“I thought that narcissists, given that they are impulsive and have high opinions of themselves, would take bigger risks. That is what other research would have suggested,” said study lead author Amy Brunell, associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, US.
“But any association between narcissism and risk-taking that we found was very small and essentially meaningless,” Brunell noted.
One explanation for the discrepancy may be the fact that many of the studies linking narcissism and risk-taking were based on self-reports: Essentially, narcissists saying that they took risks in certain situations.
But self-reports may not be the best way to measure risk-taking for this group, Brunell said, “When they are asked, narcissists may brag about taking big risks because they are showing off,” she said. “But their own behaviour in our experiments does not support their claims about being risk-takers,” she pointed out.
The researchers conducted three experiments involving a total of 936 undergraduate students.
They looked specifically at three narcissistic traits such as grandiosity, entitlement and exploitativeness — to determine if any of them might have links to risky decision-making.
Participants completed a variety of decision-making tasks to measure risk-taking. In one task, the students played a computer game in which they pumped up 30 balloons, earning five cents for each pump until they decided to stop. But if the balloon popped, they lost all the money.
In these and other tasks, the researchers wanted to know how much people who score high on narcissism were willing to risk compared to those who scored lower. The results appeared online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.