Narcissism Research Round-Up

Periodic table, altered

What’s the latest research on narcissism? Three studies  discussed:

1. Narcissists are motivated to achieve a desired outcome (probably further personal glory) but not that motivated to avoid a negative outcome.

2. Depressive symptoms induce paranoid symptoms in narcissistic personalities (but not narcissistic symptoms in paranoid personalities).

3. On-line gamers are reported to be high on the narcissism and aggression, and low on self-control.

Full discussion and research citations after the jump.

Here’s what caught my eye:

1. Narcissists are motivated to achieve a desired outcome (probably further personal glory) but not that motivated to avoid a negative outcome.

Lesson: don’t tell a narcissist that the downside outweighs the upside.

Foster, JD and Trim FR4th, Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Apr 24, “On being Eager and Uninhibited: Narcissism and Approach-Avoidance Motivation

In business literature, charismatic leaders are known to be fearless — treading where others just won’t go for fear of failure. On the other hand, they avoid accountability. There’s a good summary by Michael Maccoby, in the Ivey Business Journal, May/June 2008, entitled, “To Win The Respect of Followers, Leaders Need Personality Intelligence,” here’s a quote:

. . .Unproductive narcissistic traits are arrogance, grandiosity, not listening to others, paranoid sensitivity to threats, extreme competitiveness, and unbridled ambition and aggressiveness. These traits have undermined some narcissistic leaders who have gone from great success to disaster, like Napoleon and Henry Ford. . . .

The article is a wake-up call to the command-and-control types (not necessarily narcissists) that to achieve a result, you have to be, essentially, the hub in a hub and spoke organization, as opposed to the tip of the pyramid. Bosses don’t know what the underlings do — so they can’t direct their jobs. If they try — which many still do and have no clue, believe me — then they are bound to alienate the workers, who will leave for a better environment. This is particularly true where bosses — like narcissists — demand workers charge ahead for a doomed project. Of course when it fails, the boss blames the underlings. (Sort of like what it looks like Paul, Hastings did to Shinyung Oh).

2. Depressive symptoms induce paranoid symptoms in narcissistic personalities (but not narcissistic symptoms in paranoid personalities).

Joiner TE Jr, Petty S, Perez M, Sachs-Ericsson N, Rudd MDPsychiatry Res. 2008 May 30;159(1-2):237-44. Epub 2008 Apr 18.

Perhaps depression is expected if narcissists have unsteady white matter connections. Other forms of depression have white matter abnormalities — like geriatric depression.

Now, why does depression turn into paranoia? I wondered about this, as some of the narcissists in my life would really get truly paranoid — which is incredibly scary. Perhaps this is the biggest risk factor for violence: paranoid response to depression in narcissists. This isn’t you’re regular paranoia — this is the “I just know you’re going to hurt me and so I’m going to attack you first” brand of paranoiac delusion.

Parsing the trail from narcissistic depression to paranoia implicates special brain components:

  • B. But why is “paranoia” the default condition once narcissistic depression sets in? If you view “paranoia” as “misreading the intentions of others in a negative light” then you can focus on areas in the brain involved in social cognition. Perhaps the reason that “negative intentions” are assumed (which results in thinking “they’re out to get me”) is because the part of the brain detecting social affiliation and cooperation is broken — so to make sense of human interaction, in the absence of feeling powerful, you assume threatening behavior. To break it down:
  • (i) Misreading the intentions of other. This “theory of mind” is said to be a function of a variety of brain structures, and a recent study shows the areas involved in understanding cooperation and deception in others. Lissek et al. presented people with stories about third parties either cooperating or being deceived:

Cartoon, “theory of mind”

(Click to enlarge): Examples of the ToM cartoon stories presented to the subjects. Panels show (A) cooperation, (B) deception, and (C) cooperation/deception. (D) shows an example of a jumbled cartoon story presented in the non-ToM condition. (Lissek et al., PLoS ONE. 2008; 3(4): e2023).

Lissek et al. then took brain scans and showed the brain areas involved in evaluating the cooperative and deceptive intentions of others:

Our results suggest that bilateral TPJ, precuneus, and posterior cingulate are regions involved in belief reasoning and evaluation of both cooperative and deceptive intentions of others embedded in a social interaction, at least if the outcome of the social interaction is directly observable. In contrast, orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate regions seem to be predominantly active during processing of a character’s ignorance of a malicious intent against him, and attribution of deceptive intentions to a third party. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to further dissect the cognitive architecture of processing cooperation versus intentional deception. Our findings provide evidence for the hypothesis that different processes of ToM, namely the comprehension of cooperation and deception, are associated with different activation patterns of the neural network involved in social cognition.

Let’s say you think an innocent person is duped — your orbitofrontal, medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate regions become active. But if those areas are damaged, you won’t believe the person is innocent — you’ll think the person is in on the deception, and is trying to act innocent. So you think other people are cooperating with the liars — and that can make you paranoid.

  • (ii) Inflexibility in “disconfirmatory evidence” — a recent study showed that schizophrenics with strongly held persecutory delusions refused to consider any facts which showed otherwise. Imagine you think your partner is out to get you. You watch. You see your partner carrying groceries for a little old lady. You assume that this doesn’t mean your partner is nice — it means that your partner is trying to make you look bad, or the little old lady is in on the deception, or whatever — but certainly not that your partner is helping a little old lady because it’s a nice thing to do.
  • (iii) Acting aggressively — this may be a proper fear reaction inappropriately expressed because of the paranoid false-belief. With potentially frontal cortex damage or disconnected due to white matter instability, the inhibition of aggression is removed where fear is felt. Aggression could also be vengeance — some kind of punishing action for a perceived unfairness (which is a misinterpretation of the intent of others). That would go to the part of the brain involved in fairness — the anterior cingulate.
  • C. Remaining interested in being judged. Narcissists are nothing if not judgmental — after all, you can’t be great all alone in a room — you have someone to compare yourself to. This looks like the temporoparietal junction. A recent study showed that this brain area is active when comparing people to each other — and prior studies have shown that this area is active when having an out of body experience.

3. On-line gamers are reported to be high on the narcissism and aggression, and low on self-control:

CONCLUSION: An interesting profile has emerged from the results of this study, suggesting that certain psychological characteristics such as aggression, [low] self-control, and narcissistic personality traits may predispose some individuals to become addicted to online games. This result will deepen our understanding of the “at-risk” population for online game addiction and provide basic information that can contribute to developing a prevention program for people who are addicted to online games.

OK, so maybe the conclusion that gamers tend toward aggressive narcissists can be filed in the “duh” file. But it points to evidence that game “addicts” are similar to many gambling addicts, sex addicts, drug addicts and alcohol addicts. Looks like a dopamine issue to me.

Grand Theft Auto IV Publicity Still

It also points to the genius in Grand Theft Auto: perfection in video game neuro-marketing. This is the video game that involves jacking cars, mugging prostitutes, etc.

Kim EJ, Namkoong K, Ku T, Kim SJ, “The relationship between online game addiction and aggression, self-control and narcissistic personality traits, ” Eur Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;23(3):212-8. Epub 2007 Dec 31

Abstracts reproduced below the fold:

1: Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Apr 24. [Epub ahead of print]On Being Eager and Uninhibited: Narcissism and Approach-Avoidance Motivation.

Foster JD, Trimm RF 4th.University of South Alabama.
This article demonstrates the validity and utility of conceptualizingnarcissistic personality in terms of relative approach-avoidance motivation. Across three studies (N = 1,319), narcissism predicted high approach and low avoidance motivation. That is, narcissists reported being strongly motivated to approach desirable outcomes but only weakly motivated to avoid negative outcomes. Relative approach-avoidance motivation was shown to be useful in terms of explaining behavioral tendencies associated with narcissism (i.e., functional and dysfunctional impulsivity) and distinguishing different “flavors” of narcissism (i.e., overt and covert narcissism). Discussion focuses on how approach-avoidance motivation may be used to explain prior findings in the narcissism literature and generate novel future hypotheses.
PMID: 18436654 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]
Related Links
An empirical typology of narcissism and mental health in late adolescence. [J Adolesc. 2006] PMID:16338429
Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. [Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2006] PMID:16768652
The performance of narcissists rises and falls with perceived opportunity for glory. [J Pers Soc Psychol. 2002] PMID:12003480
Approach-avoidance motivation in personality: approach and avoidance temperaments and goals. [J Pers Soc Psychol. 2002] PMID:12003479
Narcissists as “Victims”: the role of narcissism in the perception of transgressions. [Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003] PMID:15018676

2. Psychiatry Res. 2008 May 30;159(1-2):237-44. Epub 2008 Apr 18.
Depressive symptoms induce paranoid symptoms in narcissistic personalities (but not narcissistic symptoms in paranoid personalities).
Joiner TE Jr, Petty S, Perez M, Sachs-Ericsson N, Rudd MD.
Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1270, USA.
Based on clinical experience, anecdotal reports, and past empirical and conceptual work, we predicted that when people with narcissistic tendencies experience depressive symptoms, they are prone to develop paranoid attitudes. Moreover, we expected that this process was unidirectional, and that the combination of paranoid tendencies and depressive symptoms would not be associated with an increase in narcissistic symptoms. In both cases, results from our 6-month longitudinal study of 71 previously suicidal adults conformed to our expectations.
PMID: 18423618 [PubMed – in process]
Related Links
Hypomanic symptoms predict an increase in narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder features in suicidal young adults. [Depress Anxiety. 2007] PMID:17932897
[Narcissistic depression in schizophrenia] [Acta Med Iugosl. 1990] PMID:2336968
[Alpha-interferon and mental disorders] [Encephale. 2001] PMID:11686052
Interrelationship of hypochondriacal, paranoid, depressive, and suicidal symptoms in Chinese psychiatric patients. [Psychopathology. 1988] PMID:3222431
Personality disorders and depression. [Psychol Med. 2002] PMID:12214786

3. Eur Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;23(3):212-8. Epub 2007 Dec 31.
The relationship between online game addiction and aggression, self-control and narcissistic personality traits.
Kim EJ, Namkoong K, Ku T, Kim SJ.
Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Behavioral Science in Medicine, Yonsei University College of Medicine, 250 Seongsanro, Seodaemun-Gu, Seoul 120-752, South Korea. eunjoo96k@freechal.com
OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to explore the relationship between online game addiction and aggression, self-control, and narcissistic personality traits, which are known as the psychological characteristics linked to “at-risk” populations for online game addiction. METHOD: A total of 1471 online game users (males 82.7%, females 17.3%, mean age 1.30+/-4.96) participated in this study and were asked to complete several self-report measures using an online response method. Questionnaires included demographic information and game use-related characteristics of the samples, the online game addiction scale (modified from Young’s Internet addiction scale), the Buss-Perry aggression questionnaire, a self-control scale, and the narcissistic personality disorder scale. RESULTS: Ourresults indicated that aggression and narcissistic personality traits are positively correlated with online game addiction, whereas self-control is negatively correlated with online game addiction (p<0.001). In addition, a multiple regression analysis revealed that the extent of online game addiction could be predicted based on the person’s narcissistic personality traits, aggression, self-control, interpersonal relationship, and occupation. However, only 20% of the variance in behavioral consequences was explained with the model.

CONCLUSION: An interesting profile has emerged from the results of this study, suggesting that certain psychological characteristics such as aggression, self-control, and narcissistic personality traits may predispose some individuals to become addicted to online games. This result will deepen our understanding of the “at-risk” population for online game addiction and provide basic information that can contribute to developing a prevention program for people who are addicted to online games.
PMID: 18166402 [PubMed – in process]
Related Links
[Factors on internet game addiction among adolescents] [Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi.2007] PMID:17804942
Gender differences and related factors affecting online gaming addiction among Taiwanese adolescents. [J Nerv Ment Dis. 2005] PMID:15805824
Personality Traits and Life Satisfaction among Online Game Players. [Cyberpsychol Behav. 2008] PMID:18422405
Negative correlates of computer game play in adolescents. [Br J Psychol. 2000] PMID:10958576
Excessive computer game playing: evidence for addiction and aggression? [Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007] PMID:17474848

4. PLoS ONE. 2008 Apr 23;3(4):e2023.
Cooperation and deception recruit different subsets of the theory-of-mind
network.
Lissek S, Peters S, Fuchs N, Witthaus H, Nicolas V, Tegenthoff M, Juckel G, Brüne
M. , Department of Neurology, Ruhr-University Bochum, BG-Kliniken Bergmannsheil,
Bochum, Germany. silke.lissek@rub.de

The term “theory of mind” (ToM) describes an evolved psychological mechanism thatis necessary to represent intentions and expectations in social interaction. Itis thus involved in determining the proclivity of others to cooperate or defect. While in cooperative settings between two parties the intentions and expectations of the protagonists match, they diverge in deceptive scenarios, in which one protagonist is intentionally manipulated to hold a false belief about the intention of the other. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm using cartoons showing social interactions (including the outcome of the interaction) between two or three story characters, respectively, we sought to determine those brain areas of the ToM network involved in reasoning about cooperative versus deceptive interactions. Healthy volunteers were asked to reflect upon theprotagonists’ intentions and expectations in cartoons depicting cooperation, deception or a combination of both, where two characters cooperated to deceive a third. Reasoning about the mental states of the story characters yielded substantial differences in activation patterns: both deception and cooperation activated bilateral temporoparietal junction, parietal and cingulate regions, while deception alone additionally recruited orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal regions. These results indicate an important role for prefrontal cortex in processing a mismatch between a character’s intention and another’s expectations as required in complex social interactions.
PMCID: PMC2295259

PMID: 18431500 [PubMed – in process]
Related Links
[Theory of mind in Asperger syndrome] [Encephale. 2007] PMID:18033148
The intentional network: how the brain reads varieties of intentions.
[Neuropsychologia. 2007] PMID:17669444
Neural correlates of true and false belief reasoning. [Neuroimage. 2007]
PMID:17376703
Neuronal correlates of theory of mind and empathy: a functional magnetic
resonance imaging study in a nonverbal task. [Neuroimage. 2006] PMID:16122944
Mirror neuron and theory of mind mechanisms involved in face-to-face
interactions: a functional magnetic resonance imaging approach to empathy. [J
Cogn Neurosci. 2007] PMID:17651008