Are Narcissists Smarter Than Other People? New Research Suggests Yes, But It’s Complicated

When you think of a narcissist, you might picture someone who talks about themselves a lot, or really anyone who seems to only consider their own feelings, like, all the time. To think that narcissists are smarter than other people, though, is probably not at the top of the list of qualities you imagine about these rather self-serving individuals. And yet, science says this might be the case — or, at least, if not smarter, they might just have a tendency to do better in school. Wait a minute, guys. I did pretty well in school, so should I be worried? Should you be worried if you had a killer GPA in school, too?

Well, not exactly. Here's the deal: This new research comes from the School of Psychology at Queen's University Belfast, where they recruited 340 students from three different high schools in Italy. The goal was to find correlations between achievement in school, narcissism, and something the researchers referred to as "mental toughness," which basically just means someone who can embrace challenges.

After the students took part in two assessments, the researchers found that those who scored high on a test of narcissism also tended to do better in school.

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I know that might sound a little, well, unsettling, to say the least, but according to Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, director of the InteRRaCt lab in the School of Psychology at Queen's University Belfast, it's possible that narcissism just gets a way worse reputation than it deserves. Or, at the very least, he's suggesting, perhaps this personality trait is just wildly misunderstood. Dr. Papageorgiou said in a statement,

Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder.

In other words, even though most of us have grown to associate narcissism with negative or not-exactly-likable personality traits, this grandiose sense of self might be something that's becoming more common in our society, regardless of whether it's something we want to warm up to or not.

Just to clarify, the researchers in this study weren't actually looking at clinical narcissism, meaning they weren't making connections between the students' characteristics and an actual personality disorder.

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Dr Papageorgiou said in a press release about the study,

In our research, we focused on subclinical or "normal" narcissism. Subclinical narcissism includes some of the same features of clinical syndrome – grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.

So yeah, there is such a thing as "normal narcissism." It basically means that anyone and everyone can have some narcissistic features in their personality or in the way they interact with people, but it doesn't necessarily mean the situation is serious enough to warrant a legit diagnosis and treatment of a personality disorder.

But still, how does "normal narcissism" make you smarter than other people, or at least, a better student in school? Well, according to Dr. Papageorgiou, someone who's a "normal narcissist" could have a leg up on other people "because their heightened sense of self-worth may mean they are more motivated, assertive, and successful in certain contexts."

In other words, "normal narcissists," this research suggests, aren't afraid to express what they want out of life, nor are they afraid to go out there and make it happen.

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Dr. Papageorgiou concluded in his statement,

It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism. We perceive emotions or personality traits as being either bad or good but psychological traits are the products of evolution; they are neither bad nor good – they are adaptive or maladaptive. Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature.

I suppose it's easy to see where Dr. Papageorgiou is coming from here; after all, I think most of us can get on board with the idea of accepting people for who they are, and with being open to different kinds of personalities. Plus, aside from "normal narcissism" apparently being associated with better performance in school and an ability to embrace new challenges, other research has suggested that having some narcissistic personality traits may help boost creativity.

So I guess the bottom line is this: A little bit of narcissism in your personality might go a long way in furthering your success in life. I'll try to remember that the next time I feel embarrassed about taking a selfie in public.