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Want to be Popular? Work on Your Emotional Intelligence

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New research shows that in social settings, narcissists start out strong, but it’s those with high emotional intelligence that win the popularity race. Psychology researchers from Poland, the U.K., Germany and the U.S. collaborated on the study appearing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

The team found that narcissists made great first impressions and were well liked by their peers, but three months later, their popularity leveled off.  Those who rated as high in emotional intelligence started with fewer friends, but by the end of the study ended up with more friends than the narcissists.

“The charm of narcissists that wins them early popularity in peer groups is not a permanent phenomenon. It doesn't have a lasting effect,” says lead author Anna Czarna (Jagiellonian University, Poland). “People get to know them and their vices with time and their ‘star’ status is over.”

The opposite seems true for emotionally intelligent people. They tend to find more and more friends with time as people get to appreciate them.

While many studies have explored the links between emotion, narcissism, and friendships in experimental settings, this is one of the first to explore the phenomenon in a more natural setting: college study groups.

In Poland, it’s common for universities to create formal study groups for incoming students each year. In this study, the researchers measured various personality traits and self-esteem of fifteen of the study groups (273 students total), when the students are first meeting each other and most likely do not know each other. They asked the group members nominate one or several people they liked most in their group.

The authors followed up with the study groups 3 months later to see how these ratings may have changed.

To account for the potential complexities of real life social groups, the team utilized network analysis to analyze the many variables that go into friendships and peer group interactions. For instance, people can be influenced by who their friends like as well as their own personal preferences.

Based on their analysis, the narcissist’s popularity is not on the rise indefinitely.

“Judging by the trajectory it is likely that over longer periods of time emotionally intelligent people would be way more popular than high narcissists,” says Czarna.

Philip Leifeld (University of Glasgow, U.K.), Magdalena Smeieja (Jagiellonian University, Poland), Michael Dufner (Universitat Leipzig, Germany), and Peter Salovey (Yale University, U.S.) complete the team involved in the research.


Funding: The present research was supported by a grant from the National Science Centre (DEC-2013/09/D/HS6/02982) in Poland and by funding from the Jagiellonian University within the SET project, cofinanced by the European Union, to the first author, as well as by a grant from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (N N106 051139) to the third author.

Do Narcissism and Emotional Intelligence Win Us Friends? Modeling Dynamics of Peer Popularity Using Inferential Network Analysis by Anna Czarna, Philip Leifeld, Magdalena Smieja, Michael Dufner, and Peter Salovey. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Published online before print, September 27, 2016.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at facebook.com/SPSP.org 

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