Why Are We Initially Drawn To Narcissists?

What is the difference between narcissism and self-esteem?

Being a narcissist means having an exaggerated sense of self-importance, feeling entitled, and believing that you are superior to everyone else. Self-esteem differs from narcissism as it describes one’s evaluation of their worth and value. It is interesting to note that while narcissism is frowned upon and criticized by society, people are taught that having high self-esteem is a positive quality.

Miranda Giacomin and Christian H. Jordan conducted several studies to understand why people are initially attracted to and charmed by narcissists. They recorded their findings and published “Misperceiving grandiose narcissism as self‐esteem: Why narcissists are well liked at zero acquaintance” in the Journal of Personality.

What did the research reveal?

For their studies, Giacomin and Jordan selected 5 individuals with high self-esteem and high narcissism, 5 with low self-esteem and high-narcissism, and 5 with high self-esteem and low narcissism. The researchers then analyzed the reactions of several study participants (perceivers) to the 15 individuals (targets) in the following studies.

Study 1:

Giacomin and Jordan had 128 perceivers view pictures of the 15 targets. They were then asked to rate the targets’ characteristics. Arash Emamzadeh writes that the results of the study showed that “compared with targets with equal self-esteem but lower narcissism, narcissistic targets were perceived to have higher self-esteem. So even when two targets had the same actual self-esteem, the narcissistic one was perceived to have higher self-esteem.

Study 2:

194 perceivers were asked to do the same thing as the participants in the previous study; however, some students were shown only photographs while others received information regarding the targets’ levels of self-esteem and/or narcissism. The researchers’ findings were the same; that is, the perceivers preferred the targets with high levels of narcissism. Emamzadeh further explains that “participants overestimated the self-esteem of targets with high narcissism.” It is important to note that the perceivers who were given information regarding the targets’ levels of narcissism responded differently. Taking this further, targets with high levels of narcissism were liked less than those with lower narcissism. According to Emamzadeh, this is perhaps due to the fact that narcissism is known as “a socially undesirable characteristic” and therefore, “perceivers might have felt obligated to report less liking of high-narcissism targets.”

Study 3:

225 heterosexual female perceivers were shown Tinder profile pictures of new targets (20 men). They were asked to rate the targets’ narcissism and self-esteem. In addition to this, the perceivers were also asked to indicate whether or not they would like to meet the targets. The results were in line with the previous studies as the targets with greater levels of narcissism were liked more and assigned higher levels of self-esteem.

Ultimately, Giacomin and Jordan found that people are initially attracted to narcissists because they misperceive their narcissism for self-esteem.

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