Why they move from one group to another so quickly...
Narcissists feed off the energy of the people around them. They crave status and work hard to achieve it, but do they actually succeed in getting the status they want?
Narcissists may not actually get status, they may just believe that they have status within a group.
This issue was explored in a paper in the July 2015 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Erika Carlson and Nicole Lawless DesJardins. They examined status and popularity of people in small groups, both immediately and over a four-month period.
Their first study focused on initial impressions. They had small groups interact for 10 minutes. After the interaction, participants rated the status and popularity of everyone in the group, including themselves. Later, participants also rated their personality characteristics and filled out the Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI), which is frequently used in studies as a measure of narcissism.
Participants who scored higher on the NPI tended to have higher status after this brief interaction than those who scored lower. These individuals also correctly perceived that they had higher status. People who scored higher on the NPI were not much more popular than other group members; however, they perceived themselves as being more popular than they actually were.
In a second study, participants were part of a semester-long college class. They interacted together in the same small group for the entire semester. Over the course of the term, measures of personality and the NPI were given. Also, three times during the semester, participants rated the status and popularity of each member of the group, and themselves.
Once again, people who scored higher on the NPI tended to have higher status than those who scored low at the start of the semester. But their status fell over the course of the class; by the end of the semester, they had a level of status in the middle of the pack. Those who scored high on the NPI were also aware that they started with high status and that their status decreased over the course of the semester.
In this study, the NPI did not predict the popularity of the individuals during the semester, but there was a tendency for people who scored high on the NPI to think they were somewhat more popular than they actually were.
Why does this happen? The researchers also did a survey of people asking them what behaviors they believed increase their status in a group. People who scored low on the NPI tended to list behaviors in which they treated other people nicely.
People who scored high on the NPI tended to list behaviors that got them noticed, like being arrogant or pointing out other people's weaknesses. These more aggressive behaviors may in fact bring people status in the short-term, but that status tends to erode over the long-term.
This pattern may be one reason why narcissists often move from one group to another in organizations. They can make themselves noticed quickly, but their behavior leads them to wear out their welcome quickly. And because narcissists are sensitive to when their status is declining, they can recognize when it is time to find a new group.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.