Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 187–209 | Cite as

Mind-Reading and Metacognition: Narcissism, not Actual Competence, Predicts Self-Estimated Ability

  • Daniel R. Ames
  • Lara K. Kammrath


In this paper, we examine the relationship between people's actual interpersonal sensitivity (such as their ability to identify deception and to infer intentions and emotions) and their perceptions of their own sensitivity. Like prior scholars, we find the connection is weak or non-existent and that most people overestimate their social judgment and mind-reading skills. Unlike previous work, however, we show new evidence about who misunderstands their sensitivity and why. We find that those who perform the worst in social judgment and mind-reading radically overestimate their relative competence. We also find origins of these self-estimates in general narcissistic tendencies toward self-aggrandizement. We discuss evidence from two studies, one involving the Interpersonal Perception Task (the IPT-15) and another focusing on inferences about partners after a face-to-face negotiation exercise. In both cases, actual performance did not predict self-estimated performance but narcissism did.

empathic accuracy interpersonal sensitivity metacognition mind-reading narcissism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alicke, M. D. (1985). Global self-evaluation as determined by the desirability and controllability of trait adjectives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1621–1630.Google Scholar
  2. Ames, D. R., Rose, P., & Anderson, C. P. (2004). Narcissism: A 16 item-pair scale. Manuscript under review.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5–17.Google Scholar
  4. Burson, K. A., Larrick, R. P., & Klayman, J. (2004). Skilled or unskilled, but still unaware of it: How perceptions of difficulty drive miscalibration in relative comparisons. Manuscript under review.Google Scholar
  5. Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 219–229.Google Scholar
  6. Colvin, C. R., & Block, J. (1994). Do positive illusions foster mental health? An examination of the Taylor and Brown formulation. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 3–20.Google Scholar
  7. Costanzo, M., & Archer, D. (1989). Interpreting the expressive behavior of others: The interpersonal perception task. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 13, 225–235.Google Scholar
  8. Costanzo, M., & Archer, D. (Producers) (1993). Interpersonal perception task-15 [videotape]. University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning, 2000 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, M. H., & Kraus, L. A. (1997). Personality and empathic accuracy. In W. Ickes (Ed.), Empathic accuracy (pp. 144–168). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  10. DePaulo, B. M., Charlton, K., Cooper, H., Lindsay, J. J., & Muhlenbruck, L. (1997). The accuracy-confidence correlation in the detection of deception. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1, 246–357.Google Scholar
  11. Drolet, A. L., & Morris, M. W. (2000). Rapport in conflict resolution: Accounting for how nonverbal exchange fosters cooperation on mutually beneficial settlements to mixedmotive conflicts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 26–50.Google Scholar
  12. Dunning, D., Johnson, K., Ehrlinger, J., & Kruger, J. (2003). Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 83–87.Google Scholar
  13. Dunning, D., Meyerowitz, J., & Holzberg, A. D. (1989). Ambiguity and self-evaluation: The role of idiosyncratic trait definitions in self-serving assessments of ability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1082–1090.Google Scholar
  14. Ehrlinger, J., & Dunning, D. (2003). How chronic self-views influence (and potentially mislead) estimates of performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 5–17.Google Scholar
  15. Ekman, P., & O'Sullivan, M. (1991). Who can catch a liar? American Psychologist, 46, 913–920.Google Scholar
  16. Emmons, R. A. (1987). Narcissism: Theory and measurement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 11–17.Google Scholar
  17. Gabriel, M. T, Critelli, J. W., & Ee, J. S. (1994). Narcissistic illusions in self-evaluations of intelligence and attractiveness. Journal of Personality, 62, 143–155.Google Scholar
  18. Hodges, S. D. (2003). Is how much you understand me in your head or mine? Paper presented at Other Minds: An Interdisciplinary Conference, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.Google Scholar
  19. Ickes, W. (2003). Everyday mind reading: Understanding what other people think and feel. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  20. Ickes, W. (1993). Empathic accuracy. Journal of Personality, 61, 587–610.Google Scholar
  21. Ickes, W., Gesn, P. R., & Graham, T. (2000). Gender differences in empathic accuracy: Differential ability or differential motivation? Personal Relationships, 7, 95–109.Google Scholar
  22. John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. (1991). The Big-Five Inventory. Technical Report, Institute for Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA.Google Scholar
  23. John, O. P., & Robins, R. W. (1994). Accuracy and bias in self-perception: Individual differences in self-enhancement and the role of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 206–219.Google Scholar
  24. Kernis, M. H., & Sun, C. R. (1994). Narcissism and reactions to interpersonal feedback. Journal of Research in Personality, 28, 4–13.Google Scholar
  25. Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1121–1134.Google Scholar
  26. Lennox, R. D., & Wolfe, R. N. (1984). Revision of the self-monitoring scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1349–1364.Google Scholar
  27. Morf, C. C., & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: A dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 177–196.Google Scholar
  28. Patterson, M. L., & Stockbridge, E. (1998). Effects of cognitive demand and judgment strategy on person perception accuracy. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 22, 253–263.Google Scholar
  29. Patterson, M. L., Foster, J. L., & Bellmer, C. (2001). Another look at accuracy and confidence in social judgments. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 25, 207–219.Google Scholar
  30. Paulhus, D. L. (1998). Interpersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait self-enhancement: A mixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1197–1208.Google Scholar
  31. Paulhus, D.L., Lysy, D.C., & Yik, M.S.N. (1998). Self-report measures of intelligence: Are they useful as proxy IQ tests? Journal of Personality, 66, 525–554.Google Scholar
  32. Realo, A., Allik, J., Nolvka, A., Valk, R., Ruus, T., Schmidt, M., & Eilola, T. (2003). Mind reading ability: Beliefs and performance. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 420–445.Google Scholar
  33. Robins, R.W., Hendin, H. M., & Trzesniewski, K. H. (2001). Measuring global self-esteem: Construct validation of a single-item measure and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 151–161.Google Scholar
  34. Robins, R.W., & John, O.P. (1997). Effects of visual perspective and narcissism on self-perception: Is seeing believing? Psychological Science, 8, 37–42.Google Scholar
  35. Smith, H. J., Archer, D., & Costanzo, M. (1991). ''Just a hunch'': Accuracy and awareness in person perception. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 15, 3–18.Google Scholar
  36. Swann, W. B., Jr., & Gill, M. J. (1997). Confidence and accuracy in person perception: Do we know what we think we know about our relationship partners? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 747–757.Google Scholar
  37. Taylor, S.E., & Brown, J. (1988). Illusions and well-being: A social-psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.Google Scholar
  38. Watson, P. J., Grisham, S. O., Trotter, M. V., & Biderman, M. D. (1984). Narcissism and empathy: Validity evidence for the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 301–305.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Ames
  • Lara K. Kammrath

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations