Does narcissism really make people think that they’re smarter than they are, even if they aren’t a narcissist? A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that inducing narcissistic feelings can lead individuals to overestimate their own intelligence.
Narcissism is often thought of as a fixed personality trait, but it can also be a temporary state. For example, when a person is being praised, their narcissism can increase. This means that state narcissism can also be manipulated. People high in narcissism tend to overestimate their own abilities in many domains, especially intelligence.
Overestimating one’s own intelligence has been theorized to be a catalyst for some of the other positive self-views narcissists have, including increased status, power, and success. This study sought to explore the relationship between state narcissism and self-assessed intelligence.
Marcin Zajenkowski of the Intelligence Cognition Emotion Lab and his colleagues completed a pilot study and two follow up studies. The pilot study utilized 141 Polish participants recruited through Qualtrics. The sample was predominantly female and students.
Narcissism was induced by asking participants to recall an event that made them feel admired by others and share how they felt special because of it. The control participants were asked to recall an event that made them feel no better or worse than others. Participants completed measures on narcissism to check if the manipulation was successful.
Study 1 utilized 277 Polish participants recruited through Qualtrics. This sample had a more even gender split. Narcissism was induced in the same way as in the pilot study. Participants then read a blurb about intelligence and were asked to rate their own in comparison to other people.
Study 2 utilized 371 undergraduate students to serve as their participant pool. This sample was predominantly female. Narcissism was induced as in the previous studies, and participants also completed measures on academic goal-pursuit, academic achievement, and psychological well-being.
Results showed that narcissism had a significant effect on self-assessed intelligence. There were no main effects of narcissism on academic goal-pursuit or academic achievement, although there were significant mediation effects of self-assessed intelligence in these relationships, suggesting that self-assessed intelligence could potentially help explain the relationships found.
“To the extent that narcissists show relatively high academic performance or [psychological wellbeing], this is due — at least in part — to their elevated [self-assessed intelligence],” the researchers explained
The study also replicated gender differences found in self-assessed intelligence, with men reporting higher intelligence than women. These results could suggest that perceptions of one’s own intelligence can be fluid and can change with one’s personality.
This study took interesting steps into understanding self-perceived intelligence and its relationship with state narcissism. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the gender breakdown for two out of three of the studies was extremely skewed toward women, which could lead to skepticism about any gender differences found. Another limitation is that this study did not account for race, ethnicity, culture, or sexuality as possible confounding variables.
“In conclusion, a temporary infusion of narcissism leads to a comparatively positive appraisal of one’s intelligence,” Zajenkowski and his colleagues wrote. This appraisal has downstream consequences for academic goal-pursuit, academic achievement, and wellbeing. The findings open up exciting possibilities for understanding the effects of momentary variations in narcissism on the way they function.”
The study, “Induced narcissism increases self-assessed intelligence: implications for academic goal-pursuit, expected academic achievement, and psychological well-being“, was authored by Marcin Zajenkowski, Constantine Sedikides, Gilles E. Gignac, Jeremiasz Górniak, and Oliwia Maciantowicz.