”
The study, “Narcissism and personal values: Investigation into agentic, antagonistic, communal and neurotic facets of narcissism“, was authored by Bartłomiej Nowaka, Paweł Brzóska, Jarosław Piotrowski, and Magdalena Żemojtel-Piotrowska.