Narcissism is a component of “the dark triad” and it is closely related to maladaptive and even antisocial behaviors. Aggressive behavior is a typical anti-social behavior, and serious aggression constitutes violent crime. Narcissism is often divided into grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Aggression also has many subtypes, such as premeditated and impulsive aggression. Previous studies have shown that narcissists are aggressive, especially when facing provocation. On the one hand, narcissists feel threatened when they are challenged. To maintain their ego and eliminate threat, narcissists may show aggressive behavior, which is explained by the theory of threatened egotism. On the other hand, when challenged, narcissists also show strong negative emotions because of their inflated but fragile ego, leading to out-of-control behaviors and even triggering them to attack others, which is the so-called “narcissistic rage.” However, most studies are in the background of Western culture, and the participants are mainly college students. Most judicial field studies use questionnaires, and experimental studies to confirm the relation of narcissism and aggression are lacking. The mechanism how they operate is also unknown. Previous studies failed to make distinctions of the subtypes of narcissism and aggression, especially the subtype of vulnerable narcissism. To overcome the disadvantages of previous studies, this study explored the relationship between narcissism and aggression with a questionnaire in experiment 1 and analyzed the manipulating function of provocation with a competitive response time in experiment 2.
In study 1, we administered the Narcissism Personality Inventory-13, Hypersensitivity Narcissistic Scale, The Trait Anger Scale, Entitlement Scale, and Impulsive/Premeditated Aggression Scales in 498 violence offenders to establish a structural equation model. Then, the significance of effects was examined using Bootstrap to explore the relationship between narcissism and aggression and its mechanisms. In study 2, we recruited 90 violent offenders for scenario-based experiment. Participants were randomly divided into a provocation group (n = 46) and a no-provocation group (n = 44). Participants in both groups completed the questionnaire for narcissism. Then, they finished the first stage to manipulate provocation. Participants were told to compete with another participant (a fake participant) in racing the speed of reactions. In the provocation group, participants lost the game and received negative feedback from their rivals; in the no-provocation group, participants won the game and received positive feedback from their rivals. Then, they completed the questionnaire for manipulation testing and measured negative affect and perceived threat for the mediating variables. Finally, they finished the second stage in which they could send their rivals’ noises, which can be considered as the aggressive indicator.
Experiment 1 showed that narcissism can predict aggression and that the trait anger and entitlement play multiple mediating roles. Significant effects were found in the mediating paths of grandiose/vulnerable narcissism→trait anger→premeditated aggression, grandiose/vulnerable narcissism→trait anger→impulsive aggression, and grandiose/vulnerable narcissism→entitlement→premeditated aggression. However, the effect of the mediating path grandiose/vulnerable narcissism→entitlement→impulsive aggression was not significant. Compared with grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism was a stronger indicator of premeditated and impulsive aggression. Experiment 2 showed that under provocation, grandiose narcissism and aggression exhibited significant correlation. Meanwhile, perceived threat and negative affect served a mediating function. Grandiose narcissism cannot predict aggression behaviors if not provoked, but the mediating role of perceived threat was still significant. For vulnerable narcissism, the influence on aggression and the mediating role of perceived threat and negative affect were all significant whether provoked or not.
The following conclusions can be obtained from the two experiments: (1) The association between narcissism and aggression was still effective in violent offenders in Chinese culture; (2) “Threatened egotism” and “Narcissistic rage” could explain the relationship between narcissism and aggression. In specific, “threatened egotism” could predict premeditated aggression rather than impulsive aggression, and “narcissistic rage” could predict both subtypes of aggression; and (3) Vulnerable narcissism was non-adaptive, exerting a larger effect size on aggression and a wider applicability compared with grandiose narcissism. Researchers should pay attention to the effects of vulnerable narcissism on maladaptive behaviors, such as aggression, and distinguish the subtypes of narcissism and aggression. Furthermore, the above results could be used in the prevention of crime and the management and correction of criminals by judicial practice departments.