The first time the term collective narcissism was used it was by Theodore Adorno to identify a belief in national supremacy that gave rise to the support for Nazi rule in Germany before WW2. Later, Erich Fromm argued that ‘group narcissism’ gives satisfaction to those group members who otherwise do not have other reasons to feel proud or worthwhile. These insightful analyses inspired our lab to conducts research on collective narcissism and its intergroup consequences as well as individual difference antecedents.

This research uses the Collective Narcissism Scale developed by Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, consulted by clinical psychologist dr David Goodwin and first tested by Roy Eidelson. Our research addresses the question whether all forms of in-group love are related to out-group hate. It proposes that collective narcissism is systematically related to intergroup hostility. Differentiating it from other forms of positive attitudes towards the in-group helps uncover that some forms of in-group positivity are actually related to positive out-group attitudes. We try to understand the motivations behind collective narcissistic intergroup hostility to be able to address it constructively. We propose that collective narcissists compensate by the weaknesses of the self engaging in intergroup hostility. We search for interventions that allow collective narcissists to deal with their vulnerabilities in alternative ways.

The concept of collective narcissism developed in our lab is based on a definition of individual narcissism as a personality trait pertaining to an individual difference in addiction to admiration of others. Collective narcissism is an individual difference in emotional investment in the in-group’s greatness that is contingent on recognition and validation by others. People who score high on the Collective Narcissists Scale agree that their group’s special importance and worth are not sufficiently recognized by others, their group deserves special treatment and they insist that their group must obtain special recognition and respect. Collective narcissists cannot just be happy that they are members of valuable groups and devote their energy to contributing towards the betterment of those groups. Their energy is engaged in monitoring whether everybody around and particularly other groups recognize the great value and special worth of their group. Collective narcissists demand privilege and special recognition to their group rather than intergroup equality. The contingency on continuous external confirmation is what differentiates collective narcissism from other positive attitudes towards groups people belong to. It also contributes to the inherent vulnerability and defensiveness underlying collective narcissism.

The conviction that the true greatness and uniqueness of the group is not properly acknowledged by others is most likely what makes collective narcissists hypervigilant to any signs that the group’s greatness is undermined. When it happens, and it happens often, collective narcissists engage in overt or covert retaliatory actions.

Back in 2003, American collective narcissists supported war in Iraq because after the terrorist attacks of September 11, they believed their country was constantly threatened and undermined by hostility of others. Recent analyses by Katarzyna Jaśko at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism showed also that collective narcissism mobilized support for terrorist violence in radical social networks in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Morocco. In radicalized social contexts, either due to the past involvement in political violence (LTTE in Sri Lanka), current ideological climate (Morocco), or explicit ideological agenda (Islamists and Jihadists in Indonesia), collective narcissism predicted suport for violent extremism. The more participants embedded within the extremist networks felt their group had not received the appreciation it deserved, the greater was their support for intergroup violence.

Recently, our research showed that American collective narcissism was strongly associated with support for Donald Trump in American presidential election most likely because his campaign message emphasized that American greatness has been undermined but others and needs to be restored. Our ongoing research suggests that British collective narcissism has been associated with the Brexit vote. Importantly, our research shows that this link was driven by collective narcissists feeling that their group’s identity (its safety, its ways and values) was threatened and undermined by immigrants. National collective narcissism is also associated with support for a populist government in Poland. There, the national identity that collective narcissists uphold is narrowly defined as ethnically Polish, Catholic and heterosexual. Research shows that Polish collective narcissism is related to prejudice towards homosexuals. Polish collective narcissism is related to anti-Semitism and rejection of ethnic minorities and rejection of refugees. Because of the close link to Catholic religious identity national collective narcissists in Poland uphold gender stereotypes, support politics that undermine the rights of women and sexual minorities.

Our research on collective narcissism brings very timely and worrying insights into social psychological processes involved in the recent political events. Those insights are worrying because, as our research, and research from other labs, shows, collective narcissism is associated with intergroup hostility and aggression that are sometimes triggered by disproportionally banal causes (but so were the world wars). For example, Polish collective narcissists wanted to engage in physical violence to punish a celebrity actor who had publicly made jokes about the current Polish government and its politics. Turkish collective narcissists rejoiced in the economic crisis in Europe because they felt offended that Turkey has been admitted as a member of the EU. Mexican collective narcissist wanted to attack Americans in Mexico because they felt the construction of the wall along the Mexican American boarder was offensive to Mexico and Mexicans.

We also found that collective narcissism is associated with conspiratory thinking. Polish collective narcissism is associated with anti-Semitism because Polish collective narcissists believe Jewish people conspire to rule over Poland and the world. Moreover, when exposed to conspiracy theories – such as those widespread by Donald Trump during his campaign – collective narcissists become more and more convinced there are hidden forces behind the geopolitical events. Poland has been a natural laboratory for us after a plane crash that killed Polish president and over 90 prominent Polish politicians in 2010. Polish collective narcissism predicts the still strong belief that the plane was brought down by Russian attack despite other whelming evidence that it was an accident. Conspiracy theories protect collective narcissists from the realization that their group is not always as great as they would wish. On the other hand, feeling a target of attacks and covert conspiracies of others makes them feel their group is particularly important.

Research in our lab consistently differentiates collective narcissism from non-contingent pride and satisfaction to be a member of a group. Feeling proud and satisfied to be a member of a valuable group is psychologically distinct from collective narcissism. In-group pride and satisfaction are related to greater intergroup tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the group while collective narcissism systematically predicts prejudice and intergroup hostility. Collective narcissism but not in-group pride is involved in escalation of intergroup conflicts. Collective narcissism but not in-group satisfaction predict belief in hostile intergroup conspiracies and exaggerated reactions to actual or perceived intergroup threat and in-group offence. In-group satisfaction suppresses the link between collective narcissism and rejection of out-groups and predicts positive attitudes towards out-groups after its overlap with collective narcissism was accounted for. In-group satisfaction without collective narcissism can be interpreted as a confident positive evaluation of the in-group, independent of external recognition and resilient to threats and criticism. Not only collective narcissism and in-group satisfaction predict different attitudes towards out-groups. They are also related to striking different emotional profiles. When President Kennedy famously asked Americans, to think not what their nation can do for them but what they can do for their nation, he recognized that intrinsically motivated in-group satisfaction is different from but can coexist with collective narcissism.

When applied to a national group, collective narcissism makes similar predictions regarding intergroup attitudes as nationalism. However, collective narcissism and nationalism seem to be underlain by different motivations. Nationalists are openly dominant and deny weakness. They are convinced that their nation should dominate others. Collective narcissists emphasize weakness and lack of in-group recognition to justify their hostility. Their aggressiveness is subjectively defensive: they protect the in-group’s image rather than assert in-group’s dominance. Nevertheless, the same atrocities would be motivated by nationalistic belief in the in-group’s right to dominate and the collective narcissists belief that the in-group image needs to be protected from external threats. Dominant nationalists may use the rhetoric of intergroup threat and loss of national greatness to mobilize defensive collective narcissists to fight their wars.

Research in our lab consistently differentiates collective narcissism from non-contingent pride and satisfaction to be a member of a group. Feeling proud and satisfied to be a member of a valuable group is psychologically distinct from collective narcissism. In-group pride and satisfaction are related to greater intergroup tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the group while collective narcissism systematically predicts prejudice and intergroup hostility. Collective narcissism but not in-group pride is involved in escalation of intergroup conflicts. Collective narcissism but not in-group satisfaction predict belief in hostile intergroup conspiracies and exaggerated reactions to actual or perceived intergroup threat and in-group offence. In-group satisfaction suppresses the link between collective narcissism and rejection of out-groups and predicts positive attitudes towards out-groups after its overlap with collective narcissism was accounted for. In-group satisfaction without collective narcissism can be interpreted as a confident positive evaluation of the in-group, independent of external recognition and resilient to threats and criticism. Not only collective narcissism and in-group satisfaction predict different attitudes towards out-groups. They are also related to striking different emotional profiles. When President Kennedy famously asked Americans, to think not what their nation can do for them but what they can do for their nation, he recognized that intrinsically motivated in-group satisfaction is different from but can coexist with collective narcissism. It is important to emphasize that it is collective, not individual narcissism that is related to intergroup behaviors and attitudes. Whether one is narcissistic about the self does not matter for their intergroup behavior unless they are also narcissistic about their groups. Interestingly, our ongoing research shows that collective narcissism and individual grandiosity are not associated. In fact, collective narcissism is associated with low personal control, low self-esteem and vulnerable narcissism. So collective narcissism is in fact associated with fragility of individual self. It correlates with negative emotionality, sensory over- sensitivity and sensitivity to pain, self-criticism and lack of self-acceptance. In- group satisfaction, on the other hand is related to life-satisfaction, positive emotionality, feeling connected to others and grateful. All correlates of collective narcissism suggest that it may be underlain by deficits in adaptive functioning of parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for restoring the body after stress and threat. So collective narcissism is associated with deficits in the ability to self sooth in face of adversity. Recently, we have tried a novel, short intervention to break the link between collective narcissism and hostility towards others. Our research showed that after such a practice the strength of the link between collective narcissism and prejudice decreased three times. What we investigate this type of interventions in more depth to understand whether their effectiveness can be generalized and how they can be used to reduce collective narcissistic aggressiveness.

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