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Narcissism Linked to Attractiveness

• October 29, 2009 • 12:00 PM

New research suggests people who enjoy gazing in the mirror have reason to like what they see.

Given the high opinion they hold of themselves, it’s not surprising to find most narcissists think they’re better looking than the average person.

New research suggests they may be right.

A meta-analysis of nine studies conducted over the past 15 years reveals a “small yet reliable correlation” between narcissism and attractiveness. This finding by Washington University psychologists Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube suggests the inflated self-evaluation of egotists is not entirely unfounded, at least on the level of surface appearance.

Writing in the Journal of Research in Personality, Holtzman and Strube analyze the results of a variety of studies with a total of 1,039 participants. Measurements of narcissism, including such variables as vanity and a sense of superiority, were compared with others’ evaluations of the subject’s attractiveness. The resultant positive correlation has interesting implications for study of the personality disorder.

The findings provide support to two theoretical approaches to narcissism. The first is the evolutionary psychology approach, which suggests people who are successful at short-term sexual liaisons are more likely than average to be both attractive and narcissistic. (It’s easier to be a serial lover when you don’t care about your partner’s feelings). According to this school of thought, that combination of selection pressures led to “the emergence of narcissists above-average in attractiveness.”

The second approach that correctly predicted a correlation between narcissism and attractiveness is known as the “self-regulatory processing model.” It suggests that narcissists go out of their way “to modify personal appearance in an effort to garner praise that bolsters self-views.”

So, according to Holtzman and Strube, we are left with this question: “Are narcissists attractive because they are innately more beautiful (as our evolutionary view suggests), because they take better care of themselves (as the self-regulatory view suggests), or because of a combination of these causes?” They don’t have an answer at this point, but hope to in about a year.

Either way, according to the researchers, there is at least “a kernel of truth” in the myth of Narcissus, an extremely handsome man who (according to the ancient story) fell in love with his own reflection, thereby giving birth to the personality disorder that bears his name. His descendents tend to be arrogant, vain and overbearing, but their assessment of their own attractiveness may not be as overblown as we’d like to think.

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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