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Narcissists might steal your partner, but they may not be going out of their way to do so, study shows

An Ohio State professor looked to study whether narcissists are more likely to mate-poach. Credit: courtesy of Ohio State

New research from Ohio State has revealed that while narcissists don’t go out of their way to allure those who are in relationships, it doesn’t appear to be a factor that stops them.

Amy Brunell, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State’s Mansfield campus, led a study that attempted to figure out if narcissists were more likely to “mate-poach,” the term given for the act of intentionally going after someone who is in a relationship.

Narcissists have a pattern of playing games while in relationships, and lacking commitment, Brunell said, adding there is a lot of research suggesting relationships narcissistic people are in are often short.

“…There was enough evidence out there that narcissists report stealing romantic partners,” she said. “I used an established paradigm that looked at whether or not people might be interested in stealing romantic partners away and I borrowed that to see narcissist’s preference.”

The study focused on grandiose narcissists, whom are people who believe they are superior to others and hold themselves in especially high regard, according to recent psychological research cited in the study.

“At the heart of narcissism is this lack of empathy and lack of concern for others” said Nicholas Deems, a fourth-year in neuroscience and co-author of the study.

In the first study, 247 college students were surveyed for narcissistic traits and assessed on their past experience with mate-poaching. That study served as a springboard for the rest of the research and more accurate tests were created in the proceeding studies. It was found that narcissists were more likely to date others in a relationship, but it was unclear whether they had done so intentionally or not, and so this was corrected in the next study.

“We found this pattern that narcissists were reporting that they had more experiences with mate-poaching” Brunell said.

The second study, which improved on the design and fixed survey flaws of the first, found that narcissistic women were more likely to mate-poach. While men in general are more likely to engage in mate-poaching behavior, the researchers found that when it comes to narcissistic people, women were more likely to mate-poach.

In the third study the researchers set up a fake Ohio State dating site where participants would be shown pictures of the same woman while female participants were shown pictures of the same man and were told that their match was either single or in a relationship. They were then asked if they were interested in pursuing a relationship with that individual. This study revealed that those with narcissistic traits did not show a specific preference for those who were in a relationship.

“We were trying to sell this idea that these students were coming in and they’re getting matched with somebody with similar interest through OSU campuses and I wanted that manipulation to be based on real-world setting,” Deems said.

In a similar experiment with 240 participants, the final study revealed that narcissists were more likely to mate-poach for short-term flings but not for a long-term relationship.

“Narcissists don’t necessarily pursue people in relationships,” Brunell said. “They just don’t care if you’re in a relationship or not when they decide they want to pursue you. I think it fits into what we know about narcissists and relationships which is they play games and they’re self-serving and if you’re looking for a real relationship they’re not exactly the nicest people to be in a relationship with.”

 

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