07.01.2019 change 07.01.2019

Study: Narcissistic persons are less likely to support democracy

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The level of support for democracy depends on the person`s self-esteem; narcissistic persons are less inclined to support this system, according to a study conducted with the participation of psychologists from the Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Warsaw.

"The goal of our project was to check whether support for democracy can be linked to self-esteem" - says Dr. Marta Marchlewska from the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The results of this study - which Marchlewska conducted together with Dr. Karol Lewczuk and Prof. Mirosław Kofta from the University of Warsaw, Dr. Aleksandra Cichocka from the University of Kent and Kevin Castellanos from the University of Maryland - have been published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

Why did scientists become interested in this issue? There was a certain discrepancy between psychological theory and practice: the theory assumed that support for democracy should be stronger, if the level self-esteem of a given person is higher. But this theory has not been consistently confirmed in previous scientific studies.

"It turns out that the problem is that high self-esteem can take many forms" - reveals Dr. Marchlewska. She explains that people with high self-esteem, described by psychologists as healthy/secure, "are characterized by a stable, well-established self-satisfaction and do not feel the need to exalt themselves and prove their extraordinary abilities to others". It`s easier for these people to trust others and build positive relationships with them.

A completely different type of self-assessment distinguished by psychologists is called defensive high self-esteem - narcissism. "It is easy to get the impression that these people are very self-confident and have high self-esteem. But it is in fact built on the foundation of deeply rooted sense of inferiority, numerous doubts, often associated with arrogance, selfishness and inability to confront criticism and different views. It is difficult for narcissistic people to build healthy relationships with others, based on trust" - explains the researcher.

In order to check whether these people are really less inclined to support democracy, the group of scientists, in which Dr. Marchlewska worked, conducted two studies: one in the U.S. ("mature" democracy), the other in Poland (relatively young democracy). Over 400 people took part in the survey in each country; they were asked to complete psychological questionnaires, which were designed to assess each person`s level of self-assessment (secure or narcissistic) and attitude towards democracy.

"Both studies showed the predicted pattern: narcissists have a negative attitude towards democracy - the researcher says. - In the questionnaires, these people claimed, for example, that in a democratic state it is difficult to maintain order that the state needs a strong leader".

Persons with secure high self-esteem show greater support for the democratic system. "As our research shows, this is largely related to the fact that these people trust and respect others - due to which they are more easily able to accept views that are different from their own" - explains Dr. Marchlewska.

She emphasises that the results of the study are worth attention also because psychologists observe a significant increase in the number of people with narcissistic tendencies (for example among young Americans). "This is linked to the popularity of social media, among other things. +Life on display+ on the Internet that is so popular today strengthens narcissistic self-esteem - because it is associated with constant thinking about what others think about us, how they rate us" - the researcher says.

"The results of our study may stimulate thinking about how various contemporary trends - such as the popularity of social media or the lack of economic stability (or any other situation that strengthens narcissistic self-esteem) - can affect our future lives" - says Dr. Marchlewska. "Strengthening narcissistic tendencies may lead to a decline in support for democracy in the whole society, which is one of the things that usually results in more authoritarian governments taking over, requiring absolute obedience and not respecting the voice of minorities" - she concludes.

PAP - Science in Poland, Katarzyna Florencka

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