Are we all
Discussing her new book with psychiatrist Raj Persaud, Professor
Elizabeth Lunbeck explains 'The Americanization of Narcissism'
published by Harvard University Press.
This is an important tome because it critically tackles the way
the modern age thinks of itself.
Lunbeck identifies some key moments in the notion that this is a
particularly narcissistic age. One seems to be the publication of
Christopher Lasch’s ‘Culture of Narcissism’, while another is Jimmy
Carter’s late 1970’s, so called ‘malaise’ speech, which was a
critique of modern North America.
Lunbeck documents that the popular media seems to have got
somewhat obsessed with the idea we are more narcissistic than ever
before, but she also points out that psychoanalysts contend, there
is this thing called healthy narcissism.
We seem currently caught between two ideas – that high
self-esteem is good for you but narcissism is bad? Are these
contradictory positions resolvable?
We also now seem to believe that wealth inevitably leads to
narcissism? And also that capitalism inexorably encourages
Given that narcissists are generally found good company and
attractive, is it possible that the real problem is the 'failed'
There is also an important chapter in the book on identity
- perhaps what is genuinely different about the modern age is
we are freer to choose our identity more than ever
Is there a national anxiety about this?
To purchase this fascinating book visit these sites:
A related article from The Huffington Post which may be of
'I Should Like to Thank the Academy...' - The Psychology of
Acceptance Speeches at the Oscars
Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen
A recent study by Cheryl Morrier at Adelphi University, USA,
investigated student and semi-professional female and male actors.
Actors emerged as significantly more narcissistic than the general
population. Entitled 'Success
in acting: The roles of narcissism, depression and
attractiveness', the research found the more narcissistic
actors were also more physically attractive.
So those most in love with themselves maybe had partly an objective
reason to be so?
Narcissism consists of feeling superior to everyone else,
accompanied by a sense of entitlement to success and accolades.
Possibly the highest concentration of narcissism in the world each
year assembles on the red carpet at the Oscars ceremony, because
narcissists believe they are special people deserving of fame and
recognition. As a result they tend to pursue careers where they are
the centre of attention. Narcissists suffer an unrequited need for
admiration, so their choice of work usually serves these ends. But
after a while, they become difficult to bear because they are so
grandiose, self-centred and demanding.
Narcissists are great on a first date but terrible at marriage.
It is precisely because they tend to score low on being
team-players that they become eventually unpopular with those close
to them. This might also partly explain the notoriously high
divorce and relationship breakdown rate in Hollywood.
So a hidden pressure of Oscar night is the psychological tightrope
narcissists tread on the red carpet. Convention requires they give
an acceptance speech which thanks others and indicates humility -
acknowledging the contribution of colleagues to their own
But deep down do narcissists really believe this?
Yet they must give an acceptance speech which makes them look good.
So they should appear surprised at winning when the cameras turn to
them, and they mustn't seem bitter at losing. Acting humble serves
the inevitable narcissistic project of seeking admiration.
They mustn't in their acceptance speech, at all costs,
inadvertently go over to the 'dark side'. Psychologists refer to
the 'dark triad' of personality features likely to be found in this
group as being manipulative (acting humble), psychopathic (no
remorse over back-stabbing) and narcissistic (self-obsession).
A clue as to how difficult is the paradox narcissists must confront
in the acceptance speech comes from a recent study
Narcissists Sexy? Zeroing in on the Effect of Narcissism on
Short-Term Mate Appeal'. 61 single hetero-sexual men were
asked to approach on the street 25 women whom they would genuinely
like to get to know better.
The men had the aim to gather personal contact information from the
women. In the experiment, published in the journal, 'Personality
and Social Psychology Bulletin', research assistants debriefed the
women after the study, collecting ratings about the man and the
interaction. The higher the approaching man scored on narcissism,
the more personal contacts they received from unacquainted women,
and the more appealing they were rated by these women.
The authors of the study, Michael Dufner , John Rauthmann, Anna
Czarna and Jaap Denissen found that it was the social boldness and
their tendency to 'self-enhance' while in conversation that
explained their greater appeal for a romantic relationship. So
'bigging yourself up' in fact does seem to make you more attractive
- at least in the shorter term.
Psychologists Robert Raskin and Robert Shaw, then at the University
of California at Berkeley, found those who score higher on
narcissism tend to use more first-person-singular pronouns (words
like 'I', 'me' and 'myself') compared to other pronouns. So this
study entitled 'Narcissism
and the use of personal pronouns', published in theJournal
of Personality, suggests that how narcissistic the actor
giving the acceptance speech really is, despite their best efforts
to manipulatively hide it, may be revealed by how often they use
first person singular pronouns.
Perhaps a new psychology game on Oscar night is for the audience to
count the number of references to 'I', 'me' and 'myself', as the
acceptance speaker apparently eats humble pie.
A study entitled, 'I'd
Like to Thank the Academy, Team Spillovers, and Network
Centrality', analysed films released between 1936 and 2005,
used Academy Award nominations for acting, to investigate how much
an actor really owes their success in the Oscars to colleagues and
The authors of the study, Gabriel Rossman, Nicole Esparza and
Phillip Bonacich, argue that narcissists might be right - it could
be their 'star power' which determines whether they get an Oscar or
not. Star power might be measured by prominence in credits and
billing on Film Posters for example.
The study published in American
Sociological Review found actors' billing could be vital.
For example, Judi Dench had only eight minutes of screen time in
in Love (1998), but nonetheless was one of only five
names on the film's poster, and she won an Oscar for her
performance as Queen Elizabeth I.
The rank order in credits, the authors of the study argue,
represents a casting director's estimate of an actor's star power
and bargaining clout in negotiating rank. It's therefore a good
measure of status.
However, there is competing theory which is that it's working with
the right people which helps you get the Oscar.
The authors of the study, based at the University of California -
Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, consider the
actor Robert Forster, who had a long but mostly obscure career as a
character actor. Yet in 1998 he was nominated for the best
supporting actor Oscar for the role of bail bondsman Max Cherry in
Brown (1997). The film was written and directed by
Quentin Tarantino who had previously been nominated for best
director and best original screenplay (winning the latter)
Forster's co-stars included prior nominees Samuel L. Jackson and
Robert DeNiro. Forster's career apparently immediately returned to
relative obscurity after Jackie Brown, demonstrating how much his
nomination for that film benefited from Tarantino, Jackson, and
However, even actors who are themselves major stars may benefit
from working with strong teams, argue the authors of the
Leonardo DiCaprio might be an A-list actor, but his first
nomination came from collaboration with an Academy-nominated
director (Lasse Hallstrom) and his second from collaboration with
Hollywood's top director (Martin Scorsese) and an Academy-nominated
writer (John Logan).
The study found star power did have an effect on Academy Award
success, but that the prestige and merits of a film actor's
collaborators, particularly the writer and director, greatly
increased chances for Academy recognition.
The authors of the study conclude that there is a very good reason
that Academy Award acceptance speeches are so long--they should be
- an actor's collaborators might be largely responsible for the
On the other hand, maybe the narcissists have the last laugh - you
earn good team-mates by being seen as worthy of them.
But before we look down on narcissists and their mind games,
perhaps due humility would suggest we all acknowledged the role of
others in any success of ours.
Yet how often do we do that?
Read more on the hidden psychology of the Academy Awards:
This podcast has been made on behalf of the Royal College of
Psychiatrists (UK) by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen
If you are interested in
further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit
points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online
website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk
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