A recent study provides evidence that narcissistic grandiosity may indirectly influence the development of psychotic-like experiences through biased cognitive and emotional processing pathways. The findings, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, could have important implications for potential therapeutic interventions to prevent the development of comorbid psychopathology in individuals with narcissism.
Psychosis is a mental health condition that can lead to distorted thinking and perceptions, including hallucinations and delusions. Individuals with narcissistic traits are often seen as self-absorbed and overly confident, displaying an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
While previous research has explored both narcissism and psychosis independently, this study aimed to uncover potential connections between the two phenomena. The researchers were motivated by a desire to better understand the factors contributing to psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) in the general population. PLEs are experiences that bear resemblance to symptoms of psychosis, like delusions or hallucinations, but fall short of a clinical diagnosis.
“Psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) are highly prevalent in the general population and might be associated with the occurrence of various mental disorders, not only those related to the psychosis spectrum,” said study author Błażej Misiak, the Head of the Department of Psychiatry at Wroclaw Medical University in Poland
“However, little is known about personality traits that might be related to the emergence of PLEs. It has been shown that various psychological processes might be altered in persons with narcissistic grandiosity and those with PLEs. These include impairment of metacognition and social cognition, cognitive biases, emotional dysregulation, and dissociation. To date, it remains unknown as to whether these processes bridge both phenomena, i.e., narcissistic grandiosity and PLEs.”
The study involved 1,647 individuals aged 18 to 35 years. They were recruited through social media advertisements. The participants completed assessments of narcissistic traits, cognitive biases linked to psychosis, metacognition, dissociation experiences, emotional regulation strategies, and the occurrence of PLEs.
To analyze the data, the researchers utilized a network analysis approach. This method involves examining relationships between variables, represented as nodes, and their connections, or edges. This network approach allowed the researchers to explore how various factors related to narcissism and mental health might interconnect.
The analysis revealed that there were no direct connections between narcissistic grandiosity (characterized by admiration and rivalry) and PLEs. Instead, the researchers discovered indirect paths. The most straightforward path led through the influence of external attribution bias, a cognitive bias in which individuals tend to attribute the causes of events or outcomes to external factors or circumstances rather than internal factors related to themselves.
Besides the pathway through external attribution bias, other potential routes to PLEs included the need to control thoughts, subjective cognitive complaints, and the use of fantasizing as an emotional regulation strategy. Each of these pathways presented a different facet of how narcissism might indirectly impact the development of PLEs.
“Using a network analysis approach, we found that external attribution biases, the need to control thoughts, social cognition, and emotion regulation through fantasizing link narcissistic grandiosity with PLEs. However, the most likely pathway led through external attribution biases. Our findings suggest that therapeutic interventions targeting these processes, especially external attribution biases, in people with narcissistic grandiosity might reduce the occurrence of PLEs and their unfavorable clinical outcomes.”
While this study sheds light on the intricate relationship between narcissism and PLEs, it’s important to acknowledge its limitations. The researchers used a non-representative sample gathered through social media, which may not accurately reflect the broader population. Additionally, the study was cross-sectional, providing a snapshot rather than a longitudinal view of these relationships.
“Although our sample was relatively large, it lacked the clinical validation of personality traits and psychopathological symptoms. Therefore, we were not able to test our hypotheses in the sample of individuals with narcissistic personality disorder or those with confirmed PLEs.”
“However, there is evidence that even self-reported PLEs that appear to be false-negative findings upon the clinical validation still hold some usefulness in predicting the development of mental disorders. Of note, our findings warrant further research. It is important to note that narcissism has various dimensions, not only grandiosity. Future studies should further investigate as to whether these dimensions differ in terms of the mechanisms linking them with PLEs.”
The study, “Understanding pathways from narcissistic grandiosity to psychotic-like experiences: Insights from the network analysis“, was authored by Błażej Misiak, Krzysztof Kowalski, Arkadiusz Jaworski, Gabriela Świrkosz, Michał Szyszka, and Patryk Piotrowski.