ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (8): 981-988.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00981

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Narcissism and adolescents’ prosocial behaviors: The role of public and private situations

DING Ruyi1,3; ZHOU Hui1; ZHANG Bao2; CHEN Xiao2   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China) (2 Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University Zhuhai Campus, Zhuhai 519085, China) (3 Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hongkong, Hong Kong)
  • Received:2015-07-02 Published:2016-08-25 Online:2016-08-25
  • Contact: ZHOU Hui, E-mail:


Narcissism was found to be associated with low empathy, insensitive to the need of others and having a tendency to use others for ones’ own gains. That is, narcissists may lay more emphasis on selfish values than prosocial ones. Thus, they may not help with social activities voluntarily unless they are beneficial to enhance their self-worth or self-image. On the other hand, studies have found that help is more likely to occur when one behaves in front of audiences in nonemergency situations. This is because prosocial behaviors can be used for self-enhancement such as gaining good reputation or promoting a positive self-image. Narcissists are good at using interpersonal relationships for self-regulation. They are excessively dependent on others to gain a sense of identity and are motivated to seek continuous external self-affirmation to build or maintain desired selves. From this point of view, narcissists may very likely do prosocial behaviors for seeking continuous external self-affirmation to build or maintain desired selves. In this research, two studies were conducted to explore the relationship between narcissism and prosocial tendencies and actual prosocial behaviors on two different situations---whether there are people watching or not. Study 1 aimed at exploring Chinese narcissistic individuals’ self-reported public and anonymous prosocial tendencies. Public prosocial tendency refers to a tendency to perform prosocial behaviors in front of others while anonymous prosocial tendency refers to a tendency to help without consciousness of being noticed or acknowledged. Participants completed Narcissistic Personality Inventory and Revised Prosocial Tendencies Measure. It revealed that narcissism was positively associated with self reported public but not anonymous prosocial tendency among male participants. Study 2 aimed at exploring whether the prosocial behaviors of narcissists were truly influenced by the publicity of the situations in the real world. Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions according to whether group members know the others’ donation or not. The results showed that male narcissists donated more money to a charity than non-narcissists in a public situation when their contributions were watched by others. However, their prosocial behaviors were not different in a private situation when individuals’ contributions were kept secret. The findings of our studies imply that narcissism may use prosocial behaviors in the service of self-regulation. It increases the knowledge of narcissists’ self regulatory strategies that, besides many maladaptive behaviors, prosocial behaviors can also be used to enhance narcissists’ self-view.

Key words: narcissism, prosocial tendency, prosocial behavior