The Two Pathways to Being an (Un-)Popular Narcissist


  • This research was supported by Grant BA 3731/6-1 from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to Mitja D. Back, Steffen Nestler, and Boris Egloff. We are grateful to David Kolar, Katharina Bergmann, Carmen Müller, Jasmina Eskic, Francesca Froreich, Anna Auth, Stella Grau, Verena Reif, and Cyril Conout for their help in data collection; to Boris Egloff for fruitful discussions on this research, and to Stefan C. Schmukle for very helpful comments on earlier versions of the article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Albrecht C. P. Küfner, Department of Psychology, University of Münster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Münster, Germany. Email:



Narcissism affects social relationships from the very first interactions. The overall positivity of social impressions narcissists evoke is, however, unclear—with previous research reporting positive, negative, or null effects on popularity at short-term acquaintance. Here we postulate a dual-pathway model, which explains the effects of narcissism on (un-)popularity as the result of two opposing behavioral pathways: assertiveness and aggressiveness.


In two studies, unacquainted German college students (N = 100; N = 68) met in groups of four to six persons and engaged in group discussions. Afterward, they provided ratings of each other's assertiveness, aggressiveness, and likeability. In Study 2, we additionally videotaped the sessions and assessed participants’ actual behavior.


Results of both studies confirm our dual-pathway hypothesis: There was a “positive” and a “negative” path from targets’ narcissism to being liked or not—dependent upon being seen as assertive or aggressive. Behavioral observations showed that expressive and dominant behaviors mediated the positive path, whereas arrogant and combative behaviors mediated the negative path.


Initial (un-)popularity of narcissists at early stages of interpersonal interactions depends on the behavioral pathway that is triggered in the given situational context.