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How do we make an impression on others? Whom do we like?

How do we make an impression on others? Whom do we like?

‘I’m frequently the centre of attention. I talk a lot about myself and my achievements. People like me at first sight’, some say. ‘Not for long!’, respond scientists after conducting a study on popularity.

An international team of scientists has carried out complex research, aimed at discovering how certain people gain popularity in newly formed groups (e.g. first year students). The study was coordinated by Dr Anna Czarna from the JU Institute of Applied Psychology, who has been studying the phenomenon of narcissism for several years. ‘We’ve studied the behaviour and opinions of over 270 students, divided into 15 peer groups. Students participating in the study filled out a questionnaire that measured their level of narcissism, self-esteem and emotional intelligence. They also pointed to the people in their group that they liked the most’, explained Dr Czarna. The researchers received their first batch of data at the beginning of the semester, when the students did not know one another very well. This had an added bonus of not creating artificial groups, but rather making use of existing ones.

The article describing the research was published in September by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It was also covered by mainstream media, such as Los Angeles Times, BBC and CBSnews.

The advantages of narcissism

The results of researchers’ analysis were unambiguous. In the early stages of acquaintance, the most popular students were those who attracted a lot of attention and frequently talk about their successes and experiences. Researchers classified those people as narcissistic. They made a great first impression.

Using advanced measurement techniques, the researchers have established that the popularity they gained was not a result of reciprocity (e.g. Kate likes Susan, so Susan will probably like Kate) or transitivity (e.g. Kate likes Susan and Susan likes Jane, so Kate will probably like Jane). Narcissists were genuinely more popular because of their behaviour.

However, that popularity subsided over a period of time. Months passed, and people who exhibited lower levels of narcissism developed closer ties with others. ‘This cannot be attributed to the “ceiling effect”, e.g. a situation where narcissists have so many friends that it’s impossible for them to be more popular’, stressed Dr Czarna. The popularity index in the groups was limited only by the number of their members, meaning that reaching 100% popularity would be achieved when everyone except Kate thinks that Kate is the most likeable person in the group. Meanwhile, the average index was a lot lower than 100%.

Rising stars

In their research, the psychologists also focused on emotional intelligence, which can be described as a set of skills useful in spotting, recognising, understanding and managing emotions, and, in turn, influencing the emotional states of both oneself and others.

A special emotional intelligence test was devised by Dr Magdalena Śmieja from the JU Institute of Psychology. It was based on a theory formulated by one of the research team’s members, Prof. Peter Salovey from Yale University. Apart from that theory, Salovey also created a method of measuring emotional intelligence that allows to separate the actual knowledge of emotional processes from baseless boasts. In this test, the subject has to solve a series of problems which require a certain degree of understanding of emotions, emotional processes, their causes and effects as well as human motives.

This topic proved to be just as interesting as the popularity of narcissists. People with a very high level of emotional intelligence were not as popular at the beginning of the research, but their ability to make friends ensured their long-term success. As stated in the article published by the BBC, ‘emotional intelligence was associated with a greater awareness of other people's emotions, showing empathy and caring for other people’. Over time, people exhibiting such traits ‘dethroned’ narcissists as kings of popularity.

Picture: Narcissus gazing at his reflection by Dirck van Baburen, ca. 1621.
Original text: www.nauka.uj.edu.pl

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