Friday, October 15, 2021

Beliefs about one’s desirability as a short-term mating partner positively predicted life satisfaction for uncommitted men but not for uncommitted women

Functionally Calibrating Life Satisfaction: The Case of Mating Motives and Self-Perceived Mate Value. Ahra Ko et al. October 8th, 2021.

Abstract: If life satisfaction has functional significance for goal achievement, it should be calibrated to cues of potential success on active and fundamentally important goals. Within the context of mating motivation, we tested this hypothesis with self-perceived mate value—an assessment of one’s potential mating success. As hypothesized, because most individuals (eventually) seek long-term relationships, self-perceived long-term mate value predicted life satisfaction for men and women regardless of relationship status. In contrast, and also as hypothesized, self-perceived short-term mate value predicted life satisfaction only for individuals with short-term mating goals—single uncommitted men (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), individuals dispositionally motivated toward short-term relationships (Studies 2A and 2B), and single uncommitted women for whom short-term mating motivation was experimentally engaged, enabling causal inference (Study 3). Results support a functional conceptualization of life satisfaction, showing that currently active mating goals can shape the extent to which goal-specific self-perceived mate value predicts life satisfaction.

Keywords: life satisfaction, mate value, mating motivation, functional approach

General Discussion

If life satisfaction is a subjective indicator of potential goal achievement, active and fundamentally important goals should shape the extent to which life satisfaction is calibrated to cues linked to likely success on these goals. We focused on mating goals because they are of fundamental concern to nearly all people at some point in their lives and because differences in motivation for different mating strategies enable nuanced hypotheses not readily derived by other conceptual approaches. Because mate value takes different forms depending on whether one is adopting long-term versus short-term strategies, and because these different strategies tend to be differentially relevant to men and women and to people in uncommitted versus committed relationships, the implications of mate value for life satisfaction are likely to be nuanced in sex- and relationship-specific functional ways. Across four studies, we found consistent, theoretically coherent patterns of results revealing that both chronically active and experimentally activated mating goals predict the association between selfperceived mate value and life satisfaction. Whereas higher self-perceived long-term mate value predicted greater life satisfaction for both men and women regardless of current relationship status (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), higher self-perceived short-term mate value predicted greater life satisfaction only for those motivated towards short-term relationships—single uncommitted men (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), individuals dispositionally motivated towards short-term mating relationships (Studies 2A and 2B), and single uncommitted women whose short-term mating motivation was experimentally heightened (Study 3). Internal meta-analyses across the four studies revealed the above findings to be reliable and robust. Alternative Explanations Study 3’s experimental manipulation of women’s short-term mating motivation directly demonstrated that engagement of short-term mating motivation causes a significantly stronger association between selfperceived short-term mate value and life satisfaction for the uncommitted women. Given the experimental failures of Studies 2, however, we were not able to assess the causal relationship between self-perceived mate value and life satisfaction. Although we believe the functional logic articulated makes it likely that self-perceived mate value causes life satisfaction, one could hypothesize a reverse causal pathway, such that greater life satisfaction enhances self-views of mate value because such satisfied individuals are also more optimistic about their potential success on mating (Lucas et al., 1996; Schimmack et al., 2004). Alternatively, one might hypothesize that people with a general inclination to view themselves favorably may possess both an enhanced self-view of mate value and a belief that one’s life is generally of high quality—thereby generating a positive correlation between self-perceived mate value and life satisfaction. Although apparently reasonable on their faces, such alternatives cannot logically account for the pattern of findings presented—(1) for the relatively low correlations between long- and short-term mate value, (2) for differences in how long- and short-term mate value predicted life satisfaction, (3) for the lack of positive association between short-term mate value and life satisfaction for men in committed relationships, (4) for the lack of positive association between short-term mate value and life satisfaction for women (except for uncommitted women exposed to our manipulation of shortterm mating motivation in Study 3), or (5) for the robustness of the link between mate value and life satisfaction against other self-evaluations. The specificity of the observed effects cannot be readily derived from conceptualizations focused on positive illusion biases caused by life satisfaction or from general self-enhancement. One might argue that the weak association between women’s short-term mate value and life satisfaction results from women’s generally negative responses to sexual valuation (Calogero, 2004; Fairchild & Rudman, 2008). However, women’s own beliefs about their short-term mate value were not negatively associated with their life satisfaction. Moreover, for uncommitted women exposed to our manipulation of short-term mating motivation, short-term mate value positively predicted life satisfaction. Such results are in line with findings that being sexually valued by a committed mating partner is positively linked to women’s relationship satisfaction (Meltzer, 2020; Meltzer et al., 2017).

Implications and Future Directions Function of Life Satisfaction.

Extending the growing literature on the adaptive functionality of inner experiential states, the current research offers a useful framework for reconceptualizing life satisfaction. Our findings support a novel hypothesis that life satisfaction serves as part of an internal psychological system that monitors individuals’ success or failure in managing important social challenges. Consistent with this, life satisfaction was predicted by cues implying success or failure toward the relevant goals (e.g., short-term mate value) only to the extent those goals were dispositionally important and/or acutely engaged (e.g., for those interested in short-term relationships). Longitudinal studies suggest that life satisfaction is prospectively associated with and precedes desirable characteristics, resources, and adaptive behaviors (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Consistent with these findings, we found that feelings of life satisfaction may direct behavioral resources toward facilitating success of relevant goals. Life satisfaction of uncommitted men statistically mediated the association between their self-perceived short-term mate value and short-term mating behavior. Our finding is in line with longitudinal studies that suggest life satisfaction is associated with and directly precedes various beneficial downstream consequences, as well as behaviors paralleling success (Luhmann et al., 2013; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005), although our research design does not allow for dispositive conclusions ruling out alternative mechanisms (e.g., see Supplement). Future research might profitably explore the full functional process by investigating how life satisfaction, calibrated to cues related to potential success in desired goal pursuit, causes downstream goal-enhancing behaviors.

Individual Differences in Determinants of Life Satisfaction.

People vary greatly in their life satisfaction. The specificity of our findings suggests that a range of individual differences contribute importantly to differences in life satisfaction. First, differences in goal priorities are likely to contribute to differences in life satisfaction. Because different cues are useful for assessing likely success for different goals, and because people differ in which goals they prioritize, one would expect life satisfaction to be selectively calibrated to different goalspecific cues for different people. To better predict life satisfaction, one should consider individual differences in goal priority and likely success in those prioritized goals. Second, individuals might differ in life satisfaction because, even when life satisfaction is shaped by a similar goal pursuit, there may be substantial differences in how life satisfaction is calibrated, given the relevance of different features as cues to goal success for different individuals. For example, because different features shape mate value for men and women (Li et al., 2002), life satisfaction of men and women may track different features (Ko & Suh, 2019). Last, one’s ecology and culture might influence which fundamental goals are chronically active and which indicators represent goal achievement, thereby influencing life satisfaction. For instance, given that women in areas of high income inequality (where female mating competition is enhanced) more frequently post sexualized photographs of themselves on social media (Blake et al., 2018), self-perceived short-term mate value might contribute more to the life satisfaction of women who live in environments where the incentive for sexualization is high. Because mate qualities and mating strategies are shaped differently by ecology and culture (Marlowe, 2004; Pillsworth, 2008), future research might profitably investigate how life satisfaction is calibrated by different valuations and criteria for mating partners across different ecologies and cultures. 

Nuanced Conceptions of Self-perceived Mate Value

The current study highlights the usefulness of differentiating between long-term and short-term mate value. Not only were self-perceived long-and short-term mate value only modestly correlated, but they differentially predicted life satisfaction for different individuals, and when different mating goals were engaged. Future work may benefit from examining how people assess their long- vs. short-term mate value given that different factors are desired for long- vs. short-term mating relationships (Li & Kenrick, 2006), and whether distinctive forms of self-perceived mate value have unique implications for other important psychological variables. Our findings further suggest that people may have relatively reliable beliefs about their mate value. Although we attempted to shift personal beliefs about short-term mating desirability via implicit social comparison and direct feedback, we were unsuccessful; for adults who have been mating-motivated for some time, self-perceived mate value may be stable in the short-term (Edlund & Sagarin, 2014). Specifically, because both men and women highly prioritize physical attractiveness for short-term mating relationships while also believing it difficult to intentionally control or alter physical attractiveness in the absence of great effort (Ben Hamida et al., 1998), experimentally manipulating self-perceived short-term mate value may be quite difficult. Future research may profitably investigate factors that shape mate value stability and change.

Telling people they are intelligent correlates with the feeling of narcissistic uniqueness (the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes)

Telling people they are intelligent correlates with the feeling of narcissistic uniqueness: The influence of IQ feedback on temporary state narcissism. Marcin Zajenkowski, Gilles E. Gignac. Intelligence, Volume 89, November–December 2021, 101595.


• We examined whether positive IQ feedback facilitates the expression of narcissism.

• Positive IQ feedback correlated with increased striving for uniqueness.

• IQ feedback influenced self-assessed intelligence.

Abstract: Research indicates that grandiose narcissism is associated positively with self-assessed intelligence (SAI). Furthermore, the direction of possible causation is considered to flow from narcissism to SAI. However, an intriguing question is whether the effect might be reciprocal, that is, whether the belief that one is intelligent facilitates the expression of narcissism. In the current study (N = 364), we investigated this issue by examining how two types of IQ feedback, (1) positive feedback (IQ is above average) and (2) negative feedback (IQ is below average), influenced SAI and a temporary state of narcissistic admiration. Our study revealed that positive IQ feedback correlated with increased people's SAI and one subscale of state narcissistic admiration: striving for uniqueness (i.e., the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes). By contrast, negative IQ feedback was associated with decreased people's SAI and lower level of state narcissism. We conclude that IQ feedback may shape people's beliefs about their intelligence, and that lay concepts of intelligence might incorporate some narcissistic elements, such as the feeling of being uniquely special.

Keywords: AdmirationIntelligenceIQ feedbackNarcissismState narcissism

6. Discussion

We investigated how the IQ feedback influences the temporary state narcissism. The information that one's intelligence is below average or above average had impact on some aspects of narcissism as well as people's estimation of their cognitive ability. Below we discuss the obtained findings.

Our main hypothesis stated that the level of state narcissism will be larger in the positive IQ feedback group than in the negative IQ feedback group: the hypothesis was only partially supported. The concept of narcissistic admiration that we used in the current research contains three subdimensions: grandiose fantasies, striving for uniqueness and charmingness. Our study revealed that IQ feedback had statistically significant impact only on one of them: striving for uniqueness. Thus, telling people that their IQ is below/above average appears to influence more substantially the affective-motivational aspect of narcissism, rather than the cognitive or behavioural aspects (we can only state that the results for the other two dimensions were non-significant). An important element of narcissistic uniqueness is the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes (Back et al., 2013). Additionally, the belief that one is extraordinary intelligent might result in perceiving oneself as distinct from others. The need for distinctiveness is regarded as an important motive in narcissism (Freis, 2018). Our finding suggests that the lay concept of (high) intelligence is associated with pleasant feelings that motivate people to action, give them strength and help them to distinguish from others.

This result corroborates previous research showing that SAI is associated with self-confidence (Howard & Cogswell, 2018). Moreover, the approach motivation accompanying SAI might explain the fact that SAI predicts educational achievements beyond objective intelligence (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2006). On the other hand, viewing one's abilities as low might decrease motivation and, in turn, undermine cognitive performance.

We confirmed our remaining hypotheses. In line with previous research (e.g., Ackerman & Wolman, 2007Gold & Kuhn, 2017), we found that, in general, people estimated their intelligence lower after completing the IQ test. However, the type of IQ feedback (positive vs. negative) moderated the change of the SAI level. Specifically, telling participants that their intelligence was above average increased SAI, while the exposure to the information that IQ was below average decreased SAI. Thus, people's beliefs about their IQ seem to be sensitive to external information, even if the information is not necessarily accurate. This finding suggests that the feedback people receive about their abilities over the course of life (e.g., from parents, in school) may have important consequences for their intelligence self-views and, possibly, their self-concept. Our last hypothesis that the IQ feedback would have an impact on the perception of intelligence test validity was also supported. Participants perceived the test as more adequate for measuring IQ in the “higher-than-average” group than in the “lower-than-average” group. This implies that the attitude toward IQ testing, might be influenced by previous experience and the feedback one has received about his/her abilities.

We found that the negative IQ feedback had a larger effect on SAI than had the positive feedback. This is in line with some research findings showing that negative feedback might have greater influence on behaviour (e.g., learning, emotional reaction) than positive feedback (Freedberg, Glass, Filoteo, Hazeltine, & Maddox, 2017Ilies, De Pater, & Judge, 2007). In the case of SAI, the possible explanation might be related to the confirmation bias and the fact that most people are convinced their intelligence is above-average (Zell et al., 2020). Thus, the positive IQ feedback is consistent with people's self-image, whereas the negative IQ feedback is a mismatch in their self-knowledge which leads to stronger psychological reactions.

The current study might have implications for our understanding of the origins of narcissism. Cumulative evidence shows that parents play a substantial role in shaping their children's level of narcissism (Thomaes & Brummelman, 2018). Individual differences in narcissism emerge around the age of 8, when children are able to form global views of themselves (Brummelman et al., 2015). Parents may cultivate narcissism in their children by overvaluing their accomplishments, that is, seeing and treating their children as more special and entitled than others. In one of the largest studies in this area, Brummelman et al. (2015) tested children (7–11 years old) and their parents for a period of 2 years. The results revealed that children's level of narcissism was highly associated with parental overvaluation. However, the study of Brummelman et al. (2015) assessed general beliefs of the parents, for instance, “my child is more special than other children”. In light of our findings, it would be interesting to examine whether narcissism in children is associated with parents overvaluation in more specific domains, such as cognitive ability. We found that the positive IQ feedback increased at least one subdimension of state narcissism. It is possible that a child frequently praised for his/her abilities, especially undeservedly, might develop a stable trait of (grandiose) narcissism. It needs to be acknowledged, however, that this interpretation is rather speculative. In our study we tested how a one-time information influenced state narcissism. In order to examine the development of trait narcissism, a longitudinal study is necessary testing the long-term effects of parents' evaluation of their children.

Our findings also reveal some interesting aspects of intelligence itself. The notion of intelligence is a central concept in modern (especially Western) society, however, people's perception of this construct might substantially differ from the academic definitions (Furnham, 2001). Intelligence is regarded as rather ambiguous attribute and laypersons may assign different meaning to it (Dunning, 2005). We found that the information people receive about their IQ level, after completing an IQ test, had a an impact on at least one dimension of state narcissism. It is possible that the lay concept of intelligence contains some narcissistic elements and the belief that one is smart is inseparably associated with narcissistic feelings of being special and better than others. This interpretation might shed some light on the controversies around the studies on intelligence group differences (e.g., Gottfredson, 1997Neisser et al., 1996). The controversial debates on this topic might be fuelled by the lay understanding of intelligence. Specifically, members of presumably more intelligent group might provoke members of less intelligent group by manifesting their narcissistic superiority.

Our structural equation model revealed another interesting finding about the association between narcissism and SAI. While the correlation between the narcissism latent variable and pre-feedback SAI was similar across conditions, the magnitude of association between narcissism and post-feedback SAI depended on the feedback type. Specifically, it was substantially higher in the negative feedback condition than in the positive feedback group. Thus, individual differences in narcissism were more important for people's self-estimation in unfavorable situation. This suggests a regulatory role for grandiose narcissism, when faced with ego-threatening information. Perhaps when people received the feedback that their IQ was above average, they thought positively about their cognitive ability, regardless of the narcissism level. However, with respect to the “lower than average IQ” feedback condition, grandiose narcissists might have used self-protective tactics to maintain a positive image of their intelligence. According to many models of narcissism, grandiose narcissists use various intrapersonal strategies for regulating the self to make themselves feel positive (Campbell & Foster, 2007Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). For instance, they might have blamed situational factors, rather than themselves, for their poor performance (e.g., Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995), by devaluating the idea of psychological testing or thinking that their extraordinary giftedness was not captured by the test they completed. More research is needed to understand the processes underlying narcissists self-regulation in this context.

Finally, we showed that narcissistic admiration might be successfully measured not only as a trait, but also as a temporary state. The state of narcissism has been already examined in previous studies (Giacomin & Jordan, 2018). However, the extant research has focused on the general grandiose narcissism (e.g., using modified instruction of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory; Giacomin & Jordan, 2016) or used adjectives as items to measure temporary state of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism (Edershile et al., 2019). Our research expands these findings by showing that grandiose narcissism's facets might be assessed as a temporary state using the full items of the original Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire. We found that the type of feedback in the content domain of intelligence had a statistically significant impact on one of the admiration's subdimensions: striving for uniqueness. With large sample sizes, and more measures, it remains to be established whether other facets of narcissistic admiration, as well as narcissistic rivalry, might be sensitive to situational factors. Additionally, future studies could examine the influence of the information type on state narcissism. For instance, an intriguing question is whether the IQ-related effect generalizes to other agentic attributes (e.g., leadership, entrepreneurship, sexual potential etc.), or whether positive/negative feedback on communal attributes (e.g., kindness, morality, empathy) has distinct effect on state of grandiose narcissism. Another problem that requires attention relates to the similarities between narcissism and self-esteem. Although both constructs overlap, they also differ substantially with several respects (Brummelman, Gurel, Thomaes, & Sedikides, 2018). Thus, it would be worth investigating how feedback about IQ, and other attributes, affects states of narcissism and self-esteem.

7. Limitations and conclusions

The current study was not free of limitations. First, we used a between-subjects design. Specifically, we compared state narcissism in two groups after the IQ feedback, but we did not control participants' baseline (pre-feedback) state narcissism. We chose the less statistically powerful between-subjects design, because we believe that asking the same, very specific, questions twice, within a short period of time, might have a confounding impact on the (second) measurement. We attempted to deal with the problem of potential differences in the pre-manipulation level of narcissism by measuring trait narcissism. The analysis revealed no significant differences between compared groups. Second, the magnitude of the experimental feedback effect on state narcissism was relatively small (Cohen, 1988). Thus, replication, with a larger sample size, would be useful. Despite the fact that the effect on state narcissism was small, it should be considered potentially important, given that the significant effect was achieved with just one piece of feedback. Further research with multiple occasions of indiscriminate, positive feedback may show a more substantial impact on narcissism. Third, the study was conducted online. It is an open question whether the IQ feedback from an experimenter during face-to-face meeting might have greater impact on the state narcissism and its facets. Nonetheless, the current study's procedure allowed to avoid the effect of experimenter and his or her specific characteristics. Fourth, while we compared people's response to positive and negative feedback about their IQ, we did not include control group with neutral feedback. Future studies could examine this possibility by comparing feedback of different valence (positive, negative) with the situation where participants are told they have average IQ, or receive no feedback at all.

In conclusion, we found that IQ feedback influences people's self-views. Specifically, positive information results in higher estimation of one's intelligence and a higher state of narcissistic uniqueness, while negative information is linked with decreased self-assessed intelligence and lower level of state narcissism. Thus, the external feedback can influence people's beliefs about their intelligence, on the other hand, however, the lay concepts of intelligence might contain some narcissistic elements, such as the feeling of uniqueness.