Literature review on the research of narcissism

This paper explores mainly on three published research articles which report on results from research conducted on narcissism. Many research articles related to narcissism have been published. Some published research articles use theory to explain about narcissism while some use point of view. This paper chooses the research articles which use theory to do the explanation in the research. The chosen published research articles, however, vary in their uses of theory in explaining narcissism. Two different theories which are conflicting or disagreeing with each other are selected from the research articles. This paper explains about the conflicting theories abstracted from the research articles. The research articles are being discussed and the main points discussed in the articles are summarized. This paper compares the two conflicting theories and suggests the best theory which would be best relate to narcissism.

Overview of Narcissism

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One of the personality disorders is the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) which defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Within the last few decades, important clinical, theoretical, and empirical findings have stimulated enormous discussion and controversy regarding the nature of pathological narcissism and the definition and treatment of narcissistic personality disorder. The results of systematic studies on narcissistic personality disorder and the characteristics of pathological narcissism have clarified a number of diagnostic issues and precipitated changes in the diagnostic criteria set, but also provoked challenges to narcissistic personality disorder’s diagnostic status and its validity as a long-term personality disorder. In psychology, narcissism is a quality of the self that has significant implications for thinking, feeling, and behaving. Individuals with narcissistic personality possess highly inflated, unrealistically positive views of their self. In addition, narcissists will only focus on what benefits them personally, with less regard for how their actions may benefit or harm others.

Positive Illusions Theory

Humanism is a system of thought in which human interest and value are primary importance. Many humanistic psychology’s theories emphasize that human strength aspiration, and the fulfillment of our potential. They present an optimistic image of human nature and describe people as an active, creative being concerned with growth. In general, humanistic approach emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings (Schultz & Schultz, 2009, p. 298). This approach is optimistic and focuses on noble human capacity to overcome hardship, pain and despair. The positive illusion is one of the humanistic approaches.

Positive illusions are that people often hold beliefs about themselves, the world, and the future which are more positive than reality can sustain (http:// Positive illusions are more likely to have self-esteem and confidence, are less likely to suffer from depression, and harbour more compassion toward their interaction partner. Taylor and Brown proposed that positive illusions are also thought to foster higher motivation and greater persistence or task, which ultimately lead to great success (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 340). In effect, positive illusion may increase a person’s self-efficacy. Gosling, John, Craik, and Robins state that individuals who overestimate their performance in a competitive group task are more likely to be narcissistic, according to ratings by a team of psychologists and self-report measures of narcissism (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 341).

Generally, positive illusions have been commonly understood as one of the apparent effects of self-enhancement, a desire to maximize the positivity of one’s self-views and a function of boosting self-esteem (http:// Individual variability in self-enhancing tendencies was related to narcissistic tendencies, ego involvement in the task, self-serving attributions for performance, and post task affective responses.

Colvin, Block and Funder found that self-enhancing individuals were described by their peers in narcissistic terms (e.g., hostile, defensive, condescending), whereas individuals who did not have self-enhancing beliefs were described as cheerful and considerate (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 341). These findings provide clues to the psychological factors underlying positive illusions. According to Farwell and Wohlwend, the narcissistic interpretation of self-enhancers suggests that positive illusions may rest on a foundation of fragile self-esteem and according to Sedikides and Strube, self-enhancing individuals may be likely to chronically seek affirmation of their positive self-views (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 349). Robins and Beer (2001) also found that self-enhancers tended to inflate their self-evaluations even relative to how they thought their peers evaluated them. This finding implies that self-enhancers are generally aware that their peers do not share their rosy self-views, which seems contrary to the assumption that self-evaluations are reflected appraisals of the views of others as stated by Mead (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 349).

Positive illusions may reflect a more general tendency to bolster self-esteem by denying information that threatens self-worth, and this tendency may manifest itself on a wide range of self-report measures. As a result, narcissists will derogate others and discount the validity of their perceptions. For example, according to Raskin and Terry, narcissists claim that “sometimes my talents are not recognized” on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 350). Thus, self-enhancers might narcissistically maintain their positive self-views by discounting the relevance of negative peer judgments. On the other word, individuals with distorted self-appraisals do not assume that others see them in exactly the same way they see themselves.

Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown state that “a set of interrelated positive illusions-namely, unrealistically positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism-can serve a wide variety of cognitive, affective, and social functions” (as cited in Nadelhoffer & Matveeva, 2009, p. 3). However, according to Taylor and Brown, it appears that “beliefs in personal control are sometimes greater than can be justified” (as cited in Nadelhoffer & Matveeva, 2009, p. 4). For instance, Langer studies have shown that it is not uncommon for people to have the illusion of control even in situations that are determined entirely by chance (as cited in Nadelhoffer & Matveeva, 2009, p. 4). It appears that when people expect a particular outcome to occur and it does occur, according to Taylor and Brown, they frequently “overestimate the degree to which they were instrumental in bringing it about” even in situations where control is mostly or even entirely lacking (as cited in Nadelhoffer & Matveeva, 2009, p. 4).

Self Regulation Theory

Self-regulation is one of theory that from the social-learning approach. Social-learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another, including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modelling (Ormrod, 1999). In Bandura’s approach to personality, the self is not some psychic agent that determines or causes behaviour (Schultz & Schultz, 2009, p. 408). Rather, according to Schultz and Schultz (2009), the self is a cognitive process and structure concerned with thought and perception. In the other word, cognition plays a role in learning, and over the last 30 years social learning theory has become increasingly cognitive in its interpretation of human learning. Previous analyses of self-regulation of Baumeister, Heatherton and Tice emphasized three main ingredients of the self-regulation process (as cited in Baumeister & Vohs, 2007), but Baumeister and Vohs are now convinced that a fourth needs to be included. The first three ingredients are standards, monitoring, and strength (colloquially known as willpower). The fourth ingredient is motivation. The fourth ingredient is motivation to achieve the goal or meet the standard, which in practice amounts to motivation to regulate the self. Even if the standards are clear, monitoring is fully effective, and the person’s resources are abundant, he or she may still fail to self-regulate due to not caring about reaching the goal.

As originally conceptualized the agency model left out some important aspects of narcissistic self-regulation. By using self-regulatory strategies, the narcissists spend a good deal of effort to make themselves look and feel positive, special, successful and important. According to Raskin and Novacek, sometimes these self regulation efforts are intrapsychic, such as fantasizing about power or blaming the situation rather than the self for failure (Campbell & Foster). At other times these efforts are interpersonal, such as when they use their relationships in the service of the self.

Meanwhile, the self regulatory tactics used by narcissists include efforts to be noticed, look good, surpass others, and defend the self against perceived threats. According to Buss and Chiodo, attention seeking, directing the topics of conversations to themselves, showing off, speaking in a loud voice with exaggerated gestures are all standard narcissistic strategies (as cited in Campbell & Foster). On the other hand, the development of narcissists’ relationships is also influenced dramatically by self regulation. Their relationships usually start quickly and are exciting and enjoyable, but then become troubled as intimacy fails to develop and narcissists’ negative behaviors (e.g., infidelity, manipulation, aggression) become apparent. In addition, they have the ability to defend against negative feedback applies to feedback from both actual dating partners and potential dating partners. According to Rhodewalt and Eddings, in both instances, narcissists’ effectively cope with negative feedback (as cited in Campbell & Foster). Given the above, it is not surprising that the narcissistic self is perhaps most usefully conceptualized as a self regulatory system: It is an interactive group of traits, abilities, beliefs, strategies, behavior, and emotions that mutually predict and reinforce each other.

In approach to narcissism, self-regulation has been largely related to narcissism. Generally, narcissism is about looking or feeling good about other people and the narcissist acts and thinks in ways that keep these self views viable. According to Raskin, Novacek and Hogan, they described narcissism as a strategy for managing self-esteem via grandiosity (as cited in Campbell & Foster). Narcissists’ grandiose self-displays were theorized to drive self-esteem levels. Similarly, Campbell’s self-orientation model focused on narcissists’ use of interpersonal relationships, specifically via the mechanisms of associating with highly positive and admiring others for self-enhancement goals (as cited in Campbell & Foster). According to Morf and Rhodewalt, the most elaborated self-regulatory model of narcissism is the dynamic self-regulatory processing model (as cited in Campbell & Foster). This model is focuses on narcissist’s efforts to regulate positive self-views. The model contains four interacting components: self-knowledge, intrapersonal self-regulatory process, interpersonal behaviours, and social relationships. Campbell and Foster find this model to be extremely useful for thinking about the dynamics of the narcissistic self and we borrow from it when presenting our extended agency model. A final model that is highly relevant to Campbell and Foster’s approach is Paulhus’s “minimalist model” of narcissism (as cited in Campbell & Foster). This model focuses on the basic structure of narcissistic personality which is high agency/egotism, low communion/morality as being crucial for narcissists interpersonal functioning. This model offers a very parsimonious account of a good deal of the data on narcissism. All in all, the self-regulatory is related to the narcissism.

Differences Between Theories

Generally, the most significant contrast between the two theories that we found is that of the positive illusion theory comes from the humanistic approach which is the thought of human. The self regulation theory is from the social learning approach which will focuses on the learning within a social. In other words, the narcissism from the positive illusion theory is the narcissist often believes about themselves more positively than they are in reality world. Whereas in the social learning theory, the narcissist is the person who always controls themselves in order to protect their pride. As Taylor and Brown defined, positive illusions is known as unrealistically positive self-evaluations and unrealistic optimism. The positive illusion believes that these illusions are maintained through biases in encoding, and will change temporarily and then go back to their original state. Although this illusion is unrealistic and we have to consider whether or not this lack of realism provides a benefit over and above the established benefits of the triad. However, according to the Taylor and Brown (1988), in their review the unrealistic illusions which will cause the positive effects to the thinking of narcissist and as a result this will make the effect of self-enhancement to the narcissist.

The other contrast of these two theories such as through the positive illusion perspective, the self-enhancement of the narcissists is only suitable for short-term due to their unrealistic positive view. However, in the perspective of the self- regulation, the narcissists will control or regulate their behaviour to increase their pride in the long term or for longer time.

In the other hand, in the view in self-regulation, the narcissists control themselves in order change to bring behaviour with some standard such as an ideal or goal but the important is based on their ability. Whereas in the view of positive illusion, the narcissists will belief on them can do anything that is over their ability.

In the positive illusion, the narcissists want to believe that they are competent and worthy people who are loved and respected by those around them. This show that, they tend to motivated themselves in order to achieve their goal which will increase their self-esteem.

First Article

The first chosen article is Positive Illusions About the Self abstracted from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80, No. 2, (2010), p. 340-352 written by Richard W. Robins and Jennifer S. Beer. The article contains two studies that examined parallel questions about the correlates and consequences of positive illusions. The first study (Study 1) was conducted in a laboratory context, and the second study (Study 2) was conducted in a real-world, longitudinal context. Both studies focused on one form of positive illusion, self-enhancement bias (i.e., unrealistically positive self-evaluations), and on several variables believed to play a central role in the self-evaluation process (narcissism, ego involvement, causal attributions, affect).


Study 1 examined self-enhancement bias and its relationship in a group-decision-making task. In this task, participants worked toward a solution about how best to use their available resources to survive after crash landing on the moon. Following the task, participants evaluated their own performance in the task (self-evaluations) and the performance of each other group member (peer evaluations). Participants also estimated how their performance was evaluated by the other group members (perceived peer evaluations). Using these three sets of performance ratings (i.e., self, peer, perceived peer), the research examined several questions about how people protect their self-worth and bolster their self-esteem. In Study 1, a total of 360 individuals (57% women) participated in the study. Participants interacted in groups of five in a decision-making task entitled “Lost on the Moon.” According to Robins and Beer (2001), the instructions for the task were as followed:

You are a member of a space crew originally scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. Due to mechanical difficulties, however, your ship was forced to land at a spot 200 miles from the rendezvous point. The rough landing has ruined your ship and damaged much of the equipment aboard. Only the 15 items listed below were undamaged by the landing. Your crew’s survival depends on reaching the mother ship, so the most critical items available must be chosen for the 200-mile trip. Your group’s task is to rank the 15 items in terms of their importance for the crew’s survival. When your group has come to an agreement, indicate your group’s rankings in the space below. Put a number 1 by the most important item, a number 2 by the second most important item and so on through number 15, the least important item. Do not give the same ranking to more than 1 item; that is, no ties are allowed. You have 20-minutes to complete the rankings.

Study 2 was the extension of the findings from Study 1 to a real-world academic context, using a sample of students followed longitudinally through college. In this study, Robins and Beer (2001) examined whether students who entered college with self-enhancing beliefs about their academic ability were more narcissistic, more ego involved in their academic performance (i.e., grades), more inclined to make self-serving attributions for their performance, and more likely to maintain their self-esteem and well-being over time. In addition, Robins and Beer (2001) examined whether self-enhancement had adaptive benefits for two outcomes specific to the college environment: college grade point average (GPA) and graduation status. Study 2 was carried out by using data from the Berkeley Longitudinal Study (Robins, Hendin, & Trzesniewski, 2001), an ongoing study designed to examine the development of self-esteem and personality during college. The sample comprises of 508 undergraduate students who entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1992. This sample is diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and academic ability. Recruitment of participants was conducted during the first week of their first year of college and then they were assessed annually throughout college. Participants were contacted by mail and asked to complete an extensive questionnaire. Six assessments were conducted over a four years period. Despite problems occurred in particular assessments, most of the analyses to be reported are based on more than 90% of the total sample.


This article has three relatively unique features with about the consequences of positive illusions. Firstly, Robins and Beer (2001) used explicit external criteria to identify individuals with self-enhancing beliefs: consensual judgments by peers in Study 1 and objective indicators of academic ability in Study 2. Secondly, Robins and Beer (2001) related individual differences in self-enhancement bias to a wide range of outcomes, including both subjective and objective indicators of adjustment. Robins and Beer (2001) thus circumvented some of the problems arising from the exclusive use of self-report measures of adjustment. Thirdly, Robins and Beer (2001) related self-enhancement bias to change over time in several theoretically relevant variables. A pre-test-post-test design was being used by Robins and Beer (2001) in Study 1 to examine whether self-enhancers reported more positive affect than individuals with accurate or self-diminishing perceptions of their performance. In Study 2, the longitudinal design allowed to test claims about the long-term benefits of self-enhancement by using growth curve modelling of subjective well-being, self-esteem, and ego involvement over 4 years of college.

According to Robins and Beer (2001), in Study 1, self-enhancement seems to be associated with successful short-term affect regulation. Study 2 provides further support for the relationship between self-enhancement and aspects of well-being. Individuals who entered college with self-enhancing beliefs about their academic ability reported higher levels of well-being and self-esteem. Findings suggest that self-enhancing individuals may experience more positive feelings about themselves in the short term but that this advantage lessens over time. It is possible that unrealistically positive beliefs may help an individual regulate affect for a time, but at some point the individual may be forced to realize that such beliefs are never going to come true, a realization that may diminish well-being and self-esteem (Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 350). According to Colvin and Block, positive illusions are adaptive in the short term but not in the long term (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001).

Second and Third Article

The second chosen article is Narcissism and attractiveness abstracted from the Journal of Research in Personality, Vol. 44, (2010), p. 133-136 written by Nicholas S. Holtzman and Michael J. Strube. The third article is Running From Shame or Reveling In Pride? Narcissism and the Regulation of Self-Conscious Emotions abstracted from Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 15, No. 2, (2004), p. 150-153 written by W. Keith Campbell, Joshua D. Foster and Amy B. Brunell. These articles are related to self-regulation theory.


The methodology being used in the second article is Holtzman and Strube (2010) found relevant articles and limited the search to journal articles and book chapters that being written from 2001. Holtzman and Strube (2010) placed six pairs of keywords in the All Text search fields in PsychINFO: ”narciss” and ”person-perception”, “narcis” and “attractiveness”, “narcis” and “facial attractiveness”, ”personality disorders” and ”person-perception”, “personality disorders” and “attractiveness”, and “personality disorders” and “facial attractiveness”. The All Text option returns articles that contain the searched word at any place in the abstract, keywords, journal or book title, article or chapter title, subject line, or table of contents. This process returned 48 articles and chapters. Seven of the articles contained relevant data. The methodology being used in the third article is that of according to Campbell, Foster and Brunell (2004), in order to give an example from their own research, one of them spent several years studying the self-serving bias. These studies typically involved asking participants to engage in either an interdependent or independent task, giving them false success or failure feedback, and then measuring attributions for the outcome. Participants will usually take individual credit for successful outcomes and blame their partner or the situation for unsuccessful outcomes. The explanation for this self-serving behaviour was the motivation to enhance/defend the self or gain/maintain esteem. More complex emotional outcomes such as pride or shame were never considered. Besides that, Campbell et al. (2004) also read the Tracy and Robins article. According to Campbell, Foster, & Brunell (2004), hypotheses such as: “an experience of elevated hubristic pride is an outcome of narcissists’ self-serving attributions” and “individuals engage in self-serving attribution distortions following failure in part because they experience a threat to their hubristic pride” would be worthy of investigation. Such research could use interesting methods (e.g., coding of body posture as dependent measures or even mediators) and would link between self-regulation topic and the emotions literature.


According to Campbell et al. (2004), the case of narcissism despite on research into self-conscious emotion, they had several doubt about their use of the model to explain self-regulation among narcissists. It is not intended to critique the model of self-conscious emotions. Instead, they would like to offer a competing view of narcissistic self-regulation that uses the Tracy and Robins model, but with a different view of narcissism. Hubristic pride and shame share the important similarity of both involving stable/global attributions to the self (Campbell, Foster, & Brunell, 2004, p. 151). Statements such as “I won the competition because I am an awesome person” would be a predictor of hubristic pride; “I lost the competition because I am a worthless loser” would be a predictor of shame. Likewise, “I won the competition because I did everything well today” would lead to achievement-oriented pride, and “I lost the competition because I did everything poorly today” would lead to guilt. Campbell et al. (2004) make three specific points:

Narcissism may promote excessive attention focus on the self.

Narcissism may influence appraisals of identity-goal relevance. Narcissism may also influence the tendency to regulate self-conscious emotions through reappraisals.

Narcissistic self-enhancement biases may promote external attributions for failure. For a narcissist, internalization of failure would be internalization of global failure, leading to shame without any possibility of guilt. The only regulatory solution for these individuals is to externalize blame, and experience anger and rage. Conversely, narcissists may be vigilant of opportunities to internalize positive events, taking credit for successes whenever possible.

Campbell et al. (2004) agree that there is ample evidence that narcissists are self-focused. They also have largely positive self-views, which would likely be associated with the experience of positive self-conscious emotions. Secondly, Campbell et al. (2004) agree that narcissists make strategic importance appraisals of the relevance of outcomes to identity goals (e.g., reducing the perceived importance of a test after failing). However, this is not a self-enhancement strategy that is linked exclusively to narcissists. Thirdly, this article described narcissists do display a self-serving pattern of attributions. Campbell et al. (2004) also speculate that the emotion of pride (particularly hubristic pride) played a role in this process as an outcome and possibly a mediator of this attribution approach. Campbell et al. (2004) posited that narcissists experience shame and this is linked to the implicit feeling of shame driving the anger that accompanies external attributions made by narcissists.

According to Morf and Rhodewalt (as cited in Holtzman & Strube, 2010), narcissism can be predicted from the dynamic self-regulatory processing model of narcissism. According to this theory, narcissists attempt to regulate their behaviour in ways that maximize positive feedback from other people, which then leads to the ultimate goal of maintaining a grandiose self-image. Accordingly, higher levels of attractiveness in narcissists may be due to their self-regulation, such as grooming behaviours, which lead to positive feedback from others that enhances self-views. Thus, the self-regulatory view converges with the evolutionary view on the prediction that narcissists have higher levels of attractiveness (Holtzman & Strube, 2010).

Narcissists show lesser feelings of shame, guilt depression, and other internal emotions than non-narcissists. Indeed, narcissists have less negative affect and more positive affect than non-narcissists on almost every relevant measure. There is no evidence that narcissists carry negative global self-feelings implicitly (Campbell, Foster, & Brunell, 2004, p. 151). When narcissists react to threat, they display more external (e.g., pride, anger) and fewer internal (e.g., shame, sadness) emotions. Narcissists do not seem prone to shame following threat. Rather, they seem to respond to threats by trying to knock the threatener down a peg or two. Narcissists are high in approach (but not higher in avoidance) orientation. Narcissists are differentially focused on achieving success, not avoiding failure. In emotional terms, it is arguable that they try to gain pride more than would others; however they would not show a greater desire to avoid shame (Campbell, Foster, & Brunell, 2004, p. 152). Narcissists attempt to regulate their behaviour in ways that maximize positive feedback from other people, which then leads to the ultimate goal of maintaining a grandiose self-image (Holtzman & Strube, 2010, p. 134).


From the analysis of the research, we found that narcissism can be related to positive illusion theory. Narcissism and positive illusion share some same characteristic which can be observed through perspective of ego involvement, self-esteem and self-enhancement. Individuals of positive illusions have the tendency to be over confidence over themselves. In most occasion, positive illusion will maximize the positivity of one’s self-views and as a function of boosting self-esteem. However, positive illusions are aware of their own imperfectives and that people around do not share the same self-view, yet they choose to ignore or denying the information that cripple their self-worth. On the other hand, positive illusions may experience more positive feelings about themselves in the short term but that this advantage lessens over time. From the articles we have read, we could understand that positive illusion individuals were viewed positively by their peers after a brief interaction but that this initial favourable impression deteriorated after a few more hours of contact. Positive illusions were eventually viewed as hostile, defensive, and tending to brag. Paulhus’ research raises the possibility that positive illusions may be beneficial in the short term but maladaptive over the long-term according to Colvin, Block and Funder (as cited in Robins & Beer, 2001, p. 341).

After we doing our research and analyze the journals, we conclude that self-regulation is more suitable to explain and discuss the phenomena of narcissism comparing to positive illusion. It is found that, self-regulate can make a person to become narcissistic. Self-regulation is the ability to individually self-monitor, and self-monitor within a team environment which influences perception of individual and team performance expectations, and confidence of success. However, in this situation, narcissists tend to regulate themselves in ways that maximize positive feedback from other people, increase pride but not avoid shame. This means that self-regulation actually lead to narcissism. There are few points that support our view:

Narcissist tends to regulate self-conscious emotions reappraise negative events as irrelevant to identity goals. For example, a narcissist will think that it is alright if he lost in a competition because he can concentrate on his job later on.

Narcissist regulate to not avoid shame and without any possibility of guilt if they fail. They prefer to blame others, and experience anger and rage instead. Conversely, narcissists regulate to take credit for successes whenever possible and they don’t appreciate other’s hard work.

To make it clearer, let us look into the differences in self-regulation between narcissists and non-narcissists. It can clearly be seen in the experiments conducted by Campbell, Foster and Brunell (2004) who conducted a study in which two experiments were conducted. In both experiments, participants were provided with false feedback that is either bogus success or failure. It was found that both narcissists and non-narcissists motivate themselves to success and avoid failure. This is due to the participants try to achieve hubristic pride and avoid shame. F

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