Saturday, April 26, 2008

Narcissism, confidence and risk

I am very intrigued by Alex's post about Fromm's theory of collective narcissism and homebirth advocacy. There are many aspects that sound very familiar to the claims and behavior of homebirth advocates.

The individual narcissist ... practices "magical thinking"--she is omnipotent, there is nothing she is not capable of if only she sets her mind to it."

" ... the narcissist makes choices based on bogus certainty. They are mired in self-deception, believe they already know all there is to know, and are unwilling to ask sincere questions or change their views in response to new sources of information."

In researching this topic further, I came across the article Narcissism, Confidence and Risk Attitude in the Journal of Behavioral Decisionmaking, 2004:
In the simplest terms, one can think of narcissists as individuals for whom enhancing the positivity of the self (specifically, to achieve status and esteem) is overwhelmingly important... In the present research, we look at decision making as one of the domains of narcissists’ behavior that may be differentially distorted ... [W]e suspected that narcissists’ decisions may be undermined by their short-term interest in maintaining an inflated self-image. Narcissists’ grandiose self-views may preclude the realistic appraisal of one’s likelihood of success needed for successful decisions, resulting in overconfidence and risk-taking.
One aspect of homebirth advocates' narcissism is the claim of being "educated" about childbirth. Indeed, they may have done more reading and reflection than the average woman. However, the claims of "education" are absurd on their face when compared to the amount of relevant education of a doctor, nurse, or medical scientist. The narcissism of homebirth advocates precludes them from understanding the tremendous gulf between being an "educated" lay person and being actually educated on the topic of childbirth.

The claim of being "educated" is only the beginning of the homebirth advocate's over confidence and risk taking. The authors define overconfidence as: "an inflated subjective probability of a particular outcome occurring." There is nothing more emblematic of over confidence than the inane injuction to "trust" birth. There is nothing inherently trustworthy about birth, one of the leading killers of young women and children in every time, place and culture.

Regarding risk taking:
The second pitfall in narcissists' decision making may be their willingness to take risks. ... [W]hen coupled with overconfidence ... risk-taking systematically leads to losses ... What is the available evidence that narcissists take bigger risks than non-narcissists? ... They are focused on success and achievement, and display little conscious avoidance orientation or fear of failure. This greater focus on success could lead them to place bets on successful outcomes with less worry about poor performance. Also, there is empirical evidence for narcissists’ elevated reports of sensation-seeking. Research has also demonstrated a link between threatened self-esteem and risk-taking... To the extent that high self-esteem is reflected in narcissism, this result is consistent with the prediction that narcissists will display more risk-taking on tasks involving their own knowledge.
In other words, the inappropriate over confidence of homebirth advocates both in their self assessment of their own knowledge and in their beliefs about the trustworthiness of birth, lead them to minimize the risks of childbirth or to inappropriately believe that they are well prepared to manage those risks. What is truly striking, however, is the extent to which the self esteem of homebirth advocates is involved in the decision to choose homebirth. Those who choose homebirth are never humble about the choice. It is almost always accompanied by claims of knowing more or caring more. It is almost never presented as one possible choice among many, and more remarkably, the increased risk is virtually never acknowledged.


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