By Christian Jarrett
How do you feel about your nation? Does it make you angry when others criticise your country? Do you feel the world would be a better place if your country had more of a say? Do you wish other countries would more quickly recognise your country’s authority?
Anyone who answered “yes” to these questions would be showing signs of “collective narcissism” at the level of their nationality – at least according to social psychologists. The questions are adapted from a nine-item Collective Narcissism Scale used in research.
A lot of us are familiar with the psychological construct of narcissism as applied to an individual: someone who is grandiose and overconfident on the outside, but needy and vulnerable underneath. But collective narcissism is something different: it is when someone exhibits an exaggerated belief in the superiority of their in-group, be that a gang, religion or nation, but deep down feels doubtful about their group’s prestige and therefore craves its recognition by others. This ‘fragility’ makes it different from simply having pride in one’s country – in much the same way that a narcissist is quite different from an individual with healthy self-esteem.
One way that psychologists have studied collective narcissism is by using the “Implicit Association Test” (IAT). The test can take different forms, but usually involves pressing keyboard keys to decide whether a word fits into different categories. The basic idea is that we’re quicker to respond when the same key is allocated to categories that we associate in our mind. If you have good self-esteem, for instance, you will be quicker if you have to use the left arrow to sort both positive words, and those that relate to yourself.