Empathy plays a critical role in fostering and maintaining social relations. Narcissists lack empathy, and this may account for their interpersonal failures.
But why do narcissists lack empathy? Are they incapable, or is change possible? Three studies addressed this question.
Study 1 showed that the link between narcissism and low empathy generalizes to a specific target person presented in a vignette. The effect was driven by maladaptive narcissistic components (i.e., entitlement, exploitativeness, exhibitionism).
Study 2 examined the effect of perspective-taking (vs. control) instructions on self-reported responses to a video. Study 3 examined the effect of the same manipulation on autonomic arousal (heart rate [HR]) during an audio-recording. Perspective-taking ameliorated negative links between maladaptive narcissism and both self-reported empathy and HR.
That is, narcissists can be moved by another’s suffering, if they take that person’s perspective. The findings demonstrate that narcissists’ low empathy does not reflect inability, implying potential for intervention.
Erica G. Hepper
Claire M. Hart
Via Edwin Rutsch