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Dr. Zlatan Krizan, Iowa State University – Envy and Narcissism

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Zlatan Krizan of Iowa State University explains the role played by envy in creating a narcissistic personality. 

Zlatan Krizan is an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University where his research is focused on the basic emotional, motivational, and personality processes relevant to understanding the human condition. More specifically, his work asks how social comparisons play into self-perception and how social context influences the psychological processes underlying social judgments. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

About Dr. Krizan

Dr. Zlatan Krizan – Envy and Narcissism

We all know the pain of envy. It is that sting we experience when coveting something we can’t have, be it another’s beauty, talent, or success out of our reach. In these moments we usually feel dispirited, angry, and resentful, frustrated by unfairness of life whose riches often seems arbitrarily bestowed on others rather than ourselves. Although all of us occasionally fall prey to this sentiment, some of us find ourselves in the throes of envy more often than others. In fact, what makes some people prone to envy is a mystery awaiting final resolution.

What makes up an envious personality? Psychological research from our laboratory reveals narcissistic personality traits to be important drivers of envy. Across several studies of students and urban residents completing surveys and laboratory tasks, we identified narcissistic vulnerability as a powerful driver of enviousness.  Narcissistic vulnerability refers to personality traits of entitlement, self-absorption, and fragile self-esteem. Our findings indicate that such vulnerability is the most potent driver of envious feelings identified to date; those narcissistically vulnerable were especially likely to report stronger envy from their past, to experience envy in response to strangers, to wish harm to those they envy, and to find pleasure in an envied person’s misfortune.

Importantly, it was only narcissistic vulnerability, not grandiosity, which fanned the flames of envy. In fact, grandiose individuals prone to exhibitionism and vanity were actually less likely to envy given they look down upon others. In other words, it is not the Donald Trumps of this world that are the envious kind. Rather, it is those that feel deserving of his fate, yet can’t make it real for themselves, that fester in envy and spend their days resenting others for riches they think ought to be their own.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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