Are narcissistic people really or really romantic?

The two faces of the narcissist

Researchers working with psychologists at the University of Münster are deciphering the social consequences of narcissism

They are dazzling personalities: On the one hand, narcissists are often fascinating and attractive to other people. You make a charming impression and more often hold management positions. On the other hand, they are uncomfortable. They do not care about the needs of other people, they overestimate their contribution to mutual achievements, are arrogant and provoke conflicts. A research group around the psychologists Prof. Dr. Mitja Back and Dr. Albrecht Küfner from the University of Münster has now presented new research results that explain these paradoxical effects. Accordingly, two sides of narcissism can be distinguished: the narcissistic need for admiration, which is associated with a self-confident and charming demeanor, and the narcissistic rivalry. The latter is associated with devaluing other people and aggressive behavior, especially after criticism.

In a series of studies, the psychologists from Münster, together with colleagues, were able to show that the two sides of narcissism go hand in hand, but have different effects on social encounters and social relationships. An increased need for admiration is associated with greater self-confidence, a more positive mood, a more extraverted demeanor, and greater popularity when getting to know each other. In contrast, narcissistic rivalry leads to the devaluation of others, less popularity in social groups and more conflicts in friendships, but also in romantic relationships.

"These findings make it clear that narcissists have two faces. One half of the personality is characterized by self-exaltation and self-expression in search of admiration. The other half tries to counter a lack of recognition and criticism by devaluing others and through aggressive behavior," explains Mitja Back. "Both strategies serve the narcissists to maintain their supposed greatness. However, they are differently effective. Depending on which of the two sides is more strongly expressed in a social context, narcissism is associated with social success or with social conflict and unpopularity."

Such a close look helps to understand the consequences of narcissism in many social contexts - for example friendships, romantic relationships, and social relationships in the workplace - and over the duration of relationships. "When we get to know narcissists, because of their self-confident and expressive behavior, they often appear sympathetic, attractive or as 'doers'", explains Albrecht Küfner. "Only later, when closer interactions show that narcissists pay less attention to others and react irritably to criticism, does a decline in popularity among their peers, conflicts in couple relationships and a lack of success at work occur."

The Münster psychologists around Mitja Back and Albrecht Küfner now want to build on the results of their studies and address a number of important open questions, for example: Which narcissists manage to be socially successful, and which are more likely to fail? Who benefits from narcissists and who suffers from them? How aware are narcissists of their own narcissism, and how should the transition to narcissistic personality disorders be understood?

In addition to scientists from Münster, researchers from the Universities of Göttingen, Berlin and Tilburg (Netherlands) were involved in the studies. Mitja Back and his colleagues' research on the social consequences of narcissism is supported by the German Research Foundation.

Participating scientists:

University of Münster: Mitja Back, Roos Hutteman, Albrecht Küfner, Steffen Nestler, Stefanie Wurst
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen: Tanja M. Gerlach
Humboldt University Berlin: Michael Dufner, John F. Rauthmann
Tilburg University (Netherlands): Jaap J. A. Denissen

Current publications:

Back, M. D., Küfner, A. C. P., Dufner, M., Gerlach, T. M., Rauthmann, J. F., & Denissen, J. J. A. (in press). Narcissistic admiration and rivalry: Disentangling the bright and dark sides of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Küfner, A. C. P., Nestler, S., & Back M. D. (2013). The two pathways to being an (un-) popular narcissist. Journal of Personality, 81, 184-195.


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