Why Do Narcissists Lose Popularity Over Time?

Narcissism has been something of a mystery to psychologists.

With Narcissists, things tend to be extreme, the good is really good and the bad is really bad.

Narcissism expert W. Keith Campbell compares interacting with Narcissists to eating a chocolate cake, he says: When I eat chococlate cake, 20 minutes later I’m under my desk wanting to die.

When I eat broccoli, in 20 minutes I feel good, but given the choice I will always eat the cake.

On one hand, the Narcissist’s charisma and self confidence can be highly alluring.

Psychologists Mitja Back and colleagues found that Narcissists are indeed more popular at first acquaintance and its due to four particular cues that make up their charismatic air,

. Attractiveness flashy, neat attire.
. Competence self assured behaviour.
. Interpersonal Warmth charming glances at strangers.
. Humour witty verbal expressions.

On the other hand, research shows that the initial popularity of Narcissists at the early stages of interpersonal interactions depends on the behavioural pathway that is triggered, expressive and dominant behaviours are associated with a positive evaluation, whereas arrogant and combative behaviours are associated with a negative evaluation.

According to this research, Narcissists may be more popular at first acquaintance because they are more likely to display behaviours that trigger a positive pathway, perhaps because they are trying to make a good first impression.

In line with this idea, W. Keith Campbell and Stacy Campbell proposed a new model of Narcissism in which they argue that two particular time points are important.

The Emerging Zone includes situations involving unacquainted individuals, early stage relationships and short term contexts.

In contrast, the Enduring Zone involves situations involving acquainted individuals, continuing relationships, and long term consequences.

The costs of Narcissism are seen primarily in the Enduring Zone.

As the relationship develops, Narcissists start displaying behaviours that are evaluated negatively, such as arrogance and aggression.

Narcissists cyclically return to the Emerging Zone because they are addicted to the positive social feedback and emotional rush they get from this zone.

They live in this zone.

As a result, they are good at being popular, making new friends and acquiring social status, but are really quite terrible at sustaining anything meaningful and intimate.

A landmark study by Delroy Paulhus, an expert on dark personalities, supports this model.

Paulhus brought strangers together to engage in a weekly 20 minute group discussion over a period of seven weeks.

They had people rate how they perceived others in the group after week one and then again at the last session after seven weeks.

He found that Narcissism was initially related to positive evaluations, such as assertive, confident, entertaining, exciting and intelligent.

Seven weeks later, however, the same Narcissists were evaluated much more negatively, receiving much higher ratings on characteristics such as arrogant, tendency to brag, and hostile.

These findings provided some of the first evidence for Narcissists’ declining popularity in social groups.

But the question still remained: why the loss in popularity?

To get to the bottom of this mystery, Mitja Back and colleagues recently conducted a study in which they tracked changes in popularity over several time points.

They drew on their new theory of Narcissism, called the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Concept.

According to their theory, Narcissists’ overarching goal of maintaining a grandiose self is pursued by 2 separate pathways: Narcissistic Admiration assertive self enhancement and Narcissistic Rivalry antagonistic self protection.

Despite being positively related to each other, these two different components of Narcissism differentially predict interpersonal orientations, reactions to transgressions in friendships and romantic relationships, interpersonal perceptions during group interactions and observed behaviours in experimental observations.

Adopting this framework, the researchers had 311 college students engage in tasks with increasing levels of intimacy and self disclosure.

Participants first introduced themselves and later engaged in tasks requiring them to work together as a team and finally, played a game in which they discussed each other’s personalities.

Over a period of just three weeks, the researchers found that the association of Narcissism with popularity among peers became more and more negative.

But they didn’t stop there.

They were also able to pinpoint the cause of this loss in popularity.

Narcissistic admiration explained initial popularity, while a decrease in Narcissistic Admiration and an increase in Narcissistic Rivalry over time was responsible for the decline in popularity.

By the end of a three week period and several social interactions, Narcissists were regarded as untrustworthy by their peers.

There are huge implications here for interpersonal relationships.

Research shows that people make decisions within the first few minutes of a relationship that determine the long term nature of the relationship.

While Narcissists tend to win during that Emerging Zone, Narcissists have been found to report less commitment in ongoing romantic relationships and higher numbers of marriages and subsequent divorces.

W. Keith Campbell has found that relationships with Narcissists tend to show a dramatic decline after just four months.

So my advice for those who are dating is to look beyond initial superficial appearances and behaviours and really see the person in multiple contexts first before you decide to take the relationship to the next level.

Particular contexts trigger either the positive or negative pathway in Narcissists.

A great test for the Negative Pathway is whether the person gets really agressive after their ego is threatened in any way.

Also, I wouldn’t recommend trying to change the behaviour of a Narcissist you are dating.

Erika Carlson and colleagues found that Narcissists are perfectly aware that others see them less positively than they see themselves.

They actually have rather good insight into the fact that they make positive first impressions that deteriorate over time, and they even describe themselves as arrogant, often being proud of it and seeing it as a sign of courage!

Truth is, Narcissists aren’t insecure deep down on everything.

Narcissists really do have high self esteem for agent related traits like; assertiveness, intelligence, attractiveness and social status.

But have only average self esteem for communal values such as intimacy and affiliation.

These relationship issues don’t just apply to Grandiose Narcissism.

For instance, a recent study found that Neuroticism wasn’t detected at first acquaintance either but was only observable in stressful situations.

Likewise, a quieter form of Narcissism called Vulnerable Narcissism tends to not be detected at first.

Joshua Miller and W. Keith Campbell found that Vulnerable Narcissism is an emotionally unstable, negative affect laden and introverted variant of Narcissism whereas Grandiose Narcissism the kind of Narcissism studied in the experiments documented in this blog, is an emotionally resilient and extraverted form of Narcissism.

Kelly Dickinson and Aaron Pincus found that Grandiose Narcissism is associated with dramatic traits including Histrionic Personality Disorders.

Grandiose Narcissists denied interpersonal distress relating to their interpersonal problems and they reported adult attachment styles reflective of positive self representations.

Vulnerable Narcissists, in contrast, reported high interpersonal distress and greater domineering, controlling, vindictive, cold and socially avoidant interpersonal problems.

Their adult attachment styles were reflective of negative self representations such as being fearful and preoccupied.

So while Grandiose Narcissism may be easier to detect, Vulnerable Narcissism may take even more time to reveal itself.

Another implication of this research is for the Narcissists themselves.

What Narcissists often don’t realise is that their behaviours are Self Sabotaging.

Because they are so addicted to the Emerging Zone, they often don’t see how their behaviours are making it nearly impossible to ever gain the deep social and emotional well being rewards of being in an intimate and close relationship.

Perhaps clinicians working with Narcissists can help them tone down their Narcissistic Rivalry traits while keeping the more adaptive and brighter aspects of their personality.

Recently Mitja Back and Simine Vazire called for a tighter integration between personality and social realm.

They argue that little attention has been paid to the complex dynamic processes that might explain the links between personality and social outcomes and they invite researchers to embrace a more collaborative scientific approach to better understand the social consequences of personality.

After all, research shows that the accuracy of first impressions matter.

The more accurate we are the better our future interactions, the more we like the person and the more we are interested in future interactions with that person.

Hopefully more research will help us better understand the varieties of human behaviours, what they mean in terms of underlying personality dispositions and how we can use this information to form happy and healthy relationships.

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