top of page
  • Writer's pictureLinka Lipski

HOW DOES NARCISSISM INFLUENCE POLITICAL BEHAVIOUR?

This is what I wrote as part of an exam for my Science degree in Psychology. Given the rise of far-right politics in the European Parliament, I thought it fitting to share it alongside some illustrations I made.


 

Recent politics are shifting towards authoritarian regimes rather than democratic ones 12, 18. Behind that shift could lie narcissism. Narcissism can be understood as a pathological personality disorder or as one component of the dark triad of personality traits 23. The latter is composed of two other traits, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. In both cases, narcissism is usually characterised as excessive entitlement, vanity, illusions of grandeur and lack of empathy. The difference is that the pathological disorder is a mental health diagnosis, whereas the dark trait represents a continuum where people will differ in the amount of the trait. The narcissistic trait is strongly associated with the pathological disorder 23. How does narcissism affect political behaviour? This essay will explore this question by presenting how narcissism relates to (1) political involvement, (2) online political trolling, (3) collective narcissism and (4) narcissistic political leaders.

A person with a reddish hallo on the left with ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ written underneath. Then a mathematical sign of a crossed equal sign. On the right a person with 3 coloured line representing scales of narcissism, psychopathy and machiavellism. Underneath the words ‘dark triad traits’.

The literature suggests that people high in narcissism are also more likely to get involved in politics. Researchers analysed data from more than 5,000 participants who responded to surveys in Denmark and the United States and filled out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and questionnaires on their political involvement 8. The results showed a positive correlation between narcissism and political engagement. Those who scored higher on the inventory also participated more in writing to their local politicians, signing petitions, donating money to campaigns, attending demonstrations, and voting 8. However, a study criticised the validity of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, arguing that high scores predict psychopathy better 11. Hence, another study used a different measurement, the Short Dark Triad scale and still found similar results 3. They found that both psychopathy and narcissism correlated with political engagement. They also found that those higher in narcissism also showed the least knowledge of politics 3. As such, narcissistic people are most likely the least politically informed but the most politically involved. Therefore, regardless of the measurement type, narcissism is a trait that significantly influences political involvement.

Two papers representing the narcissist personality inventory and the short dark triad scale. Both have an arrow pointing to a group of people, surrounded with a hallo of reddish and greyed colours, branding protest signs saying ‘let’s vote’ and ‘narcs and sadists unite’.

Considering the increased political involvement on online platforms and the spread of political propaganda, what place does narcissism hold? First, online discussion groups for politics are the most trolled 1. Second, political trolls are sometimes sponsored by governments such as Russia to influence other governments’ elections, as seen in the Trump 2016 election 20. Interestingly, a study found that online anti-social behaviours such as trolling were more likely to be done by men who exhibited greater narcissism 10. However, the use of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory is to be questioned again. When using the Short Dark Triad scale, research showed that, indeed, the dark triad was related to greater trolling but that it was predicted by sadism, not narcissism 2. The research explored the topic further and showed that narcissists feel so superior that they only perceive highly popular individuals as viable competitors 17. In other words, narcissists feel too superior to bother trolling the public but do feel a need to bring famous people down. So far, the literature is missing regarding narcissism and the specific genre of political trolling. One could argue that a sense of superiority of one's political view could increase political trolling behaviours as a form of political involvement. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests that narcissism may not influence online political behaviours.

A person with devil’s horn and tail. On its left, three speech bubble showing a tweet, a facebook comment and an instagram comment under the names of PoliticalTroll666. On it’s left, two bars (one reddish, one greyish) representing a low scale for narcissism and high scale for sadism.

Nonetheless, sponsored political trolls and propaganda do exist and may contribute to the rise of collective narcissism and preferences for extreme politics (either left or right), as well as an endorsement of political conspiracy theories. Collective narcissism is similar to individual narcissism, but instead of a sense of grandeur for the self, the grandeur is attributed to the group 9, 16. The function of collective narcissism is a defence mechanism argued to be in response to a perceived loss of control 4. Investigative research was conducted on 1,730 surveyed participants 9. Participants were compared on their votes for Trump and their scores on the collective narcissism scale. Results show a strong and significant relationship between the two 9 Furthermore, collective narcissism appears linked to authoritarian political endorsement, perception of attacks on affiliated groups and even blind patriotism 7. Collective narcissism is also linked to conspiracy theory endorsement: a study covering 54 countries and more than 50,000 participants found that the higher the nationalistic narcissism, the more susceptible they were to believe and share conspiracy theories 19. Dangerously, collective narcissism also correlates with grave false theories about the Jewish community, which increases antisemite political adherence 14. Thus, collective narcissism appears to be a risk in the political endorsement of extreme politics.

In the middle, the mathematical sign of a barred equal. On the left, a person with a reddish hallo saying ‘I’m the best’. Underneath the words “individual narcissism’. On the right, a group of people with the same reddish hallo saying ‘we are the best’. Underneath the words ‘collective narcissism’.

The danger of extreme politics is the consequent election of leaders with narcissistic tendencies, which bring whole nations to their knees due to cruel outcomes. A vicious cycle can be created: traumas experienced by groups (e.g., ethnic and national identities) are passed on to new generations, which reinforces collective narcissist ideations and increases the election of narcissistic leaders to revenge the wounds felt by the group 22. In the literature, past leaders such as Hitler, Mao or Stalin are often associated with narcissistic personality disorders 5, 6, 15. Some researchers explain that leaders such as Hitler and Stalin committed the atrocities they did because their narcissism meant they devalued others and attacked them to keep their inflated sense of superiority and entitlement intact 13. A sense of grandeur can lead dictators to incompetence: erratic decisions, a paranoid need for protective defence and political and historical catastrophes such as deaths ensuing from unnecessary wars 13, 15. Some argue that narcissistic leaders also give rise to structures such as monuments, bunkers and walls, which are the external expression of the leader’s internal sense of grandiosity and their pathological need to protect their superior identity 21. Therefore, a narcissistic leader influences politics cruelly, decimating whole groups of people, destroying nations and exhibiting grandiosity externally through architectural structures.

A group of people with words underneath saying ‘population with generational trauma’. most of the group, on its left, is surrounded by a green hallo and the word ‘healing’. The righ side has a red hallo and the word ‘revenge’. The right side have people brandishing protest banners stating the name ‘LePen’ and another ‘Trump’.

In conclusion, narcissism influences politics, whether as a dark triad personality trait or as a personality disorder. High levels of narcissism are associated with greater political involvement despite less knowledge. The literature on narcissism and its influence on online trolling as a form of political involvement is still in its infancy. For now, it suggests that narcissism may not influence this domain. Collective narcissism, however, does influence political behaviours. In particular, it influences the endorsement of extreme political views and even conspiracy theories. Those who have a collective sense of grandeur due to transgenerational collective trauma are also more likely to elect leaders with narcissistic personalities causing a vicious cycle of political incompetence and national traumas. Research would benefit in offering solutions to limit the possible uprisal of narcissism both in individuals and collective experience or limit the ease of its consequences in the political sphere.


 

REFERENCES

  1. Bishop, J. (2014). Dealing with Internet Trolling in Political Online Communities: Towards the This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Scale. International Journal of E-Politics (IJEP), 5(4), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijep.2014100101

  2. Buckels, E. E., Trapnell, P. D., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 97–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.016

  3. Chen, P., Pruysers, S., & Blais, J. (2021). The Dark Side of Politics: Participation and the Dark Triad. Political Studies,69(3), 577–601. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032321720911566

  4. Cichocka, A. (2016). Understanding defensive and secure in-group positivity: The role of collective narcissism. European Review of Social Psychology, 27(1), 283–317. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2016.1252530

  5. Cook, M. (Ed.). (2012). Is Hitler mad? Personality disorders. In Levels of Personality (3rd ed., pp. 338–364). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139108140.021

  6. Coolidge, F. L., Davis, F. L., & Segal, D. L. (2007). Understanding madmen: A DSM-IV assessment of Adolf Hitler. Individual Differences Research, 5(1), 30–43. https://agingandmentalhealthlab.uccs.edu/sites/g/files/kjihxj1911/files/2020-07/DSM-Assessment-of-Hitler-IDR-2007.pdf

  7. de Zavala, A. G., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1074–1096. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016904

  8. Fazekas, Z., & Hatemi, P. K. (2021). Narcissism in Political Participation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(3), 347–361. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220919212

  9. Federico, C. M., & de Zavala, A. G. (2018). Collective Narcissism and the 2016 US Presidential Vote. Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(1), 110–121. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfx048

  10. Ferenczi, N., Marshall, T. C., & Bejanyan, K. (2017). Are sex differences in antisocial and prosocial Facebook use explained by narcissism and relational self-construal? Computers in Human Behavior, 77, 25–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.033

  11. Foster, J. D., Shiverdecker, L. K., & Turner, I. N. (2016). What Does the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Measure Across the Total Score Continuum? Current Psychology, 35(2), 207–219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9407-5

  12. Freedom House. (2021, March 3). New Report: The global decline in democracy has accelerated. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-global-decline-democracy-has-accelerated

  13. Glad, B. (2002). Why Tyrants Go Too Far: Malignant Narcissism and Absolute Power. Political Psychology, 23(1), 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1111/0162-895X.00268

  14. Golec de Zavala, A., & Cichocka, A. (2012). Collective narcissism and anti-Semitism in Poland. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15(2), 213–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430211420891

  15. Hughes, I. (2019, September 7). How To Be A Dictator: Timely look at narcissistic authoritarianism. The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/how-to-be-a-dictator-timely-look-at-narcissistic-authoritarianism-1.3995167

  16. Jarrett, C. (2017, March 3). How ‘collective narcissism’ is directing world politics. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170303-how-collective-narcissism-is-directing-world-politics

  17. Lopes, B., & Yu, H. (2017). Who do you troll and Why: An investigation into the relationship between the Dark Triad Personalities and online trolling behaviours towards popular and less popular Facebook profiles. Computers in Human Behavior, 77, 69–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.036

  18. Morgan, M. (2021, November 8). Understanding the Global Rise of Authoritarianism. https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/understanding-global-rise-authoritarianism

  19. Sternisko, A., Cichocka, A., Cislak, A., & Bavel, J. J. V. (2020). National Narcissism and the Belief and the Dissemination of Conspiracy Theories During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence From 56 Countries. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/4c6av

  20. Stringhini, G., & Zannettou, S. (2020, August 13). Political trolls adapt, create material to deceive and confuse the public. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/political-trolls-adapt-create-material-to-deceive-and-confuse-the-public-135177

  21. Volkan. (2021, February 9). Bunkers, Bubbles, Monuments, and Walls: Pathological Narcissism, Nazi Germany, and Donald Trump | European Journal of Psychoanalysis. https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/bunkers-bubble-monuments-and-walls-pathological-narcissism-nazi-germany-and-donald-trump/

  22. Volkan, V. D., & Fowler, J. C. (2009). Large-group Narcissism and Political Leaders with Narcissistic Personality Organization. Psychiatric Annals, 39(4). https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20090401-09

  23. Vossen, T. J., Coolidge, F. L., & Muehlenkamp, D. L. S. and J. J. (2017). Exploring the Dark Side: Relationships between the Dark Triad Traits and Cluster B Personality Disorder Features. Journal of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Disorders, 1(6), 317–326. https://www.fortunejournals.com/articles/exploring-the-dark-side-relationships-between-the-dark-triad-traits-and-cluster-b-personality-disorder-features.html

10 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page