Vulnerable narcissism is linked heavily with a fear of rejection and a tendency towards an antagonistic attitude, but what does that have to do with laughter? A study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences suggests that vulnerable narcissists are simultaneously scared of being laughed at and brought joy from laughing at others.
Vulnerable narcissists lack empathy and are cruel to others, but they are also very fearful of being criticized.
“My incursion into the study of narcissism started as a collateral consequence when I carried out an international stay during my PhD,” said study author Ana Blasco-Belled, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Girona. “I met Dr. Radosław Rogoza, who was starting his bright career as a personality researcher. He introduced me to the research on the Dark Triad and seeded my interest in the topic.”
“I am mostly devoted to investigating mental health, and more specifically, the determinants and mechanisms that characterize well-being. During the last years, we have witnessed how the realm of narcissism spread its roots from personality to other domains such as well-being. In seeking answers to the social consequences of this trait, and its influence on well-being, questions about the connection of narcissism with well-being is attracting increasing attention in research.”
Humor is predominantly a positive quality for people but can also be used for the purpose of ridicule. How people experience teasing and laughter in interpersonal situations can be broken into 3 terms: gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism. Gelotophobia is the fear of being laughed at in social situations, and people high in this trait may misinterpret harmless teasing and take it very personally. Gelotophilia is enjoying being laughed at and seeing it as a sign of appreciation or social success. Katagelasticism is taking pleasure in laughing at others.
Blasco-Belled and colleagues recruited 419 undergraduate students for Study 1 and 211 adults from the United Kingdom for a follow-up study, Study 2. Participants in Study 1 completed measures assessing their vulnerable narcissism and dispositions towards ridicule and laughter. Participants in Study 2 completed alternate measures that assessed the same constructs as in Study 1, including differentiating between neurotic introversion and neurotic antagonism.
The results of Study 1 showed that gelotophobia and katagelasticism were positively correlated with vulnerable narcissism but was gelotophilia was not related to narcissism. Study 2 looked at the antagonistic and isolating aspects of narcissism and found that both aspects were associated with gelotophobia, or the fear of being laughed at, but only the antagonistic aspect was associated with katagelasticism, or enjoying laughing at others.
“The findings from our study showed that vulnerable narcissism was related positively to the fear of being ridiculed (gelotophobia) and negatively to the joy of laughing at others (katagelasticism),” Blasco-Belled told PsyPost. “The two strategies representative of vulnerable narcissism (enmity and isolation) can help elucidate the mechanisms underlying these behaviors. That is, enmity might (in part) explain on the one hand why these individuals tend to avoid and withdraw from social situations in which they fear to feel turn down (gelotophobia), and on the other, why their reactions aimed at counterbalancing the negative affectivity can be malevolently directed towards others (katagelasticism).”
This study sought to understand how vulnerable narcissists experience ridicule, laughter, and teasing. But the findings include some caveats. Most notably, all measures utilized here were self-report, which could call into question their accuracy, due to social desirability bias. Another limitation is that Study 1 only had participants who were undergraduate students, which means the results could lack generalizability to the general public.
“Based on the evidence, it is important to understand the inter- and intra-personal consequences of narcissism,” Blasco-Belled said. “Vulnerable narcissism is about fantasizing of being admired and liked by others. However, it seems that the social circles might catch the enmity component and, as a result, dislike these individuals. The expectations of grandiosity are therefore never fulfilled, prompting feelings and reactions of hostility. Bearing this in mind, the findings of our study brought the possibility to extend the question of vulnerable narcissism and well-being (how they feel and how others feel in their presence).”
“An interesting future avenue to shed some light into this question would be to develop an experimental study in order to analyze in more detail the associations among isolation and gelotophobia (fearing being ridiculed and laughed at by others) and among enmity and katagelasticism (enjoying ridiculing and laughing at others),” Blasco-Belled added. “Similarly, it would also be interesting to collect longitudinal or intensive (momentary assessment) data to disentangle the dynamics of vulnerable narcissism and how isolation and enmity tap to each other.”
The study, “Vulnerable narcissism is related to the fear of being laughed at and the joy of laughing at others“, was authored by Ana Blasco-Belled, Radosław Rogoza, and Carles Alsinet.