Narcissism vs. social signalling

The main thrust of Robin Han­son’s work is that so much of hu­man be­havi­our is the re­sult of so­cial sig­nal­ling; that is, the at­tempt to con­vince oth­ers that we pos­sess good qual­ities. On the other hand, The Last Psy­chi­a­trist pre­sents nar­cis­sism as an al­ter­na­tive the­ory; that is, much of our be­havi­our is an at­tempt to con­vince our­selves that we pos­sess good qual­ities. I haven’t read enough of The Last Psy­chi­a­trist to be able to provide a good sum­mary of their ideas, so this will just be a short com­ment to raise aware­ness that an al­ter­na­tive the­ory ex­ists and to dis­cuss how these hy­pothe­ses re­late.

The sep­a­ra­tion be­tween these two the­o­ries isn’t as clear as it may first ap­pear. After all, we may at­tempt to con­vince other peo­ple of our good­ness in or­der to ul­ti­mately con­vince our­selves or we may at­tempt to con­vince our­selves of our good­ness so that we can more per­sua­sively con­vince other peo­ple. For the later, imag­ine some­one prep­ping for a job in­ter­view teach­ing when they are aware that their knowl­edge of the ma­te­rial isn’t as strong as they’d like, but be­liev­ing they might get hired if they seems con­fi­dent.

Try­ing dis­am­biguate us­ing re­vealed prefer­ences may be mis­lead­ing—some­one may spend most of their time try­ing to im­press other peo­ple, but that may sim­ply be the strat­egy they’ve adopted for con­vinc­ing them­selves that they are wor­thy and they may drop it as soon as they learn other strate­gies. Alter­na­tively, try­ing to use peo­ple’s ul­ti­mate goals to dis­am­biguate this is tricky when, ac­cord­ing to both the­o­ries, we of­ten don’t know why we do what we do. And in­deed, when we talk about ul­ti­mate goals, are we refer­ring to the ul­ti­mate goal that is rep­re­sented in the brain or are we al­lowed to refer­ence evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy rea­sons for be­havi­our? Then of course these the is­sue that most of the time, both the­o­ries will be cor­rect to a cer­tain ex­tent. I’ll ad­mit the the prac­ti­cal con­se­quences of adopt­ing one the­ory over an­other aren’t always im­me­di­ately clear, but I ex­pect that adopt­ing one model in­stead of the other would nec­es­sar­ily re­sult in some differ­ences in pre­dic­tions.