A new study has pointed out that college students with narcissistic character traits have a tendency to cheat on exams and assignments.
The results suggested that narcissists were motivated to cheat because their academic performance functions as an opportunity to show off to others, and they didn't feel particularly guilty about their actions.
"Narcissists really want to be admired by others, and you look good in college if you're getting good grades. They also tend to feel less guilt, so they don't mind cheating their way to the top," said Amy Brunell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Newark.
Narcissism is a trait in which people are self-centered, exaggerate their talents and abilities and lack empathy for others, Brunell said.
"Narcissists feel the need to maintain a positive self-image and they will sometimes set aside ethical concerns to get what they want."
The study involved 199 college students. They completed a scale that measured narcissism by choosing statements that best described them. For example, they could choose between "I am not better or no worse than most people" or "I think I am a special person."
The researchers also measured the participants' levels of self-esteem.
Students then completed a measure that examined how much guilt they would feel if they cheated under certain circumstances, or how much guilt they felt a typical student would feel under those same conditions.
Finally, the students indicated how often they had cheated on exams and assignments during the past year, and reported their grade point averages, gender and age.
While it was not surprising that narcissism was linked to cheating, Brunell said it was interesting what dimension of narcissism seemed to have the greatest impact.
"We found that one of the more harmless parts of narcissism-exhibitionism-is most associated with academic cheating, which is somewhat surprising," she said.
Exhibitionism is the desire to show off, to make yourself the center of attention.
The two other dimensions of narcissism-the desire for power and the belief you are a special person-were not as strongly linked to academic dishonesty.
"You would think that the belief that you are a special person and that you can do what you want would be associated with cheating," Brunell said. "But instead, we're finding that it is the desire to show off that really seems to drive cheating."
The study appears online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences and will be published in an upcoming print edition.