In Greek mythology, Narcissus is an annoyingly handsome young lad who is warned by a blind seer that if he should ever catch sight of his reflection (hard to come by, back in the day) his would-be long life would be cut short. Then, as one does in Ancient Greece, he comes upon a still pond, sees how outrageously good-looking he is, and looks at his reflection until he metaphorically and literally dies of his vanity. Psychology draws from this tale for the personality construct “narcissism,” which in its preclinical form speaks to self-centeredness and a need for validation; its extreme form, narcissistic personality disorder, denotes a total disregard for other people’s feelings and a prickly inability to handle criticism.
But narcissists aren’t just attractive to themselves. They are, at least superficially, attractive to other people; that’s why they’re overrepresented in fields where being at the center of attention is an asset, like entertainment, entrepreneurship, or politics. They also they have more sexual partners. And as a new study of speed dating led by Emanuel Jauk of the University of Graz, in Austria, finds, people rate them as more attractive and more dateable.
You may think, speed dating? Why speed dating — isn’t that silly thing that only happens in romantic comedies? But in fact speed dating is a sweet way to study attraction: Even when you control conditions (as the researchers made sure men and women had no non-dating interactions), it allows for pretty genuine interaction between people. And since self-reports about attraction, dating, and sex are less than reliable — consider any time you’ve asked or been asked about the lifetime number of sexual partners you or someone else has had — speed dating provides a pretty sound methodology. And it’s speedy, so you get lots of data.
To gather their daters, Jauk and company found people on social media and through the University of Graz website. A total of 90 people participated in three dating events for a total of 691 dates (nice). Those participants took online surveys measuring their sexual orientation, their Big Five personality traits, and whether they had “dark triad” traits of Machiavellianism (the willingness to manipulate people), psychopathy (the inability to relate to others’ interior states), or narcissism. They were also asked to rate the physical attractiveness of other participants by looking at photos of them. Then came the dates themselves, and after each three-minute hang, the participants rated them on how much they wanted to be friends with that person, and how much they’d like to pursue a short-term relationship — like a one-night stand, friends with benefits, or a booty call, dutifully described by authors as “arranging meetings purely for sex on an ad hoc basis” — or a long-term, honest to goodness relationship. Then they were asked if they’d like to see that person again, which the authors described as “actual mate choice.”
The ladies were marked as “yes” on further dates by 48 percent of men, and 30 percent of guys were deemed dateable by women. The personality results validate several ugly truths you discover in young adulthood.
Narcissism correlated with mate-ability, flings, and long-term relationships for women, while for guys narcissism was associated strongly with short-term and long-term relationships. Two other factors showed up in the dateability (and booty call-ability, for what it’s worth): physical attractiveness and extraversion. The authors find that the personality effects became a lot less pronounced when the researchers accounted for physical attractiveness, which they attribute to earlier findings that suggest that narcissistic people invest more in their appearance. Also, narcissists tend toward vanity, and with that vanity, what researchers call “mating effort.”
Also, just as you expected of the popular people in high school, narcissists are extraordinarily charming and self-confident. For similar reasons, extraversion was the only personality trait that correlated with dateability, presumably because of the extrovert’s ease with getting to know new people. The conclusion you might, draw, then, is if you want to go on more dates, consider becoming a narcissist, since in the study it “was associated with increased speed dating success (in terms of actual choices) and mate appeal in both sexes.” Judging from the dating scene in New York City, that’s exactly what everybody is doing.