If you're stuck working with a narcissist, there might not be much you can do in the short term except keep your composure and sense of humor. But science has some comfort to offer those stuck putting up with grandiose showboats and self-obsessed charmers. In the end, it appears they get exactly what they deserve.
A long line of research demonstrates that the self-confidence and charm displayed by narcissists can actually be an advantage when it comes to building alliances. But a new study adds a substantial wrinkle to these earlier findings. While narcissism may help you get ahead in the short run, in the long run you're likely to stumble, this research reveals.
The turtle vs. the hare redux
To determine how effective narcissists are at winning friends and influencing people, the team of Polish researchers behind the study evaluated the level of narcissism and EQ of 273 college freshmen and then tracked their popularity among other members of a university-organized study group.
While the charming, outgoing narcissists among the study subjects were quick to impress their peers, when the research team checked back three months later the social picture was very different. As the semester wore on, the charm of the narcissists gradually wore off.
"After some time, people get to know the narcissists better and learn about their selfishness, superficial charm, and tendency to exploit others and manipulate them," Anna Czarna, a psychologist and lead author of the study, explained.
As the star of the more narcissistic students was waning, that of those with high EQ was rising. While these more reserved students often took longer to build alliances and meet people, over time they ended up with a larger, more admiring social circle. The study, as the Greater Good Science Center write-up of the research points out, "is just a classic story of the tortoise and the hare," with narcissists in the role of the cocky but ultimately unsuccessful hare.
A comment on current events?
Also, in case you were wondering, the team behind the study weren't inspired by current events or any particular high-profile narcissist, but by another common experience in which noxious character and social success often appear to go hand in hand. Yup, you guessed it, high school.
"Since I was a high school student, it's always puzzled me why people who are selfish, full of themselves, and not prosocial are so popular," commented Czarna.
For those who were similarly baffled (or scarred) by the social dynamics of high school, the bottom line of this study will be pretty encouraging. If you haven't already done so, please forget what you learned in 10th grade--ultimately, popularity doesn't go to the charming and manipulative but to those thoughtful folks who observe and respond to the needs of others. Hopefully, that brightens your day a little.