Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.
The term was first coined by therapist and survivor Pete Walker, who wrote about it in his groundbreaking book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” And let me tell you, as a concept, it thoroughly changed the game for me.
In a nutshell, “fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to diffuse conflict, feel more secure in relationships, and earn the approval of others.
It’s a maladaptive way of creating safety in our connections with others by essentially mirroring the imagined expectations and desires of other people.
Often times, it stems from traumatic experiences early on in life, as I described in last month’s article.
It resonated with so many you, and since then, I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to recognize this type of response in ourselves, particularly in our day-to-day interactions.
I can only speak from personal experience, but there are a number of commonalities among “fawn” types that I think are worth noting.
I’m going to share seven struggles that a lot of us seem to experience as people-pleasers. If it sounds familiar, you, my friend, probably know a thing or two about fawning.
1. YOU STRUGGLE TO FEEL ‘SEEN’ BY OTHERS.
If you’re a fawn type, you’re likely very focused on showing up in in a way that makes those around you feel comfortable, and in more toxic relationships, to avoid conflict.
But the downside to this is that you’re not necessarily being your most authentic self. The more you fawn and appease others, the more likely you are to feel unknown to others, even in your close relationships.
If no one sees your authentic self, it can lead to feelings of being misunderstood, and even resenting the fact that no one really “sees” you.
The painful irony is that often times, you’re the one obscuring their ability to see you in the first place.
2. YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SAY ‘NO’ TO PEOPLE.
Fawn types are almost always stretched thin. This is because we’re so eager to make others happy, we blurt out “of course!” and “yes!” before it even occurs to us to say “I can’t right now” or “no thanks.”
Your catchphrase might even be something like “it’s no trouble at all, really!”
Meanwhile, you’re silently dreading the mountain of favors you’ve signed up for — a list that only seems to get longer as the day wears on.
You’ve got a love/hate relationship with being helpful, and no matter how many times you try to break up with the word “yes,” saying “no” just doesn’t come naturally to you.
3. YOU’RE EITHER SPEWING EMOTIONS OUT OF NOWHERE OR UNLOADING THEM ONTO DISTANT STRANGERS.
This might seem paradoxical, but it’s not, if you really think about it.
You want to make those closest to you happy, which means you’re reluctant to open up when you’re struggling — so you only do so when you’re on the brink of totally breaking down, because you’ve held it all in for far too long.
On the other hand, distance makes it easier to have feelings, too.
Which is why people we’ve just met can suddenly become as intimate as a best friend in a single conversation (and why I became a blogger, let’s be real).
A kind stranger in a bar? Sure, I’ll tell you all about my trauma. Oh, here’s a Twitter thread about the worst thing that ever happened to me. Here’s a frightening Facebook SOS— I mean, status.
We need an outlet for our emotions, but having emotions can be sooo off-putting, right? So we unload them onto people we aren’t yet invested in, that we won’t see again, or where a safe distance (like on social media) is in place.
That way, if someone bails on us for being messy or “too much” — otherwise known as being human — it stings less, and the stakes don’t feel as high.
4. YOU FEEL GUILTY WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY AT OTHER PEOPLE.
You might make a lot of excuses for the lousy behavior of other people, defaulting to self-blame. You might get angry, only to feel like an Actual Monster for having feelings at all five minutes later. You might even feel like you’re not “allowed” to be upset with other people.
I did this just recently when I was almost hit by a car, and immediately went to a place of wondering if I’d simply misunderstood what happened.
It’s pretty hard to “misunderstand” someone hitting the gas pedal when you’re crossing in front of their car, but I was convinced that somehow, some way, it had to be my fault.
If you struggle to get mad at people, opting instead to blame yourself or justify someone’s cruddy behavior, you’re actually fawning — because you’re pushing your feelings down, and rewriting the story, all in an effort to appease the other person involved.
5. YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS.
Whenever I recommend a restaurant or a book to someone, there’s a moment or two of intense panic. “What if they hate it?” I wonder. “What if it’s not as good as I remember?”
Sometimes I just let other people make decisions on where we go and what we do together, because if something goes awry, it won’t be because I “failed” to make a good choice.
I once felt guilty because a friend of mine spent thirty minutes looking for parking near the cafe I chose to meet them at. As if I somehow control whether or not a parking space is available.
It’s a little nuts if you think about it, right? Because you can’t arrange someone else’s tastebuds, magically know their book preferences, or anticipate whether or not that art exhibit you want to see is actually worth going to.
Yet I take a ridiculous amount of responsibility for whether or not people are having a good time — so much so that I forget that I’m supposed to be enjoying myself, too.
This is just another sneaky manifestation of the “fawn” response in action (and a dash of codependency added in there, for good measure).
We’re trying to anticipate someone else’s happiness, because deep down, we feel responsible for it — and are trying everything in our power to ensure that the people we care about aren’t disappointed.
6. YOU FIND YOURSELF COMPROMISING YOUR VALUES.
This can be difficult to notice at first. You might think of yourself as being agreeable, good at compromise, easy to get along with. But if you pay attention to the conversations you’re having, you might notice you’re a little too agreeable — to the point of validating viewpoints that you don’t really, fully agree with.
Sometimes it’s benign things, like saying you don’t have a preference for where you get dinner when you actually do. Other times it’s a deeper issue, like validating a perspective or behavior that you don’t agree with.
“Sure, the sexism in that movie really only bothered me a little bit, but you’re so right, the cinematography was top-notch.” “Oh yeah, she probably isn’t being a good friend to you, I can see why you sent that angry text.”
If you find yourself sitting on the fence as not to upset anyone, you’re likely fawning to some degree — and it might be time to self-reflect on whether or not you feel okay continuing to do so.
7. YOU SOMETIMES DISSOCIATE IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS.
Fawning often requires that we shut down emotionally. The less we have distinct feelings of our own, the easier it is to adapt to and accommodate the emotions of other people.
Sometimes this can lead to dissociating, where we disconnect emotionally. This can show up as daydreaming, spacing out, withdrawing, or even “going blank” when we’re overwhelmed in social situations.
This is also why fawn types can relate so much to other trauma responses, like flight or freeze.
If we feel that “fawning” is failing us in an argument, that it won’t work with a particular person, or that we just don’t know how to please someone, we might check out emotionally, or rely on other “escapist” mechanisms so that we no longer have to engage.
We’re more prone to anything that involves dissociation because we’re already distancing ourselves from our own emotions for the sake of others.
I think I need to put “Fawning Isn’t Fun” on a t-shirt or something, because it’s true: It sucks.
It can be painful to constantly silence yourself and push your emotions away, all while working overtime to anticipate the emotions of other people.
A number of people have asked of fawning, “Isn’t this manipulative?” But I think that misses the point. It’s disempowering, it stems from pain, and guilt is simply not an effective way of motivating people to unpack their trauma and show up differently for the people they care about.
But hopefully, if you start by noticing these patterns in your life, and have the opportunity to work with an awesome therapist, you can begin to reorient yourself toward a more authentic, fulfilling way of connecting with others.
LOOKING FOR MORE?
If you’re looking for more about fawning and how to challenge it, in addition to reading Pete’s book and the articles I’ve published around this, I also put together a zine for my patrons on Patreon that offers some actionable advice!
The zine includes writing prompts and guidance on how to notice this mechanism as it relates to your own life. And it’s really pretty, so if you’re a design nerd like me, you’ll probably appreciate it.
A lot of you have asked if you could chip in to support my work. Supporting me on Patreon is the best way to ensure that I can keep creating free mental health resources, so hop on over if you’re interested!
Either way, please know that I’m right there with you in this messy, complicated journey. It does get easier, though — I can promise you that.
And for what it’s worth, I’m proud of every one of you for taking steps to show up differently. It’s tough work, but you deserve to feel whole and seen in every relationship you have.
You work so hard to offer that compassion to others — why not offer that to yourself?
Sam Dylan Finch is the blogger behind Let’s Queer Things Up!, where he writes about mental health, body positivity, and LGBTQ+ identity. He’s also the Editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline.
If you want to read a book that will change your perspective, enlightenment now is the book for you. Even if you’re a skeptic, not believing that the world is actually getting better contrary to what the news tells us, you should read it. If it just is to argue about what he writes, that’s good too. We need good discussions, and the book gives you plenty of examples to impress others with. It’s so packed with new information that I used months reading it, just to digest everything before I continued with it. The trip to this surprising world, so much better than I though, was refreshing and showered me with hope and inspiration. Still not convinced? Why not check it out yourself ?
Ever encountered something so vast, so beautiful, so intense, that your mind struggled to comprehend it? There’s a word for that, and multiple studies have concluded that it’s very good for your health. It’s the experience of awe.
Psychologists describe awe as those feelings we get when we’re touched by the beauty of nature, art, music, thinking about inspiring people, or having a spiritual breakthrough that is so indescribable, it leaves us, well…in awe.
What it does to your brain
Researchers are saying is that we need to experience more awe in life because it boosts happiness and eliminates things like depression and other autoimmune diseases.
UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, Ph.D, co-author of an awe study, says in Greater Good that experiencing the emotion of awe–“a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art–has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that inducing awe increased ethical decision-making, generosity, and prosocial values. Just by standing in a grove of towering trees “enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement” among participants. In other words, it made people kinder!
It’s good for the workplace too
If you’re not getting enough hours to get more things done, take note. A study published in Psychological Science found that awe leads to feeling like you have more time available. It also brings you into the present moment, makes you less impatient with co-workers and clients, and helps you to influence your decisions.
More research found that inducing awe at work results in people cooperating, building community, sharing resources, and sacrificing for each other–all altruistic traits of a productive and supportive work setting.
With technology ruling our lives 24/7, with so much of our attention being fixated on our devices, and with so much of our time being spent indoors at work, we are quickly becoming awe-deprived.
Conversely, we are seeing a growing trend known as “walk and talk” — meetings that take place during a walk outdoors instead of generic indoor settings where meetings are commonly held.
Research has found that the mere act of walking actually increases the likelihood of creative thinking, making walking meetings even more effective while increasing the possibility of inducing awe. Other evidence finds that walking meetings lead to more honesty at work and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.
Consider taking an “Awe Walk.” Keltner describes it as a “walk within a place of meaning and beauty, where your sole task is to encounter something that amazes and transcends, be it big or small.”
Keltner says you can take an Awe Walk day or night, in rural and urban settings. Here are the steps he goes through during his Awe Walk.
Take a deep breath in. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Keep doing it throughout the other steps.
Feel your feet on the ground and listen to the surrounding sounds.
Shift your awareness now so that you are open to what is around you, to things that are vast, unexpected, things that surprise, and delight.
Let your attention be open in exploration for what inspires awe — the sights and sounds, big or small, all around you.
Bring your attention back to the breath. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Coming out of these experiences of awe, we often feel a sense of wonder.
As you move through your day, states Keltner, take note of the moments that bring you wonder, that give you goosebumps: These are your opportunities for awe.
Bringing It home
We are depleting ourselves of the awe-some (yes, I said it) opportunity to experience the wonders and beauty of the natural world, or the wonders and beauty of human interactions that bring value to the workplace. Organizations of every stripe are in a key position to seek out and create the environment for these experiences to take place — the kind that, they’ll find, surprisingly, will lead to productive outcomes.
This is my third day in Japan, and I have already seen and experienced so much! High buildings that tickle my aesthetic sense, people so different from Norwegians (they are so respectful of others, in a way that both amazes me and scares me. When are they allowed to just be themselves?) and tasting food I never thought would enter my digestive track. Today we first went to the imperial palace, and it was fascinating. Right next to the park where skyscrapers, and the contrast of old vs new appealed to me. It was very warm, though, so when we had wandered through it we almost called it a day and went home. But I found the guide-book and I was mystically drawn to an area of Tokyo called Odaiba. It took an hour to get there, and right there and then it seemed like an ordeal to find our way on the busy metro, but when I saw that museum of nature and science was in Odaiba too, me and my brother decided to got there.
I have rarely been so glad that I conquered skepticism before. The museum was amazing! From the start, when I read the introduction to the museum, I was energized. We could see a drawing on the floor that showed ways science can develop. I do not remember all the paths to enlightenment, but coincidences and integration through the exchange of information were two of them. It felt like somebody GOT me, and I knew this was the place to be. I was so touched that I almost started crying, filled with awe. Here was a place full of knowledge and desire to educate visitors.
I liked it that all the exhibits had a question at the end. “What would you do if you could help improve the climate?”. There were many challenges to think about. This was especially relevant when it came to the presentation of robots. On the one hand, the importance of robots and the technology that follows was highlighted, but it also encourages us to think about ethical issues on the other hand.
At four o’clock we sat down with others to see a real robot. I got goosebumps . It seemed as though I had the future right in front of me, that a curtain had been drawn that showed tomorrow in all its splendor. Perhaps that’s how it felt for those who sat in front of the television before the first moon landing? I realized how many opportunities we have. I realized how different it is to actually see the manifestation of something I have only read about before. Seeing robots that resemble people and talk like them was excruciatingly exciting. I was not the one who was fascinated and moved. I saw a little girl next to her mother who was “talking” with one real robot. First she cried, because it must have been uncomfortable to see something so alike a human being, that wasn`t quite like one. After a while, she became more curious, and calmed down when the mother continued as if everything was normal. I thought: These children, they are building our future. They have already taken the step into the future and might therefore accept it with open arms. I hope their enthusiasm also contains a dose of skepticism. Robots with consciousness are potentially dangerous. When I saw the robot who could kick a ball and jump on one leg, I imagined a fraction of a second, how scare it could be if they started to “think” for themselves and wanted nothing to do with the stupidity of our human race. Like everything else in life: one should hurry slowly. Most things can be used both for positive things and negative. This is a good example of nuclear power.
The world is a fascinating place, and every day we are getting closer to advancing into a world very different than how it is now. Education is the key to build a peaceful world, where we use technology for the benefit of humankind.
When I wrote a paper to become a specialist in clinical psychology, I focused on EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and the brain. When I woke up today I was inspired to learn even more, and maybe try to do more research the coming years. To summarize my paper, I tested a woman with neuropsychological test before and after treatment with EMDR to see if there were any changes in the test results. The result showed that her memory scores became better after EMDR. To educate myself further, I started to read an article today about trauma and the brain, where EMDR was one of the treatment methods mentioned. I want to share the most interesting part of the article, here.
Decades ago, Harry Harlow compared monkeys raised with their mothers to monkeys raised with wire or terrycloth “surrogate mothers.” Monkeys raised with the surrogates became socially deviant and highly aggressive adults. Building on this work, other scientists discovered that these consequences were less severe if the surrogate mother swung from side to side, a type of movement that may be conveyed to the cerebellum, particularly the part called the cerebellar vermis, located at the back of the brain, just above the brain stem. Like the hippocampus, this part of the brain develops gradually and continues to create new neurons after birth. It also has an extraordinarily high density of receptors for stress hormone, so exposure to such hormones can markedly affect its development. Something as seemingly inconsequential as five minutes of human handling during a rat’s infancy produced lifelong beneficial changes. New research suggests that abnormalities in the cerebellar vermis may be involved in psychiatric disorders including depression, manic-depressive illness, schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. We have gone from thinking of the entire cerebellum as involved only in motor coordination to believing that it plays an important role in regulating attention and emotion. The cerebellar vermis, in particular, seems to be involved in the control of epilepsy or limbic activation. Couldn’t maltreating children produce abnormalities in the cerebellar vermis that contribute to later psychiatric symptoms? Testing this hypothesis, we found that the vermis seems to become activated to control— and quell—electrical irritability in the limbic system. It appears less able to do this in people who have been abused. If, indeed, the vermis is important not only for postural, attentional, and emotional balance, but in compensating for and regulating emotional instability, this latter capacity may be impaired by early trauma. By contrast, stimulation of the vermis through exercise, rocking, and movement may exert additional calming effects, helping to develop the vermis.
A powerful new tool for treating PTSD is eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which seems to quell flashbacks and intrusive memories. A moving visual stimulus is used to produce side-to-side eye movements while a clinician guides the patient through recalling highly disturbing memories. For reasons we do not yet fully understand, patients seem able to tolerate recall during these eye movements and can more effectively integrate and process their disturbing memories. We suspect that this technique works by fostering hemispheric (Reprint from www.dana.org a non-profit dedicated to brain research) integration and activating the cerebellar vermis (which also coordinates eye movements), which in turn soothes the patient’s intense limbic response to the memories.
You find the rest of the article by following this link:
I normally don`t ask my readers to share any of my posts. But I would be very grateful if you consider this one. I find this article fascinating, and even if I haven`t completely figured out what it means, I think it will broaden your mind and maybe inspire you to get out there and explore the world.
This is a reblog of an article published in The Guardian that I was made aware of by my friend Monty. It fits nicely to what I have been thinking about myself recently. I won`t start theorizing here, but before you read the article, feel free to read this or this post if you are interested To briefly sum it up: After reading “Smashing Physics” by J. Butterworth, I feel the answers we are searching for closing in. The universe is still a mystery, but research is increasing rapidly. The more we know, the easier it becomes to understand the universe. In my gut I know this will lead to us surviving as a human species; We will be able to apply the science in myriad of ways. Sometimes it feels like we are at the brink of extinction, but I stubbornly refuse to be that dogmatic. To prevent us from destroying ourselves, you must do your part. The best thing is; Doing your part is easy: You must search for your purpose in life. If you do, the universe will give you what you need.
Physicists have announced the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.
“We have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” said David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), at a press conference in Washington.
The announcement is the climax of a century of speculation, 50 years of trial and error, and 25 years perfecting a set of instruments so sensitive they could identify a distortion in spacetime a thousandth the diameter of one atomic nucleus across a 4km strip of laserbeam and mirror.
The phenomenon detected was the collision of two black holes. Using the world’s most sophisticated detector, the scientists listened for 20 thousandths of a second as the two giant black holes, one 35 times the mass of the sun, the other slightly smaller, circled around each other.
At the beginning of the signal, their calculations told them how stars perish: the two objects had begun by circling each other 30 times a second. By the end of the 20 millisecond snatch of data, the two had accelerated to 250 times a second before the final collision and a dark, violent merger.
The observation signals the opening of a new window onto the universe.
Why discovering gravitational waves changes everything
“This is transformational,” said Prof Alberto Vecchio, of the University of Birmingham, and one of the researchers at Ligo. “We have observed the universe through light so far. But we can only see part of what happens in the universe. Gravitational waves carry completely different information about phenomena in the universe. So we have opened a new way of listening to a broadcasting channel which will allow us to discover phenomena we have never seen before,” he said.
“This observation is truly incredible science and marks three milestones for physics: the direct detection of gravitational waves, the first detection of a binary black hole, and the most convincing evidence to date that nature’s black holes are the objects predicted by Einstein’s theory.”
The scientists detected their cataclysmic event using an instrument so sensitive it could detect a change in the distance between the solar system and the nearest star four light years away to the thickness of a human hair.
And they did so within weeks of turning on their new, upgraded instrument: it took just 20 milliseconds to catch the merger of two black holes, at a distance of 1.3 billion light years, somewhere beyond the Large Magellanic Cloud in the southern hemisphere sky, but it then took months of meticulous checking of the signal against all the complex computer simulations of black hole collision to make sure the evidence matched the theoretical template.
The detector was switched off in January for a further upgrade: astronomers still have to decipher months of material collected in the interval. But – given half a century of frustration in the search for gravitational waves – what they found exceeded expectation: suddenly, in the mutual collapse of two black holes, they could eavesdrop on the violence of the universe.
Prof B S Sathyaprakash, from Cardiff University’s school of physics and astronomy said “The shock would have released more energy than the light from all the stars in the universe for that brief instant. The fusion of two black holes which created this event had been predicted but never observed.”
The finding completed the scientific arc of prediction, discovery and confirmation: first they calculated what they should be able to detect, then decided what the evidence should look like, and then devised the experiment that clinched the matter. Which is why on Thursday scientists around the world were able to hail the announcement as yet another confirmation of their “standard model” of the cosmos, and the beginning of a new era of discovery.
Astronomers have already exploited visible light, the infrared and ultraviolet, radio waves, x-rays and even gamma-rays in their attempt to understand the mechanics of stars, the evolution of the galaxies and the expansion of the universe from an initial big bang 13.8bn years ago.
Thursday’s announcement was the unequivocal first detection ever of gravity waves. The hope is that gravity wave astronomy could start to answer questions not just about the life of stars but their deaths as well: death by collision, death in a black hole, death in some rare stellar catastrophe so fierce that, for a few thousandths of a second, the blast is the brightest thing in the universe.
Even before the Ligo detectors in two US states reopened for business late last year, researchers were confident that a detection would follow swiftly. The announcement came after months of speculation, and decades of theoretical and practical work by an international network of more than a thousand scientists and engineers in Britain, Europe, the US and around the world.
Professor Kip Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology, and one of the founding fathers of Ligo, said that until now, astronomers had looked at the universe as if on a calm sea. All of that had changed.
“The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time, a storm in which time speeded up and slowed down, and speeded up again, a storm in which the shape of space was bent in this way and that way,” he said.
Prof Neil Turok, director the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at Waterloo in Canada, and a former research colleague of Prof Stephen Hawking, called the discovery “the real deal, one of those breakthrough moments in science”.
The discovery, he said, completes a scientific arc of wonder that began 200 years ago, when the great British scientist Michael Faraday began to puzzle about how action was transmitted across the distance of space; how the sun pulled the Earth around. If the sun moved 10 yards, very suddenly, would the Earth feel the difference?
He reasoned that something must cross space to transmit the force of gravity. Faraday’s reasoning inspired the great British mathematician James Clerk Maxwell to think about how an electric force travelled, and arrive at an understanding of light and a prediction of radio waves.
“Einstein, when he came to write down his theory of gravity, his two heroes were Faraday and Maxwell,” said Turok. “He tried to write down laws of the gravitational field and he wasn’t in the least surprised to discover that his predictions had waves, gravitational waves. The Ligo discovery signals a new era in astronomy, he said.
“Just think of radio waves, when radio waves were discovered we learned to communicate with them. Mobile communication is entirely reliant on radio waves. For astronomy, radio observations have probably told us more than anything else about the structure of the universe. Now we have gravitational waves we are going to have a whole new picture of the universe, of the stuff that doesn’t emit light – dark matter, black holes,” he said.
“For me the most exciting thing is we will literally be able to see the big bang. Using electromagnetic waves we cannot see further back than 400,000 years after the big bang. The early universe was opaque to light. It is not opaque to gravitational waves. It is completely transparent.
“So literally, by gathering gravitational waves we will be able to see exactly what happened at the initial singularity. The weirdest and wonderful prediction of Einstein’s theory was that everything came out of a single event: the big bang singularity. And we will be able to see what happened.”
• The headline to this article was amended on 12 February 2016. An earlier version said the discovery was a breakthrough after two centuries of expectation. This has been corrected.
A Norwegian study of twins expands the role of genetics in the development of a personality disorder, yet cautions that expression of a disorder depends on a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
In the study, experts posited that avoidant and dependent personality disorders are characterized by anxious or fearful traits.
People with avoidant personality disorder are often anxious in the company of others and prefer to be alone. On the other hand, people with dependent personality disorder feel more secure in the company of others and tend to need other people for decision-making and excessive support.
Prior studies have suggested that genetic factors explain about one-third of the individual differences in these personality disorder traits, while the remaining variation is best explained by environmental influences.
However, the study format used by earlier researchers was a single-occasion interview. In the new study, researchers used two different measures of assessment at two different time-points in order to better measure personality disorders traits.
In 1998, researchers coordinated testing of 8,045 young adult twins using a questionnaire that included questions about personality disorder traits. Some years later, 2794 of these twins took part in a structured diagnostic interview.
Both identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic) twins participated. Identical twins share 100 percent of their genetic material, while fraternal twins share on average 50 percent — meaning they are genetically similar to other siblings.
Researchers then compared how similar the two types of twin pairs were on a particular trait. As such, the variation between individuals was calculated and assigned to either a genetic or environmental source.
The researchers found that two-thirds of the variation in avoidant and dependent personality disorder traits could be explained by genes and that the most important environmental influences were those unique to each twin. The environmental influences can be any factor(s) that contribute to the twins in a pair being different, e.g. the influence of different friends, teachers, activities or various life events.
Researchers state that it is important to emphasize that the term heritability does not refer to individuals per se.
Heritability is a statistic that relates to the population as a whole, and is expressed as a proportion of how much the total variation in a trait, such as personality disorders, is influenced by genes.
By using two different assessment techniques at different times, researchers were better able to estimate the role of heritability than in studies that measure personality disorder once and with one instrument only.
The dual method applied in the current study allowed researchers to capture the core of these personality disorder traits and not random effects, or effects specific to a certain time point or method of assessment, said Ph.D. student and first author of the study Line C. Gjerde.
The key finding that genes are so influential in the development of personality disorders emphasizes the importance of obtaining a thorough family history from patients with symptoms of such disorders.
However, this does not mean that personality disorders are not treatable. Gjerde emphasizes that the strong genetic influence found in the study does not imply any form of determinism or prediction of disease development. That is, if a person has a family history of personality disorders, this does not necessarily mean that he or she will develop a personality disorder.
Whether or not a genetic vulnerability leads to the expression of a certain trait or disorder depends on a complex interplay of both genetic and environmental factors.
Ohio State researchers believe they have developed and validated a new method to identify which people are narcissistic.
And, the beauty is that the tool is only a single question.
In a series of 11 experiments involving more than 2,200 people of all ages, the researchers found they could reliably identify narcissistic people by asking them this exact question (including the note):
To what extent do you agree with this statement: “I am a narcissist.” (Note: The word “narcissist” means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)
Participants rated themselves on a scale of one (not very true of me) to seven (very true of me).
Results showed that people’s answer to this question lined up very closely with several other validated measures of narcissism, including the widely used Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI).
The difference is that this new survey — which the researchers call the Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) — has one question, while the NPI has 40 questions to answer.
“People who are willing to admit they are more narcissistic than others probably actually are more narcissistic,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
“People who are narcissists are almost proud of the fact. You can ask them directly because they don’t see narcissism as a negative quality — they believe they are superior to other people and are fine with saying that publicly.”
Bushman conducted the study with Sara Konrath of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (formerly of the University of Michigan) and Brian Meier of Gettysburg College.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Understanding narcissism has many implications for society that extend beyond the impact on the individual narcissist’s life,” Konrath said.
“For example, narcissistic people have low empathy, and empathy is one key motivator of philanthropic behavior such as donating money or time to organizations.”
“Overall, narcissism is problematic for both individuals and society. Those who think they are already great don’t try to improve themselves,” Bushman said.
“And narcissism is bad for society because people who are only thinking of themselves and their own interests are less helpful to others.”
Bushman emphasized that the one question tool (SINS) shouldn’t be seen a replacement for the longer narcissism questionnaires (NPI, etc) as other instruments can provide more information to researchers, such as which form of narcissism someone has.
“But our single-item scale can be useful for long surveys in which researchers are concerned about people getting fatigued or distracted while answering questions and possibly even dropping out before they are done,” Bushman said.
He noted that if it takes a person 20 seconds to answer the single question in the SINS measure, it would take him or her 13.3 minutes to answer the 40-question NPI.
“That is a big difference if you’re doing a study in which participants have to complete several different survey instruments and answer a long list of other questions,” he said.
The 11 different experiments took a number of different approaches to determine the validity of SINS. Some used undergraduate college students, while others involved online panels of American adults.
One experiment found that SINS was positively related to each of the seven subscales of the NPI which measure various components of narcissism (vanity, exhibitionism, exploitativeness, authority, superiority, self-sufficiency, and entitlement).
Another study found that that participants tended to have similar scores on SINS when tested 11 days apart.
One experiment replicated past work that showed people scoring high in narcissism were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and had difficulty maintaining long-term committed romantic relationships.
“People who scored higher on narcissism on the SINS had both positive and negative outcomes,” Bushman said. They reported more positive feelings, more extraversion, and marginally less depression.
But they also reported less agreeableness, and more anger, shame, guilt, and fear. In addition, people scoring high on SINS showed negative interpersonal outcomes, such as having poor relationships with others and less prosocial behavior when their ego was threatened.
“The advantage of SINS compared to other measures,” Bushman said, “is that it allows researchers to identify narcissists very easily.”
“We don’t think SINS is a replacement for other narcissism inventories in all situations, but it has a time and place,” he said.