Papers: Who's the fairest of them all?: The impact of narcissism on self- and other- rated fairness in the workplace

This dissertation examines individual differences in self-perceived and other-assessed fairness. Specifically, it tests whether the personality trait of narcissism can predict higher self-rated fairness, lower other-rated fairness and a larger divergence between self-rated and other rated fairness. Additionally, this study considers the impact of narcissism on the accuracy of one's perceptions of how one is viewed by others as well as the accuracy of others' perceptions of how one views oneself.

Messick, Bloom, Boldizar & Samuelson (1985) published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology entitled "Why we are fairer than others" in which they found that people associate more fairness with their own behavior than that of other people. Given that not everyone can be fairer than average, the authors conclude that people have a self-enhancement bias in their perceptions of fairness.

Cates & Messick (1996) describe how the "I am fairer than others" (or the "dual slope phenomenon" in which the "self" and "other" lines in a plot of the frequency of behaviors on the dimensions of fair vs. unfair, frequent vs. infrequent have different slopes and cross one another) has been replicated cross culturally, in the Netherlands by Liebrand, Messick and Wolters (1986), in Hong Kong by Chan (1987) and in Japan by Tanaka (1993). One shortcoming of these studies is that they lack criterion measures against which self-ratings of fairness could be compared and evaluated.

Some theorists have claimed that inflated self-perception, within a reasonable range, is necessary for and diagnostic of healthy mental functioning (Taylor, 1989). Completely accurate self-perceptions may be a function of "depressive realism," which is the tendency of depressed individuals to see themselves and the world more accurately than non-depressed individuals. The "I am fairer than others" phenomenon may be one realm in which "positive illusions" comprise mental health.

Overly positive self-ratings of fairness can also be considered within larger frameworks such as the actor-observer effect, which involves different patterns of attributions for self versus others (Miller and Ross, 1975) or self-enhancement biases, which cause individuals to rate themselves more highly than others rate them on a wide variety of evaluative dimensions (Taylor and Brown, 1988). Both the actor-observer effect and self-enhancement biases have been explained in terms of self-esteem maintenance.

John and Robins (1994) describe two competing views of self-enhancement- the first is that self-enhancement biases are a universal, general "law" of human nature, and the second is that the presence or absence of self-enhancement biases is a function of individual differences. John and Robins argue for and found evidence supporting the latter position, specifically citing narcissism as an individual difference that influences self-perception and the tendency to make self-serving attributions. Farwell and Wohlwend-Lloyd (1998), commenting on the results of John and Robins, assert that contextual factors interact with narcissism in causing self-enhancement.

In some contexts, there can be benefits of narcissism. Emmons (1984) speculates that there may be a curvilinear relationship between narcissism and adjustment-- too little narcissism may be as maladaptive as too much. For example, attributional training for depressed people might entail teaching them to acquire a more narcissistic attributional style (Emmons, 1987). Narcissists can be assertive, socially poised and confident (Wink, 1991) and charming and helpful (Yukl, 1994). Narcissistic people can also appear special, win other's confidence, (Hogan, Raskin & Fazzini, 1990) and attract envy and admiration (Jacoby, 1990).

The presence of some narcissistic traits might actually be a prerequisite for the attainment of a leadership position (Kets de Vries and Miller, 1985) or a predictor of who will rise to the top of an organization (Hogan, Raskin & Fazzini, 1990) partly because the strength and inflexibility of a narcissistic leader's worldview can cause followers to identify with and participate in the leader's self involvement. The narcissistic leader's strong conviction that his or her group or nation is superior to others might inspire loyalty, group identification and nationalism, which can itself be considered as analogous to narcissism at a societal level of analysis (Emmons, 1987). There is also likely to be a "dark side" to the narcissistic leader (Hogan, Raskin & Fazzini, 1990) and the accompanying distorted view of reality may have disastrous consequences when the leader begins to use his or her followers to attain narcissistic goals.

While political leaders may benefit from narcissism at certain times and under certain circumstances, narcissism is likely to be more of a consistent obstacle for business managers, who comprise the subjects in the present study. Unlike leaders at the top of organizations who may have the power to establish a vision and set rules, middle level business managers must operate within the framework of existing organizational rules and their effectiveness is partly dependent on the discretionary efforts of employees. The goal of this research is to determine how and to what extent a middle level business manager's narcissism impacts employees' perceptions of and satisfaction with the interactional manner in which the manager executes an organization's existing procedural rules.

In their 1994 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper "Accuracy and bias in self-perception: individual differences in self-enhancement and the role of narcissism", John and Robins tested the relationship between individual differences and self and other rated performance in an assessment center task. The authors found that subjects high on narcissism (As measured by 2 observer-based measures and 2 self-report measures, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and the California Psychological Inventory) overestimated their contributions (self-enhancement bias), those low on narcissism underestimated their contributions (self diminishment bias), and those in the middle of the narcissism scales showed neither bias.

In the introduction to their study, John and Robins (1994) wrote "although the relevance of narcissism for an individual-differences account of self-enhancement bias seems rather obvious, the construct has not yet been examined in studies of self-perception accuracy against observer criteria." (p. 209). While there has been more empirical investigation into narcissism in the last few years, the area remains largely unexplored. As recently as 1998, Farwell and Wohlwend-Lloyd wrote that one important area for future research is "the social consequences of variations in dispositional narcissism." (p. 81), which is exactly what the present study endeavors to explore.

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