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The Magnetic Power of the Narcissist Can Easily Draw You In

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New research shows the reasons you’re drawn to those high in narcissism.

Being involved in a relationship with people high in narcissism can cause you endless grief. These individuals are self-centered, manipulative, and greedy for attention. Yet, they somehow end up in relationships and it’s likely that you’ve been a victim yourself of their destructive magnetism. What drives your attraction to people high in narcissism? New research suggests that, at so-called “zero acquaintance” (i.e. when you first meet them), it’s hard to resist people high in narcissism. Like moths to a candle flame, you can’t help but be drawn to fall prey to their influence.

MacEwan University (Edmonton) psychologist Miranda Giacomin and colleagues (2018) studied what they call the “zero acquaintance effect” that makes narcissists so magnetic upon first meeting. People high in narcissism, they note, go out of their way to maximize their physical attractiveness through the fashionable and expensive clothing they wear, as well as by their unusual fastidiousness. These appearance-obsessed individuals go out of their way to be perfectly groomed and made up at all times, even if it’s just to run out to the store and do a few errands. You observe their glamorous demeanor and feel compelled to get to know them. Ultimately, you will learn that all of this is a façade and that you will regret having made the decision to enter into a relationship. You may have already been in an unsuccessful relationship with such a person before. However, you suspend disbelief and go ahead anyway, ignoring the inner voice that tells you to run in the opposite direction.

Giacomin and her fellow researchers used a unique person perception rating method in which participants rated how much they were drawn to photographs of people (“targets”) who varied in their scores on measures they had previously completed of narcissism and self-esteem. The idea was that because the targets were known to be high or low in these qualities, the attraction that participants felt toward them just by looking at them would reflect this zero acquaintance effect. Indeed, although you might be able to judge a person as being high in narcissism based on the assertiveand dominating behaviors they exhibit. However, as the authors maintain, it’s also true that “people can perceive narcissism without observing any behavior, based on physical appearance alone.” This perception leads you to overestimate the narcissist’s self-esteem, “a socially valued trait, which contributes to unduly positive impressions of narcissist” (p. 2). You are drawn to people high in self-esteem, as the authors suggest, because you infer (rightly or wrongly) that they also possess many positive qualities and therefore you think you will like them.

Although there may be truth to the notion that people high in narcissism are also high in self-esteem, Giacomin et al. point out that this is not always the case by any means. Narcissism and self-esteem, they maintain, are separate qualities. The person perception method the Canadian research team used allowed them to compare observer ratings of photographs of targets who varied in these qualities on separate dimensions. The targets, then, were either high in narcissism and self-esteem, low in narcissism but high in self-esteem, and low in both narcissism and self-esteem (there was no condition involving high narcissism and low self-esteem).

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