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See Inside March / April 2011

Two Narcissists Are Better Than One (or Three)

Self-obsessed individuals are not more creative in general, but they may impress when competing with a like mind

For many years psychologists have explored whether narcissism and creativity are linked, and some studies have suggested that the self-obsessed may, in fact, be more creative than the rest of us. But new research from Cornell University argues otherwise.

Two hundred and forty-four under­graduates completed a test that measures narcissism (with questions such as, “I enjoy being the center of attention”). Participants then paired up and “pitched” movie ideas to one another, with one playing the role of pitcher and the other evaluator. Nar­cissistic participants’ pitches were consistently rated as especially cre­ative by evaluators, but when indepen­dent evaluators—unaware of which participants were self-obsessed—reviewed transcripts of the pitches, the narcissists’ pitches were not rated as more creative. This result suggests that charisma influences how egotists’ ideas are received, but the ideas themselves are no more creative than average.

Researchers then paired 292 un­der­grads (all of whom completed the narcissism test) into 73 four-person groups. The groups were given the task of proposing creative ways for a company to improve its performance. The experimenters found that having two narcissists in a group produced more creative results than a group with none, because their competitiveness sparked more brainstorming. But when more than two narcissists were in a group, the opposite happened—hyper­competitiveness scuttled the group’s productivity. 

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