The present research explores the link between the personality trait exploitativeness, a component of narcissism, and emotion recognition abilities. Prior research on this topic has produced inconsistent findings. We attempt to resolve these inconsistencies by testing the hypothesis that narcissistic exploitativeness, in particular, should be associated with emotion-reading abilities because it specifically taps into the motivation to manipulate others. Across two studies we find that narcissistic exploitativeness is indeed associated with increased emotion recognition, but in some cases the confounding effects of mood need to be considered (Study 1). Importantly, effect sizes of narcissistic exploitativeness were similar in magnitude to two different measures of dispositional empathy, which is an established correlate of emotion recognition. These studies suggest that emotional recognition abilities are associated with desirable and undesirable traits.
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For a priori theoretical reasons outlined in the Introduction we chose to specifically focus on the exploitativeness subscale of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. However, readers may be curious whether the other aspects of narcissism also predict emotion recognition ability. We have no specific a priori hypotheses with respect to why other aspects of narcissism should be associated with better emotion recognition (i.e., exhibitionism, entitlement, authority, superiority, self-sufficiency, or vanity). When examining the specific subscales of the NPI in each of the two studies, there are no consistent patterns with any other subscales predicting emotion recognition across both studies. In addition, when combining these subscales into a “non-exploitative narcissism” scale by summing them together, there are no consistent relationships with emotion recognition across both studies. Thus, the non-exploitative aspects of narcissism were not consistently associated with emotion recognition, even when controlling for mood.
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The first author was supported by a grant from Wake Forest University, The Psychology of Character (via the John Templeton Foundation), while writing this manuscript. We thank Judith Hall and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Konrath, S., Corneille, O., Bushman, B.J. et al. The Relationship Between Narcissistic Exploitativeness, Dispositional Empathy, and Emotion Recognition Abilities. J Nonverbal Behav 38, 129–143 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-013-0164-y
- Emotional competencies
- Emotional intelligence
- Emotion recognition
- Mind reading
- Emotion perception ability