Some people are evil than others

Narcissism: Are Some People Fundamentally Bad?

Are all arrogant, self-assured disgusts narcissists? Or are narcissists more sensitive and dissatisfied? A study by the University of Graz gets to the bottom of these questions.

According to legend, Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection that appears to him in the water. When the young hunter realizes that his love can never be returned, he kills himself. In another version, a leaf falls on the water, covering the mirrored face. Narcissus is very disturbed by his supposedly gruesome sight. And again he kills himself.

Based on this, the term narcissism has become common both in popular parlance and in research. Dr. Emanuel Jauk from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Graz explains it like this: A narcissist can be recognized by his feelings of “grandiosity, superiority over others and the exaggerated importance of oneself over others”.

In everyday life, narcissists are dominant, self-centered. This can lead to conflicts. Dr. Jauk continues: "If someone is very concerned about his own interests, then sometimes the balancing of interests with others does not work smoothly."

Looking at the Brain: How to Find Narcissus Today

Jauk wanted to find out the causes of this personality image in an experiment with a colleague and three colleagues. But it is difficult to ask test subjects whether they are particularly vain. Such Self-questioning often turns out to be inadequate. Even self-centered and dominant people would hardly use the negative label Narcissist hang around. So Dr. Jauks team carried out an experimental study in which it initially established indirectly who can be considered a narcissist and who cannot. Only in the second step did they then research the brains of the groups defined in this way.

43 test persons were screened from a large pool (a total of 600 people). 21 test persons were defined as highly narcissistic. 22 were considered to be slightly narcissistic. This may appear to be a small, unrepresentative number of cases, but the preliminary survey alone set high standards. Then things get really tricky. Before that, let's take a closer look at the results. The participants were shown photos of themselves, their best friend and an outwardly similar stranger in a magnetic resonance tomograph (MRT).

The researchers at the University of Graz now observed the brain activation of particularly narcissistic people while they were looking at the photos. “If you have an overly positive self-image, looking at it should activate those areas of the brain that are responsible for strong desire or pleasure reactions. If the opposite is true, regions should be activated that indicate negative affect or emotional conflicts, ”says Jauk, describing the initial situation.

Selfies: the arrogant society?

The study carried out in 2016 produces surprising results. In this way, she shows that narcissists were more concerned than delighted by their portraits, contrary to everyday expectations.

Jauk is hardly surprised. In an interview with Schrödinger's cat, the scientist describes the preliminary surveys: “There is something that people judge on a conscious level:“ I'm really great and actually superior to everyone. ”And then there is something else that probably takes place on a subconscious level where there is active insecurity. And you can trigger it when you confront people with particularly self-relevant stimuli. And the photos of your own face are especially important. "

Many, such as Felix Stephan in the weekly newspaper The time, today's society with its urge for over-individuality with its selfies is considered an arrogant, narcissistic society. Could the study be interpreted as saying that selfies on social media are more likely to be read as a cry for help? So does the question “Am I great anyway?” Apply rather than the ostentatious statement “Look how great I am!”? After all, it is not too far from portraits as in the study to self-portraits in social media.

The psychologist hesitates, but in a rudimentary way you could look at it like this: “At least if the selfie post serves the purpose of getting a lot of confirmation from outside that you get a particularly high number of likes. Then it is probably motivated narcissistically in certain parts. I think this is a very intuitively approachable consideration that many would likely share from their experience. If you are satisfied and at peace with yourself anyway, then there is no reason to keep hearing how great you are. "

Let's stay with selfies for a moment: Jauk and his team are very careful when interpreting their own results due to the small number of test subjects. Your study cannot say anything about the thesis whether selfies contribute to a narcissistic society, after all it was about portraits, not self-portraits.

Still, Jauk knows other scientific evidence: “There are large-scale, long-term studies in the United States, where the phenomenon is perhaps a little more drastic, where it is fairly clear that there has been an increase in narcissism over the past few decades. This is also examined with the questionnaire that we used, and the values ​​are constantly increasing. "

Mr. Sensitive and Mr. Sensitive

The experiment at the University of Graz also showed that male narcissists are more sensitive than female. Specifically, this means that men are more sensitive to potentially dangerous situations, according to the study. Emanuel Jauk puts one thing up front: “We don't know exactly why we were able to find this effect in men and not in women.” In the study, the author and authors point out that women are more likely to fall back on their social environment than men.

Jauk describes this as “a certain safety cushion” and he means it completely positively: “This is probably because women are, on average, the more emotionally competent sex and can perceive, understand and regulate their own emotions better than men on average can. ”Addressing a problem, seeking social support, would, according to Emanuel Jauk, be a way of“ how to deal with stressful situations. For example, women are more likely to do that than men ”.

Ridicule and malice?

As the results of the Graz study show, narcissists are anything but arrogant. Therefore, the way we deal with them should change. Jauk anticipates that a change in attitude is necessary first. He is convinced that “results like ours can contribute to this”. In any case, the researcher is opposed to taking the “easy path that is currently chosen in many mass media, namely that one says: people with a narcissistic personality are simply fundamentally evil and condemnable”.

He is convinced that studies like the one in Graz can show “that there is already a deeper layer to understand and that simply nobody is fundamentally angry”. Once you have seen this and changed your attitude accordingly, Jauk believes that “the behavior changes by itself”.

Photos and off to the tube

Jauk explains the study design in more detail: “There are self-description questionnaires with a total of 40 questions, where for each question you tick a statement that describes you better. It says things like: “Modesty is not my thing, I am the born leader.” Or: “One day someone should write my biography.” And people who, so to speak, consistently agree, were then put into the highly narcissistic group ; People who consistently disagreed with the low narcissistic group. "

It is important to add that the research team “did not work with clinically diagnosed narcissists”, “but with narcissism in the“ normal ”population variation, normal in quotation marks”.

In other words, no medical practices or clinics were contacted, but the participants in the study were recruited from the running audience on the street.

The 43 chosen were asked to come for a photo op with their best friend. A professional photographer snapped 72 portraits (!) Of every single person in the university's own studio. In addition, there were pictures of people who outwardly resembled the chosen ones. That made a total of 9,288 photos.

They were taken from 24 different horizontal and three different vertical angles. The lighting was standardized, i.e. the same for similarly laid out images.

But that's not all: a few weeks later, the test subjects came back to the university. This was followed by the MRI described above. “The one with the many different angles” taken by the photographer “is a methodical detail, but it was necessary so that people don't always see a similar image and don't adjust too much,” adds Dr. Jauk.

Why was this great effort necessary?

"The neurophysiological brain reactions that you generate when you look at pictures of yourself are not subject to conscious control," explains Jauk. The reactions mentioned “arise spontaneously and involuntarily”. This approach enables "qualities that go hand in hand with narcissism to be examined that are not or cannot be stated on a conscious level," explains the researcher.

More: Emanuel Jauk, Mathias Benedek, Karl Koschutnig, Gayannée Kedia, Aljoscha C. Neubauer: "Self-viewing is associated with negative affect rather than reward in highly narcissistic men: an fMRI study" Published in English by Nature Scientific Reports.

Author: Zoran Sergievski

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