6) The Tragedy of Narcissism

How to not be narcissistic in business

6) The Tragedy of Narcissism

Purpose statement

Narcissistic or selfish behavior is not conducive to an overall business community growth. In fact, it depletes resources and thus slows the growth of others. At Givent, we believe in abundance, and that can only happen as we become givers instead of takers.


Many of us may believe that concentrating on ourselves as the end goal in life is life’s purpose. “The person who dies with the most toys”, they say.

By contract, psychological science has collected substantial evidence that narcissism is a bankrupt way to live. They may enjoy a personal benefit, but they always cost dearly to the community.

“The tragedy of the commons was originally explained using the example of a herd grazing on common land. Grassland is a renewable resource assuming that it is not overgrazed. For example, if everyone in a community grazes five sheep on the commons, the grass will regrow in sufficient quantity that the grazing can continue year after year. The problem (i.e., tragedy) occurs when one (or more) individual decides to maximize short-term gain by grazing more than five sheep. When this happens, the individual will enjoy a short-term benefit but the com- mons will be destroyed, thus resulting in long-term cost to the group.”

Research study


In 2005, a group of researchers published in a peer-reviewed psychology journal showing that narcissists win for themselves in competitive environment but hurt the playing field for all.


The hypothesis was simple: Narcissism will be associated with depleting the commons more rapidly.


232 participants completed the study in competitive groups of four individuals. Individuals were told that they represented a forestry company whose goal was to harvest as much forest as possible. Participants were given three additional pieces of information as well. First, they were told that there were three other companies harvesting the forest at the same time. Second, they were told that they could choose to harvest 0 to 10 hectares of forest per year. Finally, they were told that there was only 200 hectares of forest and that this forest regrew by 10% after each annual harvest.

Participants were then put in an environment where they record the number of hectares they wanted to harvest on a “bid sheet.


Narcissists were successful in the short term; that is, they harvest more timber in the first round of harvesting. Across competitive groups, however, narcissists did not harvest more than nonnarcissists.

This seeming inconsistency came about because when narcissists competed, the forest was depleted more rapidly and the total amount of forest harvested by the competitive group was diminished. In all, narcissism is linked to individual gain but also to significant social costs.


Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., & Burnell, A. B. (2005). Understanding the social cost of narcissism: The case of the tragedy of the commons. Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 1358-1368



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