Narcissists may lack the ability to make decisions based on thoughtful interpretation and critical thinking and even when wrong, individuals with narcissistic traits may be unable to effectively reflect on their answer.
To come to these conclusions, researchers assessed traits typically associated with narcissism, such as impulsiveness and cognitive reflection, as well as two types of narcissism, grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists tend to have higher self-esteem and view themselves as more entitled than and superior to others. On the other hand, vulnerable narcissists tend to be insecure, introverted, defensive, and have lower self-esteem. However, both tend to be excessively self-focused and impulsive, often thinking highly of their intellectual ability and will perceive themselves as critical thinkers even when they are wrong, according to new research published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning.
In three separate studies, researchers assessed the performance of 100 US participants on a Cognitive Reflection Test designed to illicit intuitive thinking. The survey asked questions like: A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? If you thought the answer was 10 cents, you were wrong. Many people intuitively jump to that conclusion, but the correct answer is 5 cents. If you don’t have narcissistic tendencies, chances are you will spend some time reflecting on the correct answer (or clicking the link to learn why).
In the study, participants self-reported how inflective, insightful, and intuitive they perceived their thinking processes, which can come with a fair host of innate limitations in itself. Respondents were then asked to repeat the assessments while reporting on how confident they felt in their answers.
"We found that grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are negatively associated with certain types of important reflective thinking processes," said study co-author Jonathan Fugelsang in a statement.
Grandiose narcissists were found to be “significantly overconfident” in their intellectual performance, being less aware of their mistakes and tending to reject corrective feedback. This could be because people who are more narcissistic may have difficulty seeing that they are wrong – perhaps due to broader overconfidence or an “overt, ego-driven self-enhancement strategy”.
Meanwhile, vulnerable narcissists attempted to engage in cognitive reflection but found it to be consuming and ineffective. Even though they reported self-reflection, those with more vulnerable traits were less able to rely on intuitive thinking when making decisions. People who fall into this category tend to be “highly neurotic” and more associated with negative self-reflection, making it likely that they doubt their own ability to make sound judgments, ultimately causing them to disengage from reflective reasoning and revert to a “gut instinct”.
The authors note that an alternative interpretation of the findings would be that these individuals lack cognitive reflection that leads to narcissistic behaviors, not the other way around. For example, someone who does not often engage in cognitive reflection may later develop narcissistic traits.
Identifying associations between narcissism and reflective thinking processes may have implications for broader societal questions, particularly when it comes to those in power. Narcissists can be damaging to those around them, while some go so far as to claim that the disorder has become a modern epidemic. The personality disorder affects about 1 percent of the population and can influence a variety of aspects of life, from who a person follows on Instagram to how one takes their coffee.