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Putting self at stake by telling a story: Storyteller’s narcissistic traits modulate physiological emotional reactions to recipient’s disengagement
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  • Emmi Koskinen,
  • Pentti Henttonen,
  • Ville Harjunen,
  • Elizabeth Krusemark,
  • Matias Piispanen,
  • Liisa Voutilainen,
  • Mariel Wuolio,
  • Anssi Peräkylä
Emmi Koskinen
University of Helsinki

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Pentti Henttonen
University of Helsinki
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Ville Harjunen
University of Helsinki
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Elizabeth Krusemark
Millsaps College
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Matias Piispanen
Aalto University
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Liisa Voutilainen
University of Helsinki
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Mariel Wuolio
University of Helsinki
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Anssi Peräkylä
University of Helsinki
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Abstract

Telling a story to a disengaged recipient induces stress and threatens positive self-image. In this study we investigated whether grandiose and vulnerable narcissism associated with overly positive and fragile self-image increase storytellers’ behavioral, emotional, and psychophysiological reactivity to recipient’s disengagement. Building on Bavelas, Coates, and Johnson (2000), we conducted a conversational experiment instructing the participants to tell about a “close call” experience to a previously unknown co-participant. We modified co-participant’s level of interactional engagement by asking them either to listen to the story carefully or to simultaneously carry out a counting task that distracted them from the content of the story. We found that the distraction condition was unrelated to the storytellers’ narration performance, but a significant positive association was found between the story-recipients’ observed lack of affiliation and the tellers’ narration performance. The distraction of recipient was also associated with increased self-reported arousal in the tellers, indicating disengagement-induced stress in the tellers. Moreover, tellers higher in grandiose narcissism reacted with higher skin conductance response to disengagement, and vulnerable narcissism was associated with higher heart rate during narration in general. Our experiment thus showed that grandiose narcissists are emotionally sensitive to their co-participants’ disengagement.