Inducing narcissistic feelings leads people to overestimate their intelligence

Does narcissism really make people think they are smarter than they are, even if they are not narcissists? A study published in Journal of Research in Personality suggests that the induction of narcissistic feelings may lead individuals to overestimate their own intelligence.

Narcissism is often thought of as a fixed personality trait, but it can also be a temporary condition. For example, when a person is praised, their narcissism can increase. This means that state narcissism can also be manipulated. People with high narcissism tend to overestimate their own abilities in many areas, especially intelligence.

Overestimating one’s intelligence has been thought to be a catalyst for some of the other positive views narcissists have of themselves, including increased status, power, and success. This study sought to investigate the relationship between state narcissism and self-rated intelligence.

Marcin Zajenkowski from the Intelligence Cognition Emotion Lab and colleagues completed a pilot study and two follow-up studies. The pilot study used 141 Polish participants recruited through Qualtrics. The sample was mainly women and students.

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

Study 1 used 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 sentence about intelligence and were asked to rate their own in comparison to other people.

Study 2 used 371 undergraduate students to serve as the participant pool. This sample was predominantly female. Narcissism was elicited 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 main effects of narcissism on academic goal pursuit or academic achievement, although there were significant mediating effects of self-rated intelligence on 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 elevated [self-assessed intelligence]”, the researchers explained

The study also replicated the 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 can be fluid and can change depending on one’s personality.

This study made interesting strides in understanding self-perceived intelligence and its relationship to state narcissism. However, there are limitations that should be noted. One such limitation is that the gender distribution for two out of three of the studies was highly skewed towards 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 potential confounding variables.

“In conclusion, a temporary infusion of narcissism leads to a comparatively positive assessment of one’s intelligence,” wrote Zajenkowski and colleagues. This assessment has consequential consequences for academic goal pursuit, academic achievement and well-being. The findings open up exciting possibilities for understanding the effects of momentary variations in narcissism on how they function.”

The study, “Induced narcissism increases self-rated intelligence: implications for academic goal pursuit, expected academic performance, and psychological well-being,” was authored by Marcin Zajenkowski, Constantine Sedikides, Gilles E. Gignac, Jeremiasz Górniak, and Oliwia Maciantowicz. .

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