Please wait a minute...
Acta Psychologica Sinica    2016, Vol. 48 Issue (2) : 199-210     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00199
Self-love and other-love: Research on the relationships among narcissism, empathy and implicit altruism
HE Ning; ZHU Yunli
(Psychology School, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an 710062, China)
Download: PDF(494 KB)   Review File (1 KB) 
Export: BibTeX | EndNote | Reference Manager | ProCite | RefWorks    
Narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic personality trait) has long been characterized in the clinical and nonclinical literature by a lack of empathy. Although a large body of empirical studies link empathy to altruism as the trigger for prosocial behaviors, few studies have directly explored the relationships among narcissism, empathy and altruism. Here, we present two experiments that examined the relationships among these three dimensions and provide insights into the narcissists’ state empathy and its association with their altruistic tendencies.
The total sample comprised 173 undergraduates divided into two groups, narcissists and non-narcissists, based on their responses to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Adopting split-half methods, participants scoring above the average were identified as narcissists and those below as non-narcissists. In study 1, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index–C and the Implicit Association Test were applied to compare the two groups on measures of empathy and implicit altruism. Narcissists were hypothesized to demonstrate lower levels of empathy and weaker tendencies of implicit altruism compared to non-narcissists. In study 2, a video was employed to investigate state empathy and its connection to implicit altruism. A 2 (narcissism: narcissists vs. non-narcissists) × 2 (experimental treatment: priming vs. control) design was applied, with participants randomly assigned into the two experimental conditions. The second hypothesis was that the priming of empathy would increase the empathy and implicit altruism of narcissists, whereas non-narcissists would be unaffected.
In Study 1, narcissists demonstrated lower levels of emotional (but not cognitive) empathy, and of implicit altruism, compared to their non-narcissistic counterparts. In Study 2, a significantly higher level of state empathy and implicit altruism among narcissists emerged after priming compared to the control group, suggesting that narcissists are able to produce emotionally appropriate responses to others when primed. Further, ANOVA analyses revealed that the elevation of emotional empathy elicited through priming contributed to the enhancement of overall empathy for narcissists. Conversely, non-narcissists were unaffected by the priming.

This is the first empirical study to test the narcissism–empathy relationship hypothesis proposed by Stone (1998), who argued that there could be separable aspects of ability and willingness that affect narcissistic individuals’ empathic functioning. Some narcissistic individuals may have intact empathic ability, but choose to disengage from others’ pain or distress. These findings extend the empirical evidence of empathy and altruism in terms of individual differences, and contribute to the understanding of mechanisms underlying prosocial behavior among narcissists. Narcissism is essentially emotional and motivational in nature, and emotionally based priming appears to bear particularly strong promise for increasing altruistic behaviors among narcissists. The results suggest possible pathways to practical improvement in the lack of empathy among narcissistic individuals.

Keywords narcissism      empathy      implicit altruism      Implicit Association Test     
Corresponding Authors: HE Ning, E-mail:   
Issue Date: 25 February 2016
E-mail this article
E-mail Alert
Articles by authors
Cite this article:   
HE Ning; ZHU Yunli. Self-love and other-love: Research on the relationships among narcissism, empathy and implicit altruism[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica,2016, 48(2): 199-210.
URL:     OR
[1] Xiong LI,Zuoshan LI,Binyang XIANG,Jing MENG. Empathy for pain in Individuals with autistic traits influenced by attention cues: Evidence from an ERP study[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2020, 52(3): 294-306.
[2] Wenchao WANG,Xinchun WU. Mediating roles of gratitude, social support and posttraumatic growth in the relation between empathy and prosocial behavior among adolescents after the Ya’an earthquake[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2020, 52(3): 307-316.
[3] Dongjie XIE, Hao LU, Yanjie SU. Pay-forward effect of resource allocation in preschoolers: Role of theory of mind and empathy[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2018, 50(9): 1018-1028.
[4] CHENG Jiaping; LUO Yuejia; CUI Fang. Empathy for pain influenced by cognitive load: Evidence from an ERP study[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2017, 49(5): 622-630.
[5] DING Ruyi; ZHOU Hui; ZHANG Bao; CHEN Xiao. Narcissism and adolescents’ prosocial behaviors: The role of public and private situations[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(8): 981-988.
[6] SONG Juan; GUO Fengbo; ZHANG Zhen; YUAN Sheng; JIN Hua; WANG Yiwen. Interpersonal distance influences on pain empathy: Friends priming effect[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(7): 833-844.
[7] HUANG SiLin; HAN MingYue; ZHANG Mei. The impact of interpersonal relationship on social responsibility[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(5): 578-587.
[8] YAN Zhiying; LU Jiamei. The ERP Evidence of Modulation of Situation Reality on Empathy for Sadness[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(8): 971-980.
[9] QIAN Miao; ZHOU Lixia; LU Tiantian; WENG Mengxing; FU Genyue. Theoretical Construction and Empirical Research on A Preschooler-friendly Implicit Association Test[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(7): 903-913.
[10] GAO Xuemei; WENG Lei; ZHOU Qun; ZHAO Cai; LI Fang. Dose Violent Offenders Have Lower Capacity of Empathy for Pain: Evidence from ERPs[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(4): 478-487.
[11] ZHENG Xiaoying; PENG Siqing; PENG Luluo. Feeling Better and Becoming MoreBenevolent: Impact of Social Comparison on ProsocialBehavior[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(2): 243-250.
[12] YAN Bihua; JI Ming; ZHAO Xiaojun; TU Jinlu; YOU Xuqun. Predictive Effect of Implicit Safety Attitudes on Safety Performance in Aviation Safety Culture[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(1): 119-128.
[13] MA Weina;ZHU Beibei. Emotional Empathy in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence from Biofeedback Measurement and Eye Movements[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2014, 46(4): 528-539.
[14] CHEN Ning;LU Jiamei;WANG Haibin. Interpersonal Empathy Gap Can Be Overcome: Taking Teachers Forecasting Students’ Emotion as an Example[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(12): 1368-1380 .
[15] MENG Jing;SHEN Lin;LV Zhen-Yong;YANG Zhou;CHEN Hong;Todd JACKSON. Pain Representations in the Self and Others: A Behavioral Study of the Congruency Effect[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2012, 44(11): 1515-1522.
Full text



Copyright © Acta Psychologica Sinica
Support by Beijing Magtech