Field of Science


How to Win Friends and Influence People

How much of a narcissist are you? Take this quiz if you'd like to find out (though that, in itself, might be a red flag).

Psychologists define narcissism as a specific kind of personality trait, and they use a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to measure it. In a study coming out this fall, researchers from Cornell looked for a relationship between narcissism and creativity. Are creative people, they asked, necessarily more self-absorbed?

In the first of three experiments, the researchers had subjects fill out the same kind of quiz you may have just taken. Then they measured subjects' creativity with such apparently standard tests as "Draw a really wacky alien" and "How many uses can you think of for a brick?" The result: there was no link between narcissism and creativity. (Whew.) Unsurprisingly, though, narcissists rated their own creativity very highly.

In the second experiment, subjects who had filled out the NPI had to write down an idea for a movie, and pitch their idea to an observer. The narcissists' movie pitches were (according to outside readers) not more creative than anyone else's. But the observers who listened to the movie pitches felt differently: they thought the narcissists' pitches were more creative.

What was so winning about these movie pitches? Observers described the most convincing pitchers as energetic, enthusiastic, and charismatic. Having a narcissistic personality, it seems, helps you to sell your ideas better. If you're excited about your idea--like a narcissist, who assumes all his ideas are awesome--then people around you will absorb that excitement.

The final experiment had to do with group work. The researchers found that a group of people with a higher average degree of narcissism will produce more creative ideas--up to a point. They speculate that the narcissists in the group compete with each other to come up with ideas, and even if those ideas aren't really great, the whole group benefits from more active brainstorming. But after a certain level of group narcissism is reached, there are diminishing returns.

This study may explain why people are still letting M. Night Shyamalan make movies. It also gives a slightly depressing insight into how groups work productively. ("Production blocking," the authors say, "is caused by group members listening to other group members' ideas and waiting until the other person has finished before expressing his/her idea.")

Here are some people, though, who want to tell you about their ideas but are definitely not vain about it.

Science magazine sponsors a contest each year called "Dance Your PhD," in which entrants create interpretive dances about their theses. At the link, you can watch videos of grad students dancing as bison, chromosomes, and phosphorous molecules. There's still time to vote for your favorite finalist!

I especially recommend "Selection of a DNA aptamer for homocysteine using systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment," if only for the shock value of seeing them incorporate dance moves from Lady Gaga.


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