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Parsing the Self-Regulatory Processing Dynamics of Narcissism: Specifying the Moderators of the Dynamics and their Social Consequences

English title Parsing the Self-Regulatory Processing Dynamics of Narcissism: Specifying the Moderators of the Dynamics and their Social Consequences
Applicant Morf Carolyn C.
Number 130116
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Abt. Persönlichkeitspsychologie, Differen. Psychologie und Diagnostik Institut für Psychologie, Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.04.2010 - 31.12.2014
Approved amount 408'600.00
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Keywords (10)

relationships; interpersonal behavior; self-regulation; social cognition; self-processes; narcissism; social psychology; self; self-esteem regulation; personality processes

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Individuals invest much effort in trying to demonstrate and affirm the way they want to be and want to be seen. Toward this effort, they continuously evaluate whether a situation represents an opportunity or obstacle for that goal of constructing this desired self. This assessment in turn, activates characteristic cognitions, emotions and behaviors aimed at realizing these self-goals. The focus of our research has been on these self-regulatory processes and how they come to reflect a particular personality type.Narcissists for example want to be perceived as superior and extraordinary. Thus, they are hypervigilant to detect and act on both threats and opportunities for self-affirmation. Our research has shown that, although below awareness, worthlessness easily becomes activated in narcissists and many of their subsequent responses are attempts to counteract it. In interpersonal relationships there are many negative consequences of narcissists' excessive efforts in affirming their grandiose self-views, such as deficits in caring and supportiveness, but even outright derogation of others, as well as, hostility and aggression. In the current research, we seek to clarify the conditions that determine when, and how, narcissists' typical self-affirming responses play out in different ways and with what personal and social consequences. We further investigate how and to what degree these processes are modifiable. Our first aim is to examine factors that influence narcissists' information processing biases contributing to their impulsive and often negative behavior. For example, can one teach them to reduce the intensity of an ego-threat, or to redirect their focus from risk and reward to safer options? Further, can specific competencies buffer the impulsivity of their risky or aggressive responses? Our second aim is to specify the factors that influence their romantic relationships. For example, do partners maintain the relationship by overly compensating for narcissistic deficits and perhaps by ignoring their negative behaviors? We also aim to identify which aspects of narcissists make them attractive partners. Further, we will examine how these interactions play out and change over time as the relationship unfolds.This research has important practical implications: Identifying and being able to modify the maladaptive cognitions and behaviors of narcissists, potentially opens the way for therapeutic interventions. Furthermore, this work continues to refine our model of personality, which is focused on the regulation of self-goals, and that promises to help clarify complex personality types and dispositions beyond narcissism.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Improving the dependability of research in personality and social psychology: Recommendations for research and educational practice
Funder D., Levine J., Mackie D., Morf C. C., Sansone C., Vazire S., West S. G. (2014), Improving the dependability of research in personality and social psychology: Recommendations for research and educational practice, in Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 3-12.
The Self
Morf C. C., Koole S.L. (2012), The Self, in M. Hewstone, W. Stroebe, K. Jonas (ed.), Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 121-170.
The self as a psycho-social dynamic processing system: Toward a converging science of self-hood.
Morf C. C., Mischel W. (2012), The self as a psycho-social dynamic processing system: Toward a converging science of self-hood., in M. R. Leary, J. P. Tangney (ed.), Guilford Press, New York, 21-49.
Narcissism from the perspective of the dynamic self-regulatory processing model.
Morf C. C., Torchetti T., Schürch E. (2011), Narcissism from the perspective of the dynamic self-regulatory processing model., in J. Miller , W. K. Campbell (ed.), Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, 56-70.
Narcissistic self-enhancement: Tales of (successful?) self-portrayal.
Morf C. C., Horvath S., Torchetti L. (2011), Narcissistic self-enhancement: Tales of (successful?) self-portrayal., in M. D. Alicke, C. Sedikides (ed.), Guilford Press, New York, 399-424.
Self-regulation processes and their signatures: Dynamics of the self-system.
Morf C.C., Horvath S. (2010), Self-regulation processes and their signatures: Dynamics of the self-system., in R. H. Hoyle (ed.), Blackwell, Malden, MA, 117-144.
To be grandiose or not to be worthless: Different routes to self-enhancement for narcissism and self-esteem
Horvath S., Morf C.C. (2010), To be grandiose or not to be worthless: Different routes to self-enhancement for narcissism and self-esteem, in Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 585-592.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Dr. M. Schröder-Abé, University of Bamberg, Dr. A. Küfner and Prof. Dr. M. Back, University of Mün Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Prof. Dr. Sander Koole, VU University Amsterdam Netherlands (Europe)
- Publication
Prof. Dr. Madoka Kumashiro, Goldsmiths, University of London Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
16th Annual Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Poster How narcissistic self-construction sabotages their relationships: Accuracy and bias in partner perception 26.02.2015 Long Beach, United States of America Morf Carolyn C.; Torchetti Loredana; Nater Christa;
17th European Conference on Personality Talk given at a conference Narcissism and social emotions 15.07.2014 Lausanne, Switzerland, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.;
17th European Association of Social Psychology Talk given at a conference Narcissists’ Self-Regulatory Goals Shape the Calibration of their Relationships. 09.07.2014 Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Netherlands Morf Carolyn C.;
13th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society Talk given at a conference A view through gloomy glasses: accuracy and bias in relationships of narcissists 15.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland, Switzerland Torchetti Loredana; Morf Carolyn C.;
13th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society Poster Who’s to blame? How narcissists and ex-partners of narcissists make sense of romantic breakup. 15.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Torchetti Loredana;
Invited talk at the Sanatorium Kirchberg Individual talk Narzisstische Mütter: Welche Folgen hat ihr Erziehungsverhalten für die Kinder? 06.09.2012 Kirchberg, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Schürch Eva;
42nd EABCT Congress Talk given at a conference Are Narcissists really healthy? A discussion about diagnostic criteria. 15.08.2012 Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Schürch Eva;
16th European Conference on Personality Psychology Poster Narcissists’ parenting patterns and effects on their children. 15.07.2012 Trieste, Italy, Italy Schürch Eva; Morf Carolyn C.;
Invited Colloquium, University of Zurich Individual talk Construction and regulation of the narcissistic self: How it plays out in their own minds and in their interpersonal relationships. 01.11.2011 Zurich, Switzerland, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.;
The 12th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society Talk given at a conference Narcissistic parenting: how mothers and children recall maternal parenting patterns. 12.09.2011 Fribourg, Switzerland, Switzerland Schürch Eva; Morf Carolyn C.;
The 12th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society Talk given at a conference When "you" is "me": Self-other overlap in the partners promotes romantic relationships of narcissists 12.09.2011 Fribourg, Switzerland, Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Torchetti Loredana;
The Annual Meeting of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) conference in Stockholm Talk given at a conference Dynamics of narcissists’ relationships: Interpersonal conditions that foster viable relationships. 12.07.2011 Stockholm, Sweden, Sweden Torchetti Loredana; Morf Carolyn C.;
The Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) Talk given at a conference Improving narcissists’ relationships: The beneficial role of commitment. 02.07.2011 Bern, Switzerland., Switzerland Torchetti Loredana; Morf Carolyn C.;
The 42nd International Meeting of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) Poster When Narcissists have Children: Parenting and Consequences. 29.06.2011 Bern, Switzerland., Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Schürch Eva;
The Sixth Self Biennial International Conference Poster Downplaying worthlessness and augmenting grandiosity: Both used by narcissists but with differential effectiveness. 19.06.2011 Québec City, Canada, Canada Horvath Stephan; Morf Carolyn C.;
Invited Colloquium at the University of Fribourg Individual talk Relationship dynamics of narcissists and their partners: Determining „for better or worse“ 11.11.2010 Fribourg, Switzerland., Switzerland Morf Carolyn C.; Torchetti Loredana;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Die Liebe zum Ich. GEO International 2012
Media relations: print media, online media Im Dickicht der Paarbeziehungen Horizonte (SNF) German-speaking Switzerland 2011
Media relations: print media, online media Narzissten sind schwieriger in der Liebe Uni Aktuell (Universität Bern) German-speaking Switzerland 2011
Media relations: print media, online media Narzisstische Männer können „geheilt“ werden 20minuten German-speaking Switzerland 2011

Abstract

Individuals invest much effort in trying to demonstrate and affirm their self-worth and desired self-views-be it to themselves or others. They have particular goals for how they would like to see themselves and to be seen by others, and this results in distinctive self-regulatory processing dynamics (e.g., Mischel & Morf, 2003; Morf & Horvath, 2009). That is, people continuously perceive and interpret situations as they relate to their self-goals--as opportunities or obstacles for implementing them. This process in turn, activates characteristic intra- and interpersonal processes aimed at aligning conditions to be supportive of their self-goals. Individuals who share similar self-goals and similar self-regulatory processing dynamics can be grouped into personality types. These distinctive dynamic goal-directed self-construction and self-regulatory processes that characterize consistent individual differences in social behavior have been the focus of our work. Our goal is to develop an empirically validated model of different types of individuals based on their distinctive characteristic self-regulatory dynamics. While we focus on the self-regulatory dynamics of narcissism in our construct validation research, our long-term objective is to apply this evolving model to individual differences more broadly, enabling typologies based on underlying self-regulatory mechanisms that account for the observed individual differences with increasing depth and precision.Our research to date (supported by a Förderungsprofessur from the Swiss National Science Foundation) showed that narcissists are quick to perceive, and act on both threats and opportunities for self-affirmation. Importantly, consistent with our model, we demonstrated for the first time that narcissists experience implicit worthlessness in response to failure-threat and that they subsequently employ various self-regulatory mechanisms to counteract it (e.g., Horvath & Morf, 2009a; (Morf, Horvath, & Zimmermann, 2009; Horvath & Morf, 2009b). In research on close relationships we were able to provide support for our prediction that narcissists show deficits in caring and supportiveness behaviors, as a result of their excessive pursuit of self-affirmation (Torchetti & Morf, in preparation). These findings provide a basis for now examining in depth one of largest questions about diverse types of personality, particularly salient in the case of narcissism: What are the factors that determine the gains and costs, both to the self and to others within the individuals’ social world, of the narcissistic dynamics and ways of relating to those who interact with them? Like most personality types, there are variations in the expressions of narcissism that depend on many factors, both at the personality level and the situations narcissists encounter or have created in their lives--each with distinctive positive and negative characteristics and consequences. Thus, the proposed research seeks to clarify the conditions that determine when, and how, the narcissists’ distinctive processing dynamics play out in different ways and to examine their personal and social consequences. Our focus will be on the degree to which the processing dynamics are modifiable and the conditions and mechanisms that enable adaptive change.Aim 1 (Clarifying the organization and modifiability of information processing dynamics) is to investigate moderators of narcissists’ automatically triggered information processing biases and their impulsive behavior, found in our previous work, which often has negative long-term consequences. For example, in laboratory studies we will examine whether self-regulatory competencies can buffer the impulsivity of their responses to ego-threat (e.g., aggression). Second, we will also investigate potential ways to influence narcissists’ impulsive information processes to determine if and how such “hot” impulsive dynamics may be overridden. For example, we will test whether and how narcissists can be prompted to dampen down the intensity/hotness of an ego-threat or their usually myopic focus on reward in their decision making, and the possibility of attenuating or redirecting already existing automatic mental links (e.g., between worthlessness and aggression) can be. Third, we will examine whether narcissists are able to adapt their usual offensive pursuit of their self-goal, when their long-term goals or the inappropriateness of their usual behavior is made more salient.Aim 2 (Dynamics of narcissism in close relationship) is to specify the key factors that moderate the relational processes and consequences for self and others within close relationships, both in romantic relationships (Aim2a), and in parent-child relationships (Aim2b). Aim 2a, focuses on the mechanisms that undermine and help maintain intimate relationships for narcissistic individuals. Laboratory based paradigms, and longitudinal data of dating couples will test, for example, our prediction that in successful relationships, partners of narcissists engage in compensatory cognitions and relationship maintaining behaviors. We also will identify the features of potential partners that attract narcissists. In addition, we will also investigate what aspects make narcissists attractive partners-one prediction being that male narcissists boost their partners’ self-esteem and impart security. Further, we will examine how these interactions play out and change over time as the relationship unfolds. We will also specify negative consequences of the mechanisms, and explore their modifiability. In Aim 2b, we examine how narcissistic dynamics play out in their relationships with their children. For example, when and how do these parents use their children as potential extensions of themselves and their own self-construction concerns, and how are these expressed in particular parenting behaviors? We predict that narcissistic parents will on the one hand, expect their children to serve as an admiring audience of the parent and on the other to serve as showcase for their parenting achievements (e.g., through extraordinary performances). We will further investigate the effects these behaviors have on child development and well-being. Questionnaire and laboratory studies will be conducted employing parents and their offspring to clarify both how narcissistic parents view their children and how they relate to them in ways driven by their self-regulatory needs and dynamics.Throughout a supplementary aim will be to investigate gender differences in processing dynamics in narcissism, and in their behavioral expressions. Such gender differences are frequently found, often unexpected, and remain largely mysterious, with scant theoretical or empirical bases for predicting them. In sum, our goals are to illuminate with increasing precision the dynamic goal-directed self-regulatory mechanisms that are central in narcissists’ self-construction efforts, to specify the relational conditions that modify them, and to examine the effects they have on both the self and the individual’s interpersonal worlds. Importantly, our goal is to distinguish the adaptive features and positive consequences of the NP patterns from the negative ones, and disentangle their dynamics and trigger conditions. If this can be achieved, it potentially opens the way for therapeutic interventions aimed at modifying the disadvantageous features of narcissistic behavior and maximizing their adaptive value. While the focus is on narcissism, the findings are expected to be a significant step in the development of a dynamic cognitive-affective information processing model applicable to understanding the mental processes and organization that characterize diverse types of personality dynamics and their behavioral expressions.
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