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How to spot a narcissist across the dinner table

Identifying a narcissist early on is no doubt the key to protecting yourself against their damaging behaviour. Now, according to a new study, it might be possible to pick them out based on how they pick their plate. 

If you’ve spent more than a little time in the company of a textbook narcissist, you’re likely familiar with the personality traits they exude. Defined by their over-inflated sense of self-importance, entitlement, lack of empathy and desperate need to be admired, narcissists in their full, unbridled glory aren’t difficult to spot. 

Now, it’s important to note most people alter their nutritional choices depending on what kind of social setting they find themselves in. For example, you’re more likely to fix yourself a classic smorgasbord of girl dinner when you’re home alone in your sweats than if you’re spending the evening surrounded by others. 

In the case of narcissists, recent research suggests these conscious behavioural changes may be even more amplified. A series of three American studies published in Psychology & Marketing examines the choices made by sample groups of adults (each inclusive of individuals exhibiting narcissistic tendencies), linking distinct eating patterns to the infamous personality type.  

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Breaking down the three studies

The three studies were each centred around foods that boasted token health properties but were known to be harmful in high doses. Before being presented with the food items in question, the participants were all asked to complete a questionnaire that gave researchers an indication of how narcissistic each person was. 

In the first study, a sample of 644 adults was offered wine, a beverage that despite its high alcoholic content is also rich in health-promoting polyphenols. In the second study, another random selection of participants was offered chocolate, a classically unhealthy choice that is sometimes praised for its anti-oxidant properties. 

Lastly, participants in the third study were subject to a more hypothetical scenario, being asked to consider consuming durian (a relatively unfamiliar fruit to most people in the US) in both a social setting and at home alone. Before making their decision, the participants were made to read a short overview of the fruit’s health benefits and disadvantages, such as supporting heart health and high in natural sugars respectively. 

What researchers discovered

Narcissists are often associated with a skewed sense of judgement, possessing a unique approach to weighing risks and benefits. The studies were designed to highlight this association in the context of nutrition, with the results of each indeed supporting the notion that narcissistic individuals were more likely to drastically alter their eating habits depending on their social surroundings. 

For instance, in the first two studies where participants were offered wine and chocolate in a social setting, individuals who exhibited narcissistic tendencies often chose to consume more. They were found to lean heavily towards the perceived ‘health benefits’ that both foods offered, choosing to ignore the high alcohol and sugar content of each.  

Researchers found these results to be in line with ‘optimism bias’, a known personality association guided by the notion that narcissists misjudge their susceptibility to positive or negative events. In other words, a narcissist would choose to indulge in wine and chocolate due to the foods’ health-promoting polyphenols and anti-oxidant properties, likely believing they would in turn not be impacted by the high alcohol and sugar content. 

In the third study, exploring the difference between eating habits in isolation and in a group, the participants believed to portray narcissistic tendencies were found to focus on the fruit’s health-related drawbacks in a social setting, therefore opting to eat less. When left alone, researchers found the same individuals leaned more heavily into durian’s heart-health properties, consuming more of the fruit.

Does liking chocolate and wine make you a narcissist?

While the researchers uncovered a pattern between people’s narcissistic tendencies and their decisions to consume or avoid certain foods, indulging in a block of Cadbury and a glass of red at the end of the day is not indicative of any particular personality disorder. 

Narcissistic eating habits were not found to be defined by people’s affinity towards certain foods, but rather by their willingness to reverse their opinion based on their social setting, leaning heavily into health consciousness when surrounded by other people.   

In each of the three studies, participants who demonstrated narcissistic tendencies (based on the questionnaire) were more likely to overestimate the health benefits of both wine and chocolate in a social setting, and durian when alone. 

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