Using Communal Activation to Increase Relationship Enhancing Behaviors and Attitudes and Decrease Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissistic Tendencies

Doctoral Dissertation


People high on narcissistic traits tend to experience greater interpersonal difficulties than their counterparts low on narcissistic traits. These difficulties are particularly pronounced in romantic relationships. Narcissistic traits are difficult to treat, and no evidence-based treatments exist to address narcissistic personality traits in couple therapy. Furthermore, although recent advancements in the definition and diagnostic criteria for narcissism in the DSM-5, Section III have improved our understanding of narcissism, these criteria heavily favor grandiose over vulnerable traits, despite substantial evidence that documents the distinct natures of vulnerable and grandiose narcissism. In non-clinical contexts, interpersonal theory has been used to understand the extent of communal and agentic behaviors of people with narcissistic traits in their interactions with other people, and experimental research findings show that it is possible to produce relationship-enhancing attitudes in people with high levels of narcissism through communal activation (CA). The current study examined a) whether a CA manipulation in the context of viewing psychoeducational videos about healthy relationships could link narcissism and desirable interpersonal behaviors/attitudes, and unlink narcissism and undesirable interpersonal behaviors/attitudes, and b) whether the degree to which CA links and unlinks narcissism and interpersonal behaviors/attitudes is different for vulnerable versus grandiose narcissism. Results indicate that when people complete CA exercises, compared to psychoeducation only, vulnerable narcissism and desire for closeness are positively associated. However, there was also evidence that at times CA may have activated participants’ self-regulation mechanisms (e.g., withdrawal), which might explain the negative associations among vulnerable narcissism with commitment and empathy. CA in its current form appears to have little impact on people with grandiose narcissism, and it does not appear capable of producing a reduction in vulnerable or grandiose narcissistic tendencies. Recommendations for future research focus on adopting more ego-enhancing reinforcement for communal behaviors with grandiose personality disordered therapy clients as well as less personally relevant CA exercises to prevent the activation of self-regulatory coping mechanisms with vulnerable personality disordered therapy clients.


Attribute NameValues
Author Judith Biesen
Contributor David A. Smith, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Psychology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2018-06-13

Submission Date 2019-01-21
Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


Please Note: You may encounter a delay before a download begins. Large or infrequently accessed files can take several minutes to retrieve from our archival storage system.