Narcissists: Think you’re strong critical thinkers? Think again

Summary: Grandiose narcissists are significantly less likely to use critical thinking when it comes to important problem solving or decision making. While narcissists perceive themselves to be above average intelligence and strong critical thinkers, they are unable to use reflective thinking skills effectively. The high levels of confidence they have in their intellectual abilities are often misplaced.

Source: University of Waterloo

Narcissists are less likely to use critical thinking processes that are important for solving problems and making sound decisions, new research from the University of Waterloo shows.

The researchers found that while many narcissists may perceive themselves as highly intelligent, critical thinkers, they are less likely to use important reflective thinking strategies when solving problems, Therefore, the high levels of confidence they have in their intellectual abilities are often misplaced.

Shane Littrell, lead author and cognitive psychology PhD student at Waterloo, said that while there is research connecting personality to behaviour, “our research takes a step toward understanding how personality is associated with reflective thinking.”

Grandiose narcissists are significantly overconfident in their intellectual performance

As part of a series of studies investigating the relationship between narcissism, impulsiveness, and cognitive reflection, two types of narcissism — grandiose and vulnerable — were assessed. Grandiose narcissists feel more entitled, superior to others, and have higher self-esteem, while vulnerable narcissists feel more insecure, defensive, introverted, and have lower self-esteem.

In one study, the researchers recruited 100 participants from the United States and assessed their performance on the Cognitive Reflection Test, self-reported engagement in reflection, metacognitive insight, Need for Cognition, and intuitive thinking. In a later study, the assessments were repeated, with the additional examination of the impact of overconfidence on cognitive ability.

“We found that grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are negatively associated with certain types of important reflective thinking processes,” said Jonathan Fugelsang, who co-authored the study along with Evan Risko, both supervisors of Littrell and cognitive psychology professors at Waterloo.

This shows a slimy looking man
Their results confirmed that grandiose narcissists are significantly overconfident in their intellectual performance. The image is in the public domain.

Their results confirmed that grandiose narcissists are significantly overconfident in their intellectual performance.

“We also found that when vulnerable narcissists attempt to engage in cognitive reflection, they’re more likely to find it a confusing and ineffective experience,” said Littrell.

The research has helped to identify the associations between narcissism and reflective thinking processes, which could have important implications for broader societal questions. “In light of recent events over the past few years, the impact of narcissism (and other more negative personality attributes) has seen an increased interest from the media and the public at large. So, we felt this study might help answer interesting questions related to that larger public conversation,” Littrell said.

“With this research, we are able to learn more about the various factors involved in critical thinking and decision making. The better we understand the things that can lead people to make poor decisions, the more we can help them make better ones,” Risko said.

About this neuroscience research article

University of Waterloo
Media Contacts:
Shane Littrell – University of Waterloo
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Overconfidently underthinking: narcissism negatively predicts cognitive reflection”. Shane Littrell, Jonathan Fugelsang & Evan F. Risko.
Thinking & Reasoning. doi:10.1080/13546783.2019.1633404


Overconfidently underthinking: narcissism negatively predicts cognitive reflection

There exists a large body of work examining individual differences in the propensity to engage in reflective thinking processes. However, there is a distinct lack of empirical research examining the role of dispositional factors in these differences and understanding these associations could provide valuable insight into decision-making. Here, we examine whether individual differences in cognitive reflection are related to narcissism (excessive self-focused attention) and impulsiveness (trait-based lack of inhibitory control). Participants across three studies completed measures of narcissism, impulsiveness and cognitive reflection. Results indicate that grandiose and vulnerable narcissists differ in their performance on problem-solving tasks (i.e., Cognitive Reflection Test [CRT]) and preferences for intuitive thinking, as well as the degree to which they reflect on and understand their own thoughts and enjoy cognitively effortful activities. Additionally, though impulsiveness was significantly related to self-report measures of cognitive reflection (i.e., metacognitive reflection, metacognitive insight, and need for cognition), it showed no association with a behavioural measure of cognitive reflection (i.e., CRT scores). Our results suggest that certain individual differences in dispositional and personality characteristics may play important roles in the extent to which individuals engage in certain forms of reflective thinking.

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