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Narcissism and Hostility
Narcissism and hostility are both characterized by dysfunctional social interactions, including tendencies to perceive slights, experience anger, and behave aggressively. In a sample of 292 undergraduate men and women, composite measures of hostility (i.e., Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire [Buss & Perry, 1992] and Cook-Medley Hostility [Cook & Medley, 1954] total scores) were inversely correlated with affiliation and unrelated to dominance. In contrast, composite narcissism scores (i.e., Narcissistic Personality Inventory) were positively correlated with dominance and inversely correlated with affiliation. Examination of components of these traits revealed additional similarities and differences, as did associations with other dimensions of the Five-factor model. These findings suggest that the traits of narcissism and hostility are distinguishable by their interpersonal referents, as are their components.
Individual differences in the experience of interpersonal difficulties are a central focus in several aspects of personality psychology. Two widely studied personality characteristics, narcissism and hostility, are associated with dysfunctional social interactions. These constructs have been the focus of multiple lines of research in social (Emmons, 1987; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995), clinical (Benjamin, 1996; Kernberg, 1984; Widiger & Trull, 1993), and health psychology (Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996; Siegman, 1994; Smith, 1992).
Both narcissism and hostility reflect individual differences in the tendency to experience anger, behave aggressively, and perceive ambiguous social cues as threats or slights (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996; Christensen & Smith, 1993; Fox, 1974; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995; Smith, 1992). Such conceptual similarities have not gone unnoticed (Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995). For example, in discussing personality traits confuting increased risk for coronary heart disease, Thoresen and Pattillo (1989) noted the similarities of Type A behavior pattern (TABP) and narcissism in terms of competitiveness, vigilance, and aggressive reactance to social threats. Moreover, Baumeister et al. (1996) suggested that inflated and fragile self-esteem, central in most descriptions of narcissism, underlies aggressive responses to threatened egotism. In this view, such aggressive behaviors serve as a common coping alternative to any downward revision of the self-concept. Despite such similarities, these personality traits are rarely studied together. A more direct comparison may help to identify similarities and differences between measures intended to assess these related but distinct constructs, and suggest points of integration in the related literature. For example, hostility or aggression may serve an instrumental function associated with aspects of narcissism not uncovered with an examination that only compares composite measures of each trait. Thus, an interpersonal analysis can tell us something beyond the simple correlation of the global traits.
A logical first step to distinguishing these constructs is comparison within a known taxonomy. Two conceptual tools--the Five-factor model (FFM) and the interpersonal circumplex--have been useful in developing a more integrated literature on personality traits (Kiesler, 1996; McCrae & Costa, 1987). The FFM provides a common conceptual framework for the organization and comparison of personality traits (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). By locating traits and scales in the conceptual space defined by the FFM, similarities and differences among personality scales and constructs can be identified. This process can foster integration and avoid redundancy in the otherwise haphazard proliferation of personality constructs and measures (McCrae & Costa, 1996). The integration of the FFM with the interpersonal circumplex (Trapnell & Wiggins, 1990) may be particularly useful in the development of an integrated literature on individual differences in interpersonal behavior. This approach integrates the FFM trait approach with the interpersonal circumplex by substituting the two principle circumplex dimensions of dominance versus submissiveness and friendliness versus hostility, respectively (Trapnell & Wiggins, 1990) for the interpersonally oriented traits in the FFM (i.e., Extraversion and Agreeableness). The dimensions of the interpersonal circumplex (Kiesler, 1996) are explicitly defined in terms of social behavior, and the related measures provide a wall-validated (Trapnell & Wiggins, 1990; Wiggins & Broughton, 1991) framework for describing individual differences in social functioning (Gallo & Smith, 1998; Pincus & Gurtman, 1995).
Narcissism, Emotional Lability, and Interpersonal Hostility
Researchers in personality and clinical psychology have examined narcissism as a cause of emotional distress and dysfunctional social relations. The importance of social referents in characterizing narcissism is evident in both the personality and clinical literatures. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) criteria for the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) contain several maladaptive social behaviors and tendencies, volatile interpersonal experiences, and emotional lability. Kernberg's (1975) conception of narcissism involves an egocentric dependence on positive and consistently reinforcing social relations.
Emotional lability in response to negative social interactions is a hallmark trait of narcissism (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Kernberg, 1975; Widiger & Trull, 1993). Specifically, individuals high in narcissism appear to be overly sensitive to criticism or threats to the self, often reacting with interpersonal hostility, including strong discounting of the source, feelings of rage, and potentially aggressive behaviors (Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971; Rhodewalt, Madrian, & Cheney, 1998; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1998; Widiger & Trull, 1993). For example, Rhodewalt and Morf (1998) examined emotional responses of high and low narcissistic individuals to positive or negative feedback following task performance. Compared to participants low in narcissism, individuals high in narcissism demonstrated larger positive emotional responses to positive feedback and larger increases in anger following failure. Similar findings by Kernis (1994), Rhodewalt et al. (1998), and Rhodewalt and Morf (1995) suggested that the emotional reactions of individuals high in narcissism are strongly tied to interpersonal events, and self-relevant social information perceived as negative or ego threatening evokes higher levels of hostility, feelings of anger, and aggressive behavior in narcissistic individuals.
Hostility as an Individual Difference Variable
In a largely separate literature, researchers in health psychology and behavioral medicine have examined hostility as a risk factor for physical illness (cf. Smith, 1992). From the investigation of the broadly defined TABP (Friedman & Rosenman, 1959), hostility has emerged as a multidimensional construct involving affect, behavior, and cognition (Barefoot & Lipkus, 1994; Smith, 1992). Although some disagreement exists regarding precise definitions of these components, anger generally refers to negative affect ranging from feelings of irritation and annoyance to rage and may constitute an emotional state or an enduring trait. Aggression refers to attacking or destructive behavior. Hostility refers to a set of negative attitudes, beliefs, and appraisals of the worth, intent, and motives of others and often includes a desire to preemptively harm or see harm inflicted on others (Smith, 1992, 1994). These related facets, often collectively referred to with the umbrella term hostility represent separate although related dimensions of this individual difference variable. Furthermore, this set of traits confers increased risk of serious illness and premature mortality (Miller et al., 1996).
Previous research has documented consistent interpersonal correlates of trait hostility. For example, in several studies hostile persons displayed heightened anger and physiological reactivity to stressful interpersonal situations, relative to less hostile persons (Christensen & Smith, 1993; Smith & Gallo, 1999; Suarez & Williams, 1989). In addition, hostile persons appraise the actions of others as intentionally aggressive and less friendly (Pope, Smith, & Rhodewalt, 1990; Smith, Sanders, & Alexander, 1990), process negative information about others more readily (Allred & Smith, 1991), behave in less friendly ways during interactions with family members (Smith et al., 1990), and experience discord and conflict in personal relationships (Miller et al., 1996; Newton & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1995; Smith, Pope, Sanders, Allred, & O'Keefe, 1988). The resulting interplay suggests that hostile individuals may not only respond to their environment in maladaptive ways, but also create increased frequency, intensity, and duration of interpersonal stress. This process could account, at least in part, for the health consequences of hostility (Smith, 1992).
In summary, although generally studied independently, the personality traits of hostility and narcissism sham the defining attributes of anger and aggressive response to perceived interpersonal slights, and a generally negative pattern of thoughts and beliefs about the motives and values of others. This suggests that a direct comparison of these traits and their respective components is needed to clarify their similarities and differences.
Interpersonal Circumplex and Five-Factor Approaches to Construct Validation
The Big Five or five-factor trait taxonomy has been used extensively to compare and contrast personality constructs (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1987; Piedmont, McCrae, & Costa, 1991; Wiggins & Trapnell, 1996). For example, in a prior study of narcissism, Bradlee and Emmons (1992) used the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI; Costa & McCrae, 1985) to examine the five-factor correlates of a variant of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979). The composite narcissism index was correlated with extroversion, antagonism, and low neuroticism; analyses of narcissism subscales revealed minor variations on this general pattern (see also Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995).
Gallo and Smith (1998) recently used the interpersonal circumplex version of the FFM (Trapnell & Wiggins, 1990) to examine the construct validity of the Aggression Questionnaire (AQ; Buss & Perry, 1992). In the circumplex, all four subscales were associated with unfriendliness but differed in dominance. Hostility reflected unfriendly submission, verbal aggression reflected unfriendly dominance, and anger and physical aggression were unrelated to dominance. All four subscales were also positively correlated with neuroticism. Hence, the trait of dominance versus submission identified potentially important distinctions among components of this broader trait.
In addition to their five-factor investigation of narcissism, Bradlee and Emmons (1992) attempted to explore interpersonal aspects of the NPI using the Personality Research Form (PRF; Jackson, 1974). Eight of the 22 PRF subscales were used to represent the interpersonal circumplex (Leary, 1957; Wiggins & Broughton, 1985). All NPI scales were positively related to agency with markers of affiliation distinguishing the various subscales. However, the PRF is not a validated measure of the interpersonal circumplex, leaving open the issue of a circumplex-based description of narcissism.
- Ruiz, John M., Smith, Timothy W., Rhodewalt, Frederick; Distinguishing Narcissism and Hostility: Similarities and Differnces in Interpersonal Circumplex and Five-Factor Correlates, Journal of Personality Assessment; Jun 2001; Vol 76, Issue 3.
Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 150 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information
about narcissism and hostility. Write three case
study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your
How does the DSM define the criteria for the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder? To select and enter your answer go to .