Research & Insights

How To Make Narcissists Think Green Is The New Black

In a society where money, individualism, and fame are symbols of success and status, it’s no surprise that the numbers of narcissists among us are growing. And while that could be a problem for environmental communicators trying to convince people that excessive, self-indulgent consumption is harmful, it’s possible to leverage those traits to get narcissists to behave in more sustainable ways.

In a paper published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Macro Marketing, “I Support Sustainability But Only When Doing So Reflects Fabulously on Me: Can Green Narcissists Be Cultivated,” researchers Iman Naderi and David Strutton discuss strategies they tested that have the potential to encourage people who “spend excessive efforts making themselves look and feel positive, special, successful” to engage in more environmentally friendly consumer behavior.”

Naderi and Strutton suggest that to motivate narcissists to shift their purchasing behavior, environmental communicators need to devise strategies that focus on the following:

Narcissists were significantly more likely than non-narcissists to buy “green” when the probability of being seen and “admired” by others was relatively high, as is the case with very visible green products.

Narcissists are motivated to “impress a proximate audience by demonstrating socially desirable actions. More precisely, narcissists choose green alternatives more often in more public purchase contexts than in private settings….Even when product visibility is low, more visible channels facilitated greater signaling and pro-environmental behavior among narcissists.

Context is important. … And context sometimes can be managed if not outright controlled.”

Peer pressure
“Narcissists’ responses to more environmentally friendly products is heavily influenced by how other people evaluate such products, and consequently, individuals owning and using environmentally friendly products..”

Status symbol
Narcissistic consumer segments may regard pro- environmental behaviors as opportunities to “flaunt financial assets or valuable resources and signal an ability to incur the higher costs associated with “going green.”

Naderi and Strutton suggest that “as a direct consequence of normal narcissists’ propensity to engage, as expected, in highly self-absorbed consumption behavior environmental communicators need to create strategies that play to those traits. “But for that to happen, environmental interest groups would have to more judiciously promote, price, distribute, and otherwise position green offerings or ideas to precisely targeted consumers who have been identified as normally narcissistic.”

Journal of Macro Marketing, December 2013

Iman Naderi, Fairfield University
David Strutton, University of North Texas

Posted: August 7, 2014
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