It is hypothesized that recent developments in narcissism theory and research which argue for overt and covert narcissism subtypes would inform the discussion of narcissistic attribution styles. A number of theorists and researchers have suggested that DSM criteria for narcissism are too narrowly drawn and miss the more covert, hypersensitive, and vulnerable aspects of narcissistic disturbances. To date, research into characteristically narcissistic attribution styles has been limited by an over-reliance on the DSM-based measure of the overt, grandiose, and exhibitionistic narcissism, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). This study differentiates between the overt and covert subtypes by including both the NPI, as a measure of overt narcissism, and the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale (HSNS), as a measure covert narcissism.
The attribution styles of low, moderate, and high overt and covert narcissism individuals are compared for hypothetical, retrospective, and prospective, positive and negative events. Results indicate that NPI-defined overt narcissism is related to self-enhancing attributions (internal, stable, and global) for positive hypothetical events. Overt narcissism is also related to defensive attributions (external, unstable, and specific) negative events. In addition, HSNS-defined covert narcissism was related to pessimistic attributions (internal, stable, and global) for negative events.
Next, participants who scored in the extremes on both overt and covert narcissism were recruited to see how combinations of overt and covert narcissism would effect attribution styles. These results indicate that the most significant differences in attribution styles are between Grandiose/Exhibitionistic (high overt/low covert) narcissism individuals who made self-enhancing attributions for positive events, and Hypersensitive/Vulnerable (low overt/high covert narcissism) individuals who made self-depreciating attributions for negative events. Individuals who scored high in both subtypes are conspicuously absent from group differences as the characteristically grandiose and vulnerable tendencies appeared to counteract each other.
The results of this study provide further construct validity for the differentiation between the more overt, grandiose and exhibitionistic subtype described in the DSM and the more covert, hypersensitive and vulnerable subtype depicted in psychoanalytic theory and clinical descriptions.