Narcissism predicts facial muscle reactivity during a body comparison threat: the role of personality in shaping affiliative behaviour
Chong, Samantha M.
Doctor of Philosophy
DisciplinePsychology : Clinical
MetadataShow full item record
The facial feedback hypothesis suggests that individuals automatically activate facial muscles that are congruent with an expresser’s facial display, which in turn results in a congruent emotional experience within oneself. Although such congruency facilitates empathy and social bonding, susceptibility to facial feedback may depend on one’s motivation to differentiate themselves from others who pose a threat to their well-being. Such motivation may be influenced by narcissism, a personality dimension whereby individuals experience emotion dysregulation when faced with a threat to their identity. Body image is one aspect of identity that has implications for the study of threat given that individuals experience negative emotionality when comparing their body to that of another person. The purpose of the program of research was to investigate whether narcissistic tendencies influence one’s susceptibility to facial feedback during a body comparison threat. Study 1 first developed novel emotive videos that elicited a congruent subjective emotional experience in viewers. Utilizing the novel stimuli, Study 2 traditionally investigated whether facial feedback could be physically modulated by activating incongruent facial muscles. Study 3 subsequently investigated whether the effect could be modulated cognitively by way of narcissism and body comparison. Although facial feedback was not evidenced in the program, unique facets of narcissism (grandiosity, vulnerability) differentially interacted with body comparison to predict congruent facial muscle activity in response to happy and sad facial expressions. The findings challenge the longstanding claim that narcissists lack empathy and suggest that such individuals are capable of affiliating with others emotionally under specific social and emotional contexts. Implications for future research into facial feedback and narcissism are discussed in terms of motivational theories.