Narcissistic eyebrows?

December 14, 2018

A 2018 study by researchers Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule of the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto is “raising eyebrows” and prompting us to take another look at facial hair.

The researchers have determined that people can identify grandiose (or overt) narcissists by their distinctive eyebrows.

What exactly is grandiose narcissism? It is a flamboyant, assertive, and interpersonally dominant form of the well-known personality disorder. People with this type of narcissism have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, according to Psychology Today.

Given that grandiose narcissism is associated with aggressiveness and a tendency to exploit others, it is important to be able to identify this personality trait in others early on. But how?

Previous research has shown that narcissism can manifest itself in people’s appearance. For example, narcissists are more likely to look attractive; to groom themselves carefully; to wear clothes that are expensive, stylish, and flashy; and to have an organized and neat appearance, the report in Psychology Today explains.

Specifically,men are less likely to wear glasses. Women are apt to wear makeup, show cleavage, and pluck their eyebrows.

Previous research has concluded that people can detect grandiose narcissism even by looking at emotionally neutral faces. The present investigation—the results of which have been published in the May 2018 edition of Journal of Personality—attempted to determine what specific features of the target faces enabled people to do so.

Giacomin and Rule first examined participants’ perceptions of target faces as a whole. But participants were able to detect narcissism even in upside-down faces. The researchers then determined that the cues to identifying narcissists resided in the eye region—specifically, the eyebrows.

Using image manipulation, they confirmed their results, observing that a non-narcissist donning a narcissistic person’s brows was judged as more narcissistic, and that a narcissistic person viewed with a non-narcissist’s brows was judged as less narcissistic.

They further discovered that people considered femininity, grooming, and distinctiveness in judging the presence of narcissism in target faces. But only distinctiveness was related to accurate judgments.

Eyebrows help us express many emotions and communicate social messages—even unintentional ones. As Giacomin and Rule observe, brows “provide high-contrast lines that can reveal involuntary expressions or gestures from far away.” Among the factors that make eyebrows distinctive are their thickness and density, the researchers said.

In addition, brows can help us recognize faces, according to the Psychology Today report. For example, in one study, researchers found that the absence of eyebrows in familiar faces, such as celebrity faces, negatively impacted recognition.

Eyebrows may be particularly important to people high on the personality trait of grandiose narcissism. Why? Because they have a strong desire for admiration and recognition and, as a result, might “seek to maintain distinct eyebrows to facilitate others’ ability to notice, recognize, and remember them; thereby increasing their likability and reinforcing their overly positive self-views.”1

Finally, the eyebrows are often an unrecognized factor in mate selection. Giacomin and Rule posit that narcissists are very competitive and often successful in mate selection (mainly when it comes to acquiring short-term sexual partners)—and that their eyebrows could “signal this prowess to others.”

Research contact: miranda.giacomin@utoronto.ca

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