Given enough time, narcissists may actually finish last in a popularity contest, suggests new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Researchers recruited more than 250 Polish freshman college students to take part in a series of surveys. The students were assigned to one of 15 peer study groups, and the researchers asked them which person or group of people they most liked at the beginning of the assignment as well as three months later. The students were also asked to fill out personality tests that assessed their level of narcissism, self-esteem, and emotional intelligence. The researchers found that while people judged to be especially narcissistic achieved more popularity at first, people high in emotional intelligence steadily gained in popularity throughout the 3 month period, eventually eclipsing the latter group in the number of social connections they made with others.    

"It seems that a quieter and less needy ego, coupled with abilities to perceive, understand, use, and manage emotions, ensure better relationships in the long run," concluded the study authors.

Friends People who are especially narcissistic make friends easier at first, but emotionally intelligent people become more popular over time, finds new research. PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

The researchers theorized that narcissistic people oftentimes appear confident, bold, and charismatic, making them easily recognizable and even admired by a new group of people. But although these individuals didn’t experience a sharp drop in popularity three months later, they were less likely to build onto the friendships they had earlier established. Emotionally sturdy people, conversely, had fewer friends in the beginning, but held firm to the ones they made and slowly but surely built up their social networks. This gulf between who became popular early and later on remained even after the authors accounted for the students’ level of self-esteem.

As the researchers point out, relatively few students fit either extreme end of the spectrum. Most had a mix of both personality traits and there was no inverse correlation between the two. In other words, someone low in narcissism wasn’t necessarily very emotionally intelligent and vice-versa. There were even some people who were neither narcissistic nor emotionally intelligent, which the researchers described as “ a particularly unfortunate combination."

While that finding speaks to people’s never-ceasing complexity, it also indicates that we can choose exactly how we want to interact with others. For those angling to stay within their social circles for a long time, though, the researchers suggest that being emotionally intelligent is a much better bargain than laying on the self-importance a little too thick.

Source: Czarna A, Leifeld P, Śmieja M, et al. Do Narcissism and Emotional Intelligence Win Us Friends? Modeling Dynamics of Peer Popularity Using Inferential Network Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2016.