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Inducing narcissistic feelings leads people to overestimate their intelligence

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Does narcissism really make people think they’re smarter than they are, even if they’re not narcissistic? A study published in the Personality Research Journal 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 praised, their narcissism may increase. This means that state narcissism can also be manipulated. People high in narcissism tend to overestimate their own abilities in many areas, especially intelligence.

Overestimating one’s own intelligence has been theorized as a catalyst for some of the other positive views that narcissists hold, including increased status, power, and success. This study aimed to explore the relationship between state narcissism and self-rated intelligence.

Marcin Zajenkowski of the Intelligence Cognition Emotion Lab and his colleagues performed a pilot study and two follow-up studies. The pilot study used 141 Polish participants recruited through Qualtrics. The sample was mostly made up of women and students.

Narcissism was induced by asking participants to recall an event that made them feel admired by others and to share how special they felt because of it. Witness participants were asked to recall an event that made them feel neither better nor worse than others. Participants completed narcissism measures to test whether the manipulation was successful.

Study 1 used 277 Polish participants recruited through Qualtrics. This sample had a more equal gender distribution. Narcissism was induced in the same way as in the pilot study. Participants then read a blurb on intelligence and were asked to rate their own against other people.

Study 2 used 371 undergraduate students to serve as the participant pool. This sample was predominantly female. Narcissism was induced as in previous studies, and participants also completed measures of academic goal pursuit, academic achievement, and psychological well-being.

The results showed that narcissism had a significant effect on self-rated intelligence. There were no primary effects of narcissism on the pursuit of academic goals or academic achievement, although there were significant mediating effects of self-rated intelligence in these relationships, suggesting that self-rated intelligence could potentially help explain the relationships found.

“To the extent that narcissists display relatively high academic performance or [psychological wellbeing]this is due — at least in part — to their high level [self-assessed intelligence]“, explain the researchers

The study also replicated gender differences found in self-rated intelligence, with men reporting higher intelligence than women. These results could suggest that perceptions of one’s own intelligence may be fluid and may change with one’s personality.

This study has taken some interesting steps in understanding self-perceived intelligence and its relationship to state narcissism. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the gender breakdown for two of the three studies was extremely biased in favor of women, which could lead to skepticism about any gender differences found. Another limitation is that this study did not consider race, ethnicity, culture, or sexuality as possible confounding variables.

“In conclusion, a temporary infusion of narcissism leads to a relatively positive assessment of his intelligence,” Zajenkowski and his colleagues wrote. This assessment has downstream consequences for the pursuit of academic goals, academic achievement, and well-being. The findings open up exciting possibilities for understanding the effects of momentary shifts in narcissism on their functioning.

The study, “Induced Narcissism Increases Self-Rated Intelligence: Implications for the Pursuit of Academic Goals, Expected Academic Achievement, and Psychological Well-Being,” was authored by Marcin Zajenkowski, Constantine Sedikides, Gilles E. Gignac , Jeremiasz Górniak and Oliwia Maciantowicz .


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