Racial differences in narcissistic tendencies

Journal of Research in Personality 45 (2011) 456–467


Virgil Zeigler-Hill ⇑,1, Marion T. Wallace
Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi, 

Black individuals reported much higher scores on the Grandiose Exhibitionism
subscale of the NPI than White individuals but there was no difference
between the scores of Black and White individuals for the Entitlement
Rage subscale of the PNI. Although Black individuals did
not report elevated levels of pathological narcissism, the connection
between maladjustment and pathological narcissism was
particularly strong for Black individuals. This suggests the possibility
that pathological forms of narcissism may serve as a marker of
vulnerability to psychological distress for Black individuals. This
could be due to the manner in which Black individuals with narcissistic
tendencies are treated by broader society. That is, narcissism
may be less tolerated in social situations when it is exhibited by a
Black individual than when similar characteristics are displayed
by a White individual. For example, the narcissistic rage that sometimes
accompanies frustration may lead to more negative repercussions
for Black individuals than their White counterparts.....

The results of the present studies provide consistent support for
racial differences in narcissism such that Black individuals tend to
report higher levels of narcissism than White individuals. This basic
pattern emerged across three samples using various measures
of narcissism even when controlling for gender, self-esteem, and
socially desirable response tendencies. Importantly, the heightened
levels of narcissism reported by Black individuals were primarily
limited to the measures of narcissism that capture the
somewhat less pathological elements of the construct. For example,
the largest differences were observed for the measures capturing
self-absorption and grandiosity with smaller differences
emerging for measures that assessed feelings of entitlement or a
willingness to exploit others. This pattern may be explained by
the fact that the aspects of narcissism that emphasize self-aggrandizement,
feelings of entitlement, and a willingness to exploit others
are at the very heart of individualistic cultures and the
possession of these qualities may be especially important for stigmatized
minority group members who feel devalued by broader
society because they may experience difficulty obtaining affirmation
from external sources (see Foster et al., 2003, or Twenge &
Crocker, 2002, for similar arguments). This explanation is consistent
with the observation that Black individuals reported lower
scores on the Contingent Self-Esteem subscale of the PNI than
White individuals.

The reluctance of Black individuals to base their feelings of self-worth 
on the approval of others may be helpful insome respects (e.g., 
maintaining and enhancing their self-esteem) but it may also lead to 
negative consequences associated with a lack of attention to social 
feedback (e.g., less motivation, dismissal of suggestions for improvement 
following failure; Zeigler-Hill, 2007). Taken together, these results suggest
that the heightened levels of narcissism reported by Black individuals 
may serve as a self-protective mechanism to buffer them from the deleterious
consequences of racism.

The present findings also revealed that the pathological aspects

of narcissism had an especially strong association with maladjustment
for Black individuals. This is important because it suggests
that the pathological aspects of narcissism may have particularly
negative implications for the psychological adjustment of Black
individuals. It is possible that pathological narcissism causes maladjustment
for Black individuals. This could certainly happen if black individuals 
with pathological narcissism were viewed in an especially negative 
manner by others in their social environment (e.g., viewed as ‘‘uppity’’ 
by their White peers). However, it is also possible that poor adjustment 
may lead to the development of pathological narcissism. That is, 
individuals who harbor negative feelings about themselves may 
develop a façade of grandiosity to disguise these vulnerabilities....

These results provide additional support for the idea that the

high levels of self-esteem reported by Black individuals may be less
secure than has often been assumed in the past. The present results
– along with previous studies (Foster et al., 2003; Zeigler-Hill et al.,
submitted for publication) – suggest that the grandiose self-views
reported by Black individuals may be an attempt to protect themselves
from the underlying insecurities that are suggested by the
internalization of stigma explanation. That is, it seems possible
that unlike other stigmatized groups (e.g., overweight individuals)
who report low self-esteem, Black individuals may defend themselves
from negative self-evaluations by developing overt expressions
of positivity. This approach may have positive intrapsychic
consequences (e.g., fosters positive self-views) and interpersonal
benefits (e.g., signals status to others). However, these short-term
benefits may be offset to some degree by the long-terms costs of
narcissism which include impaired interpersonal relationships
(e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). The reason that Black individuals
develop such positive self-views may stem from parenting strategies
intended to protect their children from the harmful effects
of racism (Boykin & Toms, 1985; Hughes & Chen, 1997; Phinney
& Chavira, 1995). That is, Black parents may teach their children
to be confident, express highly positive self-views, develop feelings
of pride in their own group, and avoid basing their feelings of selfworth
on the opinions of others in order to inoculate their self-esteem
from the racial bias they are likely to encounter during their
lives (e.g., Zeigler-Hill, 2007). However, these self-esteem inoculation
strategies may inadvertently result in narcissistic tendencies
(e.g., grandiose exhibitionism).


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