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Uncertainty enhances the preference for narcissistic leaders

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


Narcissistic leaders present us with an interesting paradox, because they have positive as well as negative characteristics. As such, we argue that the nature of the context determines how suitable narcissists are perceived to be as leaders. Here we propose that a specific contextual factor, that is, uncertainty, increases the preference for narcissists as leaders. As an initial test of this prediction, the first study showed that narcissistic characteristics were evaluated as more desirable in a leader in an uncertain context rather than a certain context. In Studies 2 and 3, we further hypothesized and found that high narcissists are chosen as leaders more often than low narcissists, especially in uncertain (rather than certain) contexts. In all of the studies, individuals were shown to be aware of the negative features of narcissistic leaders, such as arrogance and exploitativeness, but chose them as leaders in times of uncertainty, regardless. Thus, a narcissistic leader is perceived as someone who can help reduce individual uncertainty. These results reveal the importance of contextual uncertainty in understanding the allure of narcissistic leaders. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.