It’s been clear for some time now that narcissists are attractive to women. At first blush, their extreme self-confidence can be almost magnetically alluring.
But surely after women have been dating for a while, they come to realize that their enticing surfaces are masks for bad behavior, including infidelity. And certainly when their focus shifts to looking for a prospective husband, they’ll run as far as they can from narcissists, right?
Actually, no. In a rather dispiriting study, researchers V. Tamara Montrose and Carrie Haslam of Hartpury College in England, report that narcissistic traits retain their appeal even among veterans of the dating scene, as well as those who are specifically searching for a spouse.
“The narcissistic male does not make a good partner, but even experienced females do not realize this,” they write in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
To the researchers' surprise, they found that women "wishing to get married were more attracted to the narcissistic male personality than those not desiring marriage."
Their study featured 146 British women between the ages of 18 and 28. Seventy-six percent said they were looking to get married, while 24 percent did not. The women reported how many men they had been involved with romantically in past years: 52 percent said they had zero to five previous partners, while 7.5 percent reported having 21 or more.
They were then presented with 20 statements related to narcissism and attraction, and asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with each on a one-to-five scale. These included “Confidence in a male is more alluring than modesty;” “Male vanity is an attractive attribute;” and “I am attracted to men who take pleasure in being the center of attention.”
To the researchers’ surprise, they found that women “wishing to get married were more attracted to the narcissistic male personality than those not desiring marriage.” Specifically, marriage-minded females responded much more positively to such assertions as “I am drawn to a man who displays authority” and “A man who uses manipulation to influence his success at work is attractive.”
“This finding is problematic from a female perspective,” they write, “as the narcissistic male is primarily short-term mating goal oriented.” (In other words, he’ll break your heart.) Unfortunately, they add, many of the qualities that make such a man poor mate material “are not immediately evident.”
The researchers found no significant differences among women who reported having more or fewer romantic partners. The only real distinction: Those at the top of the scale, with 21 or more past partners, were significantly more attracted to narcissistic males than those who had zero to 10.
The results suggest male narcissists are seen as high-status figures with “the ability to acquire resources, and that they are entertaining and self-assured. These traits are attractive to females in relationship contexts,” the researchers write.
Haslam and Montrose conclude that women “need to take into account future relationship desires and past mating experiences” when deciding who might be good relationship material. Many do, of course.
But this study suggests pathological self-regard exerts a pull that stirs primal passions—one that retains its potency longer than many might predict.
Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.