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Can Narcissism Be Collective? Collective Narcissism and its Societal Impact

Narcissism, a term widely recognized in everyday language, which often denotes undesirable traits in individuals. However, the understanding of narcissism in psychology diverges significantly from its portrayal in popular media. The focus primarily remains on individual narcissism, characterized by arrogance, a propensity for dominance, and an inflated self-view, which is often detached from reality. Beyond the individual, collective narcissism—identified by De Zavala and colleagues back in 2009 with the development of an assessment tool—extends individual traits to the group, seeking validation of the group's difference, uniqueness and superiority. This collective mindset is ground for arising of extremism, nationalism, and political affiliations across ideological, ethnic, and professional groups. In addition, the link between collective narcissism, ethnic prejudice, and conservative politics is evident. Those embracing collective narcissism exhibit hostility, prejudice, and susceptibility to biased viewpoints in intergroup dynamics, fostering social dominance and nationalist sentiments. This toxic synergy glorifies the ingroup while disparaging outgroups, fueling societal divisions and hindering inclusivity and understanding among diverse groups. Understanding this interplay illuminates societal complexities and challenges to fostering cohesive and tolerant societies.


Definition of Collective Narcissism


Figure 1: "Narcissistic Blessing" (Delia, n.d.).

Narcissism is a concept that has most definitely been heard by many people and has been used in a very liberal way describing rather unpleasant individuals. However, the question stands about how many people can explain what it is and if they are aware of the aspects of narcissism as it is understood in psychology and not portrayed by popular media.


Speaking of individual narcissism, recently it has been increasingly popular in the circles of scientists and popular media. From the many articles that pinpoint celebrities, presidents, and historical figures as narcissists to increasing number of studies regarding conceptualization and assessment of the phenomenon. Simply put, a narcissistic person is usually described as arrogant, even aggressive towards others and shows tendencies to dominate others (Miller et al., 2021). Also, they show tendency of having larger than life self-views, that often do not correspond with reality, affiliate themselves with other people of high-status and indulge in self-esteem boosting strategies such as bragging and downward social comparison (McCain & Campbell, 2018). From a psychological perspective, the behaviors expressed by a narcissist could be split into two categories: agentic, that is acting self-assured and expressive, and antagonistic, that is derogating others and acting aggressive (Miller et al., 2021). Furthermore, Miller and colleagues (2021) state that contrary to the belief that narcissism equals high self-esteem, research shows that narcissism and self-esteem in fact are not closely related. Furthermore, the prevalence of narcissism is observed to be characteristic of modern society, which is increasing over time (McCain & Campbell, 2018). As a result of increased interest and research on narcissism, some scholars hypothesized that if people can be narcissistic about their own individual qualities, it is possible to be narcissistic about one’s collective identity as well (De Zavala et al., 2009).


Figure 2: "Narcissist" (Health Jade Team, n.d.).

If narcissism can reach beyond the individual’s personality, what does it mean exactly? Does it mean that narcissism can also be collective? As a matter of fact, the answer is yes. The concept of collective narcissism is not new, however, it has been brought back to the spotlight anew by Agnieszka De Zavala and colleagues in 2009. Collective narcissists see their in-group as an extension of themselves, therefore they have the expectation that not only their personal but also their groups’ greatness is being recognized by others (De Zavala et al., 2009). In addition to a grandiose view of themselves and aggressiveness, that permeate both individual and collective narcissism, collective narcissists hold a belief that outgroups are threatening their group and are unwilling to forgive any wrongdoings done to their group in the past (De Zavala et al., 2009). Collective narcissistic beliefs can be held within various groups such as ideological, ethnic groups, professional organizations, university students, etc. (De Zavala & Lantos, 2020). As a result, collective narcissism can serve as a motivating factor for extremism, predictor of nationalism (De Zavala & Lantos, 2020) and political orientation (Federico & De Zavala, 2018).


Collective Narcissism, Ethnic Prejudice and Conservative Politics


Since collective narcissism serves as a good predictor of nationalism and political orientation (De Zavala & Lantos, 2020; Federico & De Zavala, 2018), additional research shows that people who embrace collective narcissism tend to exhibit hostility, prejudice, and a greater susceptibility to biased viewpoints when dealing with interactions between different groups. Additionally, they demonstrate a propensity for engaging in conspiratorial thinking (De Zavala et al., 2019). In the research that studies national identity, collective narcissism serves as a good predictor of social dominance, authoritarianism and nationalism (Cichocka & Cislak, 2020).  These concepts can overlap, as collective narcissism within a nation or ethnic group may foster a strong nationalist sentiment. This can result in an exaggerated belief in the superiority of one's nation or ethnicity over others, leading to prejudice and discrimination against different ethnicities or nations perceived as inferior or threatening (De Zavala et al., 2017).

Figure 3: "The Disrupters" (Kolhatkar, 2017).


Collective narcissism, nationalism, and ethnic prejudice can form a toxic combination, fueling exclusionary attitudes and behaviors. They reinforce a sense of "us versus them" mentality, where the ingroup (one's own nation or ethnicity) is glorified, while outgroups are devalued, stereotyped, or discriminated against (De Zavala et al., 2017). This can contribute to societal divisions, conflict, and hinder efforts towards inclusivity and understanding among diverse groups.


In conclusion, the intertwining dynamics of collective narcissism, nationalism, ethnic prejudice, and conservative politics reveal a complex web influencing societal attitudes and behaviors. The emergence of collective narcissism, extending beyond individual traits, shapes group ideologies and fosters exclusionary mindsets. This phenomenon fuels prejudices, reinforces nationalist sentiments, and impedes efforts toward inclusivity and understanding among diverse groups. Recognizing and understanding these interconnections is pivotal in addressing societal divisions and working towards fostering cohesive, tolerant, and inclusive communities. It underscores the importance of promoting empathy, mutual respect, and dialogue to counteract the detrimental effects of collective narcissism and its impact on societal harmony.




Bibliographical References

Cichocka, A., & Cislak, A. (2020). Nationalism as collective narcissism. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 69–74.

De Zavala, A. G., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R. J., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1074–1096.

De Zavala, A. G., Dyduch‐Hazar, K., & Lantos, D. (2019). Collective Narcissism: Political consequences of investing Self‐Worth in the Ingroup’s image. Political Psychology, 40(S1), 37–74.

De Zavala, A. G., Guerra, R., & Simão, C. (2017). The Relationship between the Brexit Vote and Individual Predictors of Prejudice: Collective Narcissism, Right Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

De Zavala, A. G., & Lantos, D. (2020). Collective narcissism and its social consequences: the bad and the ugly. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(3), 273–278.

Golec de Zavala, A., Dyduch‐Hazar, K., & Lantos, D. (2019). Collective Narcissism: Political Consequences of Investing Self‐Worth in the Ingroup’s Image. Political Psychology, 40(S1), 37–74.

Federico, C. M., & De Zavala, A. G. (2018). Collective narcissism and the 2016 US presidential vote. Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(1), 110–121.

McCain, J., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Narcissism and social media use: A meta-analytic review. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 7(3), 308–327.

Miller, J. D., Back, M. D., Lynam, D. R., & Wright, A. G. (2021). Narcissism today: what we know and what we need to learn. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 30(6), 519–525.

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Meda Vaitonytė

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