Why Do Narcissists Care So Much About Intelligence?

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Donald Trump is probably one of the more prominent narcissists in modern times, and throughout his presidency, he was always going on about how intelligent he is. He claimed to know virtually everything about, well, everything. He knew more than the generals in the military, he knew more than the scientists, and he knew more than the medical doctors. What’s more, he’s not the only narcissist who thinks that way. In fact, many narcissists believe themselves to be omniscient. Why is that? 

Appearing intelligent is important to both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists, but it’s particularly important for grandiose narcissists. This is because they view it as a critical tool for gaining benefits across various life domains. They take great pains to try to appear intelligent.  

Read on to learn more about why this is so important to people like Donald Trump, and how their efforts relate to their actual intelligence. We’ll also explore the methods they use to seem smart and whether those are successful or not. 

How Do Highly Narcissistic People Think About Intelligence?

Recent research conducted on over 1,100 highly narcissistic people examined associations between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, subjectively and objectively assessed intelligence, test-related stress, basic personality traits, well-being, and beliefs about intelligence. The objective was to assess how both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists thought and felt about intelligence as well as how that related to their actual intelligence. 

The researchers found that both forms of narcissism were not related to objective intelligence. In other words, narcissists are no more or less intelligent than other people. However, grandiose narcissism was associated with a high level of self-perceived intelligence. Because they perceived themselves to be intelligent, they did have less stress when undergoing IQ testing, but they were also less engaged in cognitive performance. 

These types of narcissists also felt that their well-being was based at least in part on their intelligence, and they definitely considered intelligence to be vital for success in various areas of life, particularly regarding social relations. 

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, did not perceive themselves as more intelligent than other people, and therefore, did have higher levels of stress when their IQ was being tested. The researchers concluded, therefore, that intellectual superiority was a very important part of  their self-concept for grandiose narcissists, and it also was important, though to a lesser degree, to vulnerable narcissists. 

Why Do Narcissistic Thoughts about Intelligence Affect Their Well-Being?

Another recent study on this subject examined two different aspects of grandiose narcissism — admiration and rivalry — to explore their relationship to objective intelligence, subjective intelligence, and intelligence-related beliefs. The researchers pointed out that grandiose narcissists are focused on attaining agentic goals such as high social status and dominance. 

They hypothesized that only the narcissistic aspect of admiration would be associated with subjective thinking about intelligence given that admiration is key to attaining high social status. Their results indicated that to be the case. Though narcissistic individuals who score high on the rivalry aspect felt intelligence was a factor that influences social status, they also believed it to be of low importance with regard to interpersonal relations. 

The researchers concluded, therefore, that intelligence is important only for those narcissists who score highly on the admiration aspect of grandiose narcissism. For those who score higher on the rivalry dimension, it is not a key factor. Because grandiose narcissists who score more highly on the admiration aspect of the personality disorder link intelligence with achieving their goals of attaining higher social status, it is an important aspect for their well-being.

While their beliefs weren’t correlated with their actual intelligence, those grandiose narcissists who scored higher on the admiration aspect both believed themselves to be more intelligent and reported higher levels of life satisfaction as a result. 

What Will Narcissists Do to Appear More Intelligent than They Really Are?

There are a number of things that narcissists will do to appear more intelligent as compared to other people and more intelligent than they really are, but as psychologist Dr. Todd Grande points out, “The irony of many of these items is that they actually make the narcissist look less intelligent.” 

They are Grammar Nazis

One of the things that narcissists will commonly do to appear smarter is correct other people’s grammar when it’s impolite and unnecessary to do so. Interestingly, the narcissist may choose between actually pointing out the error someone else made, thereby letting everyone know they are smarter, or letting the person continue to make the error because they believe everyone will see how foolish they seem. They may also let them keep making the mistake for a long period of time so they can have more ammunition at a later date to make them look bad. 

They Use Words Incorrectly

Ironically, while narcissists love to correct other people’s grammar, they are the ones who frequently use words incorrectly. This usually happens when they are trying to use some kind of technical jargon they have heard, but they really don’t understand. They certainly couldn’t admit they don’t understand, and so, they will use it in an incorrect way. 

Typically they will choose words from other fields and use them in front of people unlikely to know what the words mean. They realize that there are only a few people who would pick up on any mistakes they make, so they are willing to take the risk. They usually do this when the narcissist hears someone they respect use that word. They try to adopt it into their vocabulary, but they would never deign to ask what it means. 

They Talk About Things They Think Other People Don’t Know About

Narcissists Talk About Things They Think Other People Don’t Know About

Narcissists will also try to look smarter by talking about things they think other people don’t know much about. They feel that will give them an air of intelligence, and they have confidence they can pull it off even if they themselves don’t know much about the subject. When they are doing this, they will also work hard to steer the conversation back to the topic in question. Once they know you don’t know much about it, they will continually try to impress you. 

They Will Over-Use Words Like Logic and Reason

You might have noticed Donald Trump used the words logic and reason frequently even when many people believed was not being logical or using good reason. It’s as if they believe that if they pepper the conversation with those words, it shows that they are using those cognitive abilities. The problem is if you’re not using logic when making an argument, just saying that you are doesn’t make your argument any more logical. 

They Discount Intelligence Constructs They Don’t Possess

Many times the narcissist will discount constructs we know to be associated with intelligence if they don’t possess those particular qualities. For example, perhaps a narcissist isn’t successful, and even though success is associated to some degree with intelligence, that narcissist might discount success as only being a matter of luck. If they don’t have a degree or as high a degree as someone else, they might discount that by saying that anyone can get a piece of paper, but that doesn’t mean they’re intelligent. They might also point to other forms of intelligence like common sense as being more important. 

Final Thoughts

Grandiose narcissists in particular consider intelligence to be a key factor in attaining their agentic goals, particularly as relates to social status. Intelligence is important to vulnerable narcissists as well, but not to the degree it is for the grandiose types and particularly those grandiose narcissists who score highly on the admiration aspect of their mental disorder. 

For that reason, they will do many things to appear intelligent, though some of the things they do actually make them seem less intelligent. Some of those things they do are discussed above, but there are many other examples of how they might put you down to seem more intelligent. The truth is, however, that narcissists are no more or no less intelligent than anyone else. 

This is why narcissists value intelligence, but you definitely also want to check out this post about how intelligent people effectively deal with narcissists. It will give some useful tips on how you can deal with the narcissist in your life.


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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