New research published in PLOS One sheds light on how narcissism affects romantic relationships. The researchers found that youth who scored high in narcissism reported a greater intention to cheat on their partners and decreased relationship satisfaction.
Narcissism is a personality trait that has been extensively studied by social psychologists. Still, questions remain when it comes to the way narcissism influences relationships. Narcissists — individuals characterized by an inflated ego and a preoccupation with success — tend to seek superficial relationships with others that will bolster their own self-image.
Research suggests that narcissists tend to have relationships that are less warm, less caring, and less satisfying. It has also been suggested that narcissists have a greater tendency toward infidelity. Study authors Ahmet Altınok and Nurseven Kılıç set out to explore the interplay between narcissism, intention to cheat, and relationship satisfaction. Since evidence suggests that narcissism is linked to insecure attachment, the researchers also investigated the moderating effect of attachment style.
The researchers recruited a sample of 407 university students, 184 of whom were currently in a romantic relationship. Through questionnaires, all participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), a self-report scale that measures the personality trait of narcissism on a subclinical level. They also completed a scale that measured their intentions toward infidelity in a relationship and a scale that measured their attachment style within close relationships. Finally, those who were in relationships completed a measure of relationship satisfaction.
As expected, narcissism was linked to decreased relationship satisfaction. In line with the researchers’ predictions, the intention to be unfaithful to a partner fully mediated this link between narcissism and lower relationship satisfaction.
Also in line with previous research, narcissism predicted a greater intention toward infidelity, and this relationship was mediated by relationship satisfaction. As the researchers say, higher satisfaction in a relationship promotes greater commitment, so it stands to reason that narcissists’ tendencies toward infidelity might be explained by lower relationship satisfaction.
Altınok and Kılıç say that these findings suggest a continuous cycle through which narcissists “game-playing love styles” are reinforced. “Relative to nonnarcissists, narcissistic individuals tend to be less committed to their romantic partners and to play games with their romantic partners; they also tend to be less satisfied with their relationships and engage in infidelity more often,” the authors say.
When it came to attachment styles, the researchers found that the link between narcissism and intentions toward cheating was moderated by attachment style. Specifically, preoccupied attachment (characterized by a strong desire for intimacy) strengthened the relationship between narcissism and infidelity. On the other hand, both fearful attachment (characterized by discomfort with intimacy despite wanting to be close to others) and dismissive attachment (characterized by an avoidance of intimacy and desire for independence) weakened this relationship.
“In intimate relationships, narcissistic behaviors can influence relationship satisfaction and infidelity. People need to be aware of it at least. In addition to narcissism, attachment styles also play role in the relationships between narcissism, infidelity, and relationship satisfaction,” Altınok told PsyPost.
As the authors say, their findings fall in line with previous research, suggesting that narcissism plays an influential role in young adults’ close relationships. Their study was limited because some of the statistical models they tested only included those participants who were in ongoing relationships, resulting in a small sample. They suggest that future studies be conducted among larger samples.
The study, “Exploring the associations between narcissism, intentions towards infidelity, and relationship satisfaction: Attachment styles as a moderator”, was authored by Ahmet Altınok and Nurseven Kılıç.