Research worth ‘bragging’ about: Three types of arrogance identified

Summary: Study reports arrogance and narcissism are on a spectrum. Researchers identify three types of arrogance and reveal the associated implications.

Source: University of Missouri Columbia

On a first date, people focus on making a good first impression. But when someone brags about themselves constantly, that person is often exhibiting some level of arrogance.

Throughout history, cultures and academia have described arrogance in different ways, such as ancient mythology when King Xerxes’ fleet was ruined by his overconfident assessment of his force compared to the Greeks. Now, a team of psychology researchers at the University of Missouri is providing one of the first comprehensive literature reviews on arrogance, as well as a way to classify the condition on different levels across a spectrum, similarly to how autism is diagnosed. Nelson Cowan, a Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, organized a team of graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows to complete this project, something he had been working on for his entire career.

This is a hierachical diagram of arrogance
The research team devised a system that identifies three types of arrogance. The image is credited to University of Missouri.

“We were surprised at the limited amount of modern research we found on arrogance,” Cowan said of the group’s findings. “Furthermore, we found it didn’t all come from one specific area. So we created a one-stop resource to inspire further research, including, but not limited to, possible medical diagnoses of personality disorders.”

The team acknowledges everyone seems to have some degree of arrogance, so in addition to the literature review, the researchers suggest a way to classify the different levels of arrogance a person could exhibit. The team devised a system that identifies three types of arrogance:

  • Individual arrogance — an inflated opinion of one’s own abilities, traits or accomplishments compared to the truth.
  • Comparative arrogance — an inflated ranking of one’s own abilities, traits or accomplishments compared to other people.
  • Antagonistic arrogance — the denigration of others based on an assumption of superiority.

The three levels provide a foundation for how arrogance could be described in the future.

“Our system cannot offer a complete scientific understanding, rather it is intended to provide an analytical perspective on arrogance to help guide future psychological research,” Cowan said. “It could be applied to all types of relationships, such as interpersonal relationships, or even dialogues between nations and political groups.”

About this neuroscience research article

University of Missouri Columbia
Media Contacts:
Eric Stann – University of Missouri Columbia
Image Source:
The image is credited to University of Missouri.

Original Research: Closed access
“Foundations of Arrogance: A Broad Survey and Framework for Research”. Nelson Cowan et al.
Review of General Psychology doi:10.1177/1089268019877138.


Foundations of Arrogance: A Broad Survey and Framework for Research

We consider the topic of arrogance from a cross-disciplinary viewpoint. To stimulate further research, we suggest three types of arrogance (individual, comparative, and antagonistic) and six components contributing to them, each logically related to the next. The components progress from imperfect knowledge and abilities to an unrealistic assessment of them, an unwarranted attitude of superiority over other people, and related derisive behavior. Although each component presumably is present to some degree when the next one operates, causality might flow between components in either direction. The classification of components of arrogance should reduce miscommunication among researchers, as the relevant concepts and mechanisms span cognitive, motivational, social, and clinical domains and literatures. Arrogance is an important concept warranting further study for both theoretical and practical reasons, in both psychopathology and normal social interaction. Everyone seems to have qualities of arrogance to some degree, and we consider the importance of arrogance on a spectrum. We contend that humankind can benefit from a better understanding of the cognitive limitations and motivational biases that, operating together, appear to contribute to arrogance. We bring together information and questions that might lead to an invigorating increase in the rate and quality of cross-disciplinary research on arrogance.

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