Automatic imitation is reduced in narcissists.
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Narcissism is a personality trait that has been extensively studied in normal populations. Individuals high on subclinical narcissism tend to display an excessive self-focus and reduced concern for others. Does their disregard of others have roots in low-level processes of social perception? We investigated whether narcissism is related to the automatic imitation of observed actions. In the automatic imitation task, participants make cued actions in the presence of action videos displaying congruent or incongruent actions. The difference in response times and accuracy between congruent and incongruent trials (i.e., the interference effect) is a behavioral index of motor resonance in the brain-a process whereby observed actions activate matching motor representations in the observer. We found narcissism to be negatively related to interference in the automatic imitation task, such that high narcissism is associated with reduced imitation. Thus, levels of narcissism predict differences in the tendency to automatically resonate with others, and the pattern of data we observe suggests that a key difference is that high narcissists possess an improved ability to suppress automatic imitation when such imitation would be detrimental to task performance. To the extent that motor resonance is a product of a human mirror system, our data constitute evidence for a link between narcissistic tendencies and mirror system functioning.
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