People living in collectivistic cultures (Asia and Africa) report higher levels of the narcissism facets of leadership/authority and grandiose exhibitionism compared to people from individualistic cultures (USA, Europe, Australia/Oceania). These findings come from a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Personality researchers have long contended that the culture we live in helps determine our personality. For example, cultures differ in the extent that they endorse collectivism and individualism, and this distinction helps inform the personality traits of citizens. Collectivistic societies, like Asia, value interconnectedness between members and emphasize the needs of the group. Individualistic societies, like the United States, value individual needs and freedoms.
One personality trait that appears to differ across cultures is narcissism, an anti-social personality trait characterized by an exaggerated ego and lack of empathy. At the subclinical level, narcissism is presumed to exist along a continuum, with some people scoring higher and others lower on the trait.
“Almost two decades ago, an influential study was published by Foster et al. (2003) that examined the relationship between narcissism and culture: Western nations reported higher narcissism scores than collectivistic nations,” said study author Ramzi Fatfouta of the HMKW University for Media, Communication and Business. “Many scholars interpreted these results to suggest that Western societies promote individualism and thus a ‘culture of narcissism.’ My colleagues and I wondered whether this still was the case nowadays and re-examined this proposition with new analytical procedures in a different sample.”
While it is widely assumed that Western societies are more narcissistic, Fatfouta and his team said that some studies have actually suggested the opposite — that people in collectivistic societies score higher in narcissism. Moreover, it is unclear whether the construct of narcissism has been measured the same way across cultures.
In light of these limitations, Fatfouta and his colleagues conducted a study to explore cross-cultural differences in narcissism using a multifaceted measure of narcissism. They also employed a test of measurement invariance of the Narcissism Personality Inventory.
The study authors analyzed a publicly available dataset that included 2,754 adults from five world regions. While roughly half the participants (51%) were U.S. residents, 17% were from Asia, 13% were from Europe, 5% were from Canada, 5% were from Australia/Oceania, 3% were from the Middle East, 3% were from Africa, and 1% were from Latin America. All participants had completed the Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI), a 40-item self-report measure of narcissism.
Importantly, the researchers first conducted a multi-group confirmatory factor analysis, a statistical test that measured whether the NPI was assessing the same constructs across the different world regions. They found that one of the three dimensions of narcissism, entitlement/exploitativeness, did not meet measurement invariance. This suggests that, rather than measuring the same construct across cultures, this facet was culturally specific.
However, the facets of leadership/authority and grandiose exhibitionism were invariant across cultures. Accordingly, the researchers next examined the cross-cultural differences in these two facets. It was revealed that respondents from collectivistic cultures (Asia, Africa) tended to score higher in these two dimensions of narcissism compared to respondents from individualistic cultures (USA, Europe, Australia/Oceania).
The study’s findings cast doubt on the contention that narcissism is higher in individualistic cultures. “Our results painted quite the opposite picture: Individuals from more collectivistic cultures (i.e., Asia and Africa) reported higher narcissism levels than individuals from more individualistic cultures (i.e., USA, Europe, and Australia/Oceania),” Fatfouta told PsyPost. “In an effort to clarify the ambiguity revolving around narcissism and culture, our study provides up-to-date evidence for a narcissistic bias in collectivistic as compared to individualistic nations.”
Fatfouta and his team noted that previous research suggests that collectivistic cultures are becoming more individualistic and that narcissism is rising in these parts of the world.
“An important open question is why we observe these intriguing results. With growing digitization across the world as well as the increased use of the Internet, people from collectivistic societies may be moving away from defining themselves in terms of social or familial groups and, instead, moving toward individual identities and efforts,” Fatfouta said.
“Especially social media platforms make it easier to “export” the Western lifestyle or individualism – instead of defining oneself through community or social relationships, self-relevant aspects are increasingly coming into focus. Thus, heightened narcissism in collectivistic societies may also reflect an increasing adoption of self-centered values (e.g., standing out) versus other-centered values (e.g., fitting in.)”
mportantly, the study also revealed an issue with using the NPI as a cross-cultural tool to measure narcissism. The findings suggest that the facet of entitlement/exploitativeness, the “socially toxic” component of narcissism, “exists in conceptually different forms in different countries.” The authors of the study say that a task for future research is to design a questionnaire that can hone in on this antagonistic aspect of narcissism across cultures.
Additionally, future studies should obtain a more diverse sample, given that the current study included more U.S. residents than residents of other countries and polled only English-speaking respondents. This may have skewed the sample toward participants who were more Westernized.
“Although our sample contains several different world regions across the globe, it is predominantly female, self-selected, English-speaking, and recruited over the Internet (similar to the original study),” Fatfouta explained. “English-speaking respondents may, per se, be more Westernized than non-English-speaking residents of many world regions. Future studies are needed to examine samples outside the Internet setting. Also, no inferences can be made concerning causality: The common conception is that culture shapes personality, but it is equally plausible to assume that personality shapes culture. We eagerly await future research that examines these issues.”
The study, “Are individualistic societies really more narcissistic than collectivistic ones? A five-world region cross-cultural re-examination of narcissism and its facets”, was authored by Ramzi Fatfouta, Artur Sawicki, and Magdalena Żemojtel-Piotrowska.