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Americans and narcissistic perceptions

Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 10:59am

Americans believe we are the most narcissistic people on Earth, and we may be, though not nearly so much as we believe:

Americans consistently reported a perception of the typical U.S. citizen as highly narcissistic—even meeting diagnostic criteria for the psychiatric disorder, according to studies conducted by University of Georgia psychologists in collaboration with colleagues from around the world.

The reality is that fewer than one in 100 individuals meets the diagnostic criteria for the narcissistic personality disorder in most epidemiological surveys, marking it as a relatively rare disorder.

Narcissism is associated with excessive interest in oneself and one's appearance and ranges from self-confidence to extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents, self-absorption and a desire for attention and admiration.


Although non-Americans from many other parts of the world viewed the typical American as highly narcissistic, they did not cast U.S. citizens in a purely negative light.

"They also said Americans are less neurotic, as well as more extroverted and conscientious, so it wasn't just an indiscriminant criticism of Americans," said study co-author Joshua Miller, a professor and director of the clinical training program in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences' department of psychology. "It was a specific profile of traits that just happens to be very consistent with what we call grandiose narcissism-these sort of hyper confident, aggressive, assertive individuals."

In fact, Americans in the surveys held harsher opinions of their fellow citizens. The profile Americans hold of the typical American was more uniformly negative. The researchers posit these perceptions may, in part, be the results of an emphasis on celebrity culture and the rapidly growing influence and role of social media.

That we are not clinically pathological is small comfort. But the outsized influence of famous people on our self-perceptions, as the researchers stipulate, leads to a skewed perception. At any rate, this will be much discussed and rightly so, Miller and Campbell are among our best. Congratulations to them on this insightful new work.

Image: Paphos Archaeological Park. House of Dionysos: Mosaic of Narcissus, via wikimedia commons.

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