Sound the Alarm: The Effect of Narcissism on Retaliatory Aggression Is Moderated by dACC Reactivity to Rejection

David S. Chester, C. Nathan Dewall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Narcissists behave aggressively when their egos are threatened by interpersonal insults. This effect has been explained in terms of narcissists' motivation to reduce the discrepancy between their grandiose self and its threatened version, though no research has directly tested this hypothesis. If this notion is true, the link between narcissism and retaliatory aggression should be moderated by neural structures that subserve discrepancy detection, such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). This study tested the hypothesis that narcissism would only predict greater retaliatory aggression in response to social rejection when the dACC was recruited by the threat. Thirty participants (15 females; Mage=18.86, SD=1.25; 77% White) completed a trait narcissism inventory, were socially accepted and then rejected while undergoing fMRI, and then could behave aggressively toward one of the rejecters by blasting him or her with unpleasant noise. When narcissists displayed greater dACC activation during rejection, they behaved aggressively. But there was only a weak or nonsignificant relation between narcissism and aggression among participants with a blunted dACC response. Narcissism's role in aggressive retaliation to interpersonal threats is likely determined by the extent to which the brain's discrepancy detector registers the newly created gap between the grandiose and threatened selves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-368
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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