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Does narcissism drive our body image and dietary selections?

In a recent study published within the journal PLOS One, researchers evaluate the role of narcissism in body image concerns and dietary selections.

Study: Narcissus’ belief about his body: Facets of narcissism, body image, and eating disorder symptoms. Image Credit: Igor Koopakov / Shutterstock.com

How can personality affect your desires and lifestyle?

Clinical narcissism is a personality trait characterised by extreme self-involvement to the extent that the person is oblivious to the needs of those around them. Researchers have identified antagonism, an inherent lack of empathy, as a fundamental characteristic of the condition.

Narcissism might be categorized as agentic extraversion, which is related to subjective well-being, popularity, and attractiveness, or narcissistic neuroticism, which is related to psychoticism and lack of interpersonal sensitivity. Together, antagonism, narcissistic neuroticism, and agentic extraversion comprise the ‘Trifurcated Model of Narcissism.’

Recent research has included two additional aspects to this model, including leadership/authority and exhibitionism/entitlement. Nonetheless, many argue that these might be subsumed into agentic- and antagonism, respectively, versus being standalone aspects. Furthermore, these elements relate to a person’s attention-seeking, shame perception, and self-focus and are hypothesized to play an important role in individuals’ self-image and health behaviors.

Body image concerns are negative evaluations of 1’s body, and, in additional severe cases, may manifest as eating disorders. Moreover, body image concerns vary in focus, but generally seek advice from the scale and shape of a selected feature of 1’s body, or overall body size/shape/weight.”

Body image concerns are of assorted types, most notably the will for a skinny body and musculature. These desires are sometimes related to actions and behaviors resembling eating regimen and physical exertion which might be targeted towards attaining a low-body fat physique.  

Few studies which have tested these hypotheses have shown that these desires are linked to mental and physical health concerns, including depression, distress, and muscle dysphoria. Clinically diagnosed narcissists have been found to observe their eating habits and over-exercise rather more ceaselessly than normal controls as a hypothesized approach-improving strategy.

Nonetheless, these findings were observational and byproducts of larger personality-centric studies. Moreover, ‘narcissism’ has been used as an umbrella term, with no research on how individual subcategories under the Trifurcated Model of Narcissism differ of their wants and behaviors.

Concerning the study

The current study used a multimethod-matrix to analyze associations between health behaviors, self-image, and narcissism across sex and correlated narcissism measures. The study cohort comprised 430 adult Americans recruited using the net Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) platform.

The methodology consisted of an internet survey comprising six questionnaires, including the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire, Drive for Muscularity Scale, Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale, Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire-Short, Drive for Thinness Scale, and Sex-Specific Somatomorphic Matrixes.

The Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire is an 18-item test used to measure individual-level differences in antagonism and agentic extraversion. To distinguish between agentic extraversion subfactors, including leadership/authority versus exhibitionism/entitlement, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory was used.

Narcissistic neuroticism was measured using the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale. The strength of participants’ desire for specific body types was calculated using the Drive for Muscularity and Drive for Thinness Scales. Moreover, the interpretation of body type desires into dietary behaviors was measured using the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire-Short.

Current and desired body types and their sex-associated relationships with narcissism were evaluated using the Sex-Specific Somatomorphic Matrixes, which comprises a matrix of 34 items on two scales of weight (underweight-to-obese) and musculature (underweight-to-hypermuscular).

Study findings

With leadership/authority being a noteworthy exception, all narcissistic traits were related to the will for thinness and muscularity. Leadership/authority stays the one exception in narcissistic traits’ craving for more significant desired body fat; nevertheless, it was not an exception in health behaviors, including current muscularity and current eating disorders.

When statistically controlling for shared variance between narcissistic traits, agentic extraversion correlated with the will for thinness negatively, as was leadership/authority with eating disorders and the will for muscularity. The alternative results were observed for narcissistic neuroticism, thus suggesting that certain narcissistic traits like leadership/authority could have an evolutionarily adaptive function.

Attitudes and behaviors that drive one to acquire the perfect body would also accommodate a way of superiority and the chance to devalue or look down upon individuals with less-than-ideal bodies, thus serving antagonism.. However, agentic extraversion–assertive and self-enhancing behaviors aimed to generate more social admiration and to spice up one’s ego–is also fulfilled by obtaining the perfect body.”

Sex-specific analyses revealed that, especially in women, admiration and rivalry are accurate predictors of an increased desire for thinness and muscularity. Measures of body fat indicate that antagonism was related to a desire for thinness in women and increased body fat in men.

Interestingly, leadership/authority was more positively related to eating disorder symptoms amongst women. These findings may suggest that narcissistic men, aside from those characterised by leadership/authority, are driven to thinness greater than narcissistic women and that they usually tend to exhibit behaviors aimed toward staying thin.


The current study investigates the sex-specific associations between various narcissistic aspects and the desires and health behaviors of people who express them. Despite the limitation of being restricted to educated Americans and due to this fact non-generalizable, these findings represent the primary effort on this field. Notably, leadership/authority results suggest that not all narcissistic traits are maladaptive of their behavioral associations, unlikely previously assumed.

Journal reference:

  • Szymczak, P., Talbot, D., Gritti, E. S., & Jonason, P. K. (2023). Narcissus’ belief about his body: Facets of narcissism, body image, and eating disorder symptoms. PLOS ONE 18(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0293578
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