Critique of Psychological Entitlement: Interpersonal Consequences and Validation of a Self-Report Measure
Interpersonal Consequences and Validation of a Self-Report Measure
(Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, & Bushman, 2004)
Considering psychological entitlement (PE) as a separate entity outside of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Dr’s Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, and Bushman (2004) developed a brief personal inventory scale called the Psychological Entitlement Scale (PES). The researchers sought to determine indicators in which PE may be displayed prominently in individuals who have a belief that they are more deserving than other members of their society while not displaying all the characteristics of NPD. In their research article they conducted nine separate studies in order to validate both their contention that psychological entitlement should be considered a separate entity, and to validate their own personality scale, the PES, on independent merits outside of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) which has been extensively researched. This critique will concentrate efforts on Study 9, which utilized a 2x2 Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) in order to validate aggressive behavior in individuals who tested high for PE.
Journal Article Critique – Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
The authors’ abstract and introduction are written with the layman in mind, keeping statistical input until further in their article. I found this to create an inviting feeling which inspired me to continue reading beyond the first paragraphs. The purpose of the research and the parameters and variables that would be used as secondary sources of validating the function of the PES were linked in the abstract and introduction. The primary source of data is the PES and NPI. Additional parameters and variables include essay writing by the participants of each study, reaction to negative criticism, relationship behavior, and taking candy intended for children, to name a few. Each action by the participants was recorded in order to make determinations as to whether the PES can be used as a valid measure of psychological entitlement. They were thorough in their introduction in that they are able to immediately attract the reader with interesting generalizations and familiar behaviors or events such as social welfare and tax breaks to expectations of special privilege. They mention that social and economic status does not seem to indicate differentiation in the feelings of entitlement. I found it intriguing that psychologists are not more interested in this relatively new influx (seemingly the past four decades) of entitlement behavior as a unique and independent dimension of personality in as much as the mainstream media is continuously reporting on it (Campbell, et al., 2004).
Study 9 is the dominant study in this critique as they utilized ANOVA/ANCOVA in order to perform their tests. Other studies within the article are worthy of mention because of their intent to validate the PES as a stand-alone scale for PE. Study 3 proved stability of the PE over time and re-testability, Study 4 was used to prove reliability of measures of emotional stability and agreeableness, both Big Five factors; emotional stability being a sub-characteristic of neuroticism. Study 5 was used to determine the propensity of someone who tested high for PE to take candy that was designated for children. Study 9, the main topic of this critique, measured aggressive behavior when the ego was challenged, and whether those who scored high on the PES for PE would show more aggression than those who did not when they are negatively criticized. It also included measures on how much aggression was directed toward expected ‘partners’ in the study. The entire study helps to provide insight into PE and how it can be shown by how an individual reacts to different situations.
The authors discuss the seven traits of NPD; authority, entitlement, exhibitionism, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, superiority, and vanity, in order to create a differentiation between NPD and PE. It seems that the mention of NPD traits is intended as a pre-cursor to Study 9, which specifically indicates that NPD is a covariate. Past research on entitlement seems to only be as an inclusion of NPD, an inclusion that the authors seem to attempt to question in some populations, addressing the Narcissistic Personality Inventory as ill equipped as an “…ideal measure for assessing psychological entitlement.” (Campbell, et al., 2004, p.30). The authors wish to convey that PE can stand on its own because many of the characteristics of NPD, such as exhibitionism, and authority do not appear to be characteristics of those with PE.
Authors’ Approach to Psychological Entitlement
The authors use great detail in their definitions of PE. Their definition indicates that PE should be verified across dimensions. In another words, if a person believes they are entitled to more money at work because they are a hard worker but do not repeat these feelings in other facets of their life, they are unlikely candidates for a determination of PE. Others who would have the previous contention and also this belief in most other parts of their life, such as cutting in line in heavy traffic, taking things that are not intended for them, becoming upset if they are not considered first, or other such entitled behaviors are more likely to score high in psychological entitlement categories of behavior under the scoring of the PES (Campbell, et al., 2004).
Display or feeling of aggression when one is criticized is the topic of Study 9. Specifically, the authors address that if the ego is struck, a person who is psychologically entitled will become aggressive toward the person who bruised their ego (Campbell, et al., 2004). A 2x2 ANOVA (positive vs. negative feedback) and (high vs. low entitlement) was conducted on N = 111 college students (Campbell, et al., 2004). To determine high and low entitlement, a median split is used (mentioned in footnote). The explanation in the footnote also tells that a regression analysis was done on the results of the PES and that the results produced similar results to the median split (Campbell, et al., 2004). This is good information as it provides checks and balances to the validity of the data. Correlations were done between individuals who scored high and low on the PES and their reactions to harsh criticism and praise on a non-confrontational essay. Each was instructed to write on a specific topic; either “If I ruled the world it would be a better place because…” or “The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell [sic] out of me because…” (Campbell, et al., 2004, p. 40).
All participants wrote on one of the two topics. To complete the research, each was given an essay written on the topic “The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell [sic] out of me because…” by an unknown source, but which participants believed was written by their partner. The article by Campbell, et al. (2004) does not indicate the source of the essay written and given to the participants. It is my presumption that the researchers wrote the essay for the participants to critique. It is also my presumption that the essay critiques conducted by participants were also a part of the research, although it is not directly mentioned.
To manipulate the ego threat on the independent variable of aggressive behavior by participants, a flip of the coin was used to determine whether the participants would be given positive or negative reviews of their essay(s). Half of the participants were given positive reviews including a comment of high praise. The negative critiques included a very ego threatening comment: “This is one of the worst essays I have read!” (Campbell, et al., 2004, p. 40). I appreciate the severity of this particular comment because it definitely jabs at the confidence of someone who may feel entitled to better treatment, and may be a catalyst for aggressive behavior in a person with PE behavior.
This was not the conclusion of the participants’ involvement. A second part of Study 9 was more competitive. The participants believed, once again, that they were partnered with another participant when, in fact, the second ‘participant’ was actually an iMac computer. This test involved harsh blasts of sound being directed at the slower of two respondents, either the participant, or the participating iMac. This test was interesting in that it involved interaction between the participant in the choices of volume and duration of the negative response sound that the other would endure. The authors write that the participants in this study were “probed for suspicion” (Campbell, et al., 2004, p. 41) but it is not clear what they mean by this. This test followed the essay part. It is not indicated, but it seems that the noise blast test was second so that the participant’s behavior toward their partner in regards to the essay critiques could be measured by how loud the blasts, so that suppositions would not be needed.
There seem to be two hypotheses being tested in this study. They are: a) “…individuals high in psychological entitlement would be more aggressive against those who criticize them than would be individuals low in psychological entitlement.” and b) “…these differences would not be seen in conditions in which there is no ego threat.” (Campbell, et al., 2004, p. 40). To truncate the hypotheses, they could have stated a) individuals who show PE behavior are more aggressive after being criticized, and b) aggression is a result of an ego threat in individuals with PE behavior.
Participants who scored high on psychological entitlement in the PES portion of the study were more likely, by 28%, than non-PE participants to display aggressive behavior toward their ‘partner’ in the study. To me, this is a significant number of people, even if it is not a really high percentage. I appreciate the inclusion of Cohen’s d in the ANOVA reporting.
An ANCOVA was also conducted, using the NPI as a covariate. The significance of excluding the NPI when conducting the ANCOVA was important in that it showed that without the NPI, the PES can confidently stand alone as an indicator of psychological entitlement. I think that, without the NPI covariate, this study would not be considered as valid because peers could argue that the NPI produces enough data on its own that the PES is a duplicate measure of the same items. However, with the NPI being used as a covariate, the PES standing alone produced F(1, 96) = 4.85, p < .03, d = .45, which is an even more significant score than with the NPI included, as it was in the ANOVA results of F (1, 103) = 4.11, p < .05 in determining psychological entitlement.
Although the r2 values were not expressed in the study, the lack of difference in gender display of entitlement is shown, males (M = 29.2, SD = 9.2), and females (M = 26.7, SD = 9.0), t(103) = 1.41, d = .28. When I calculated r2, the results showed that only 2% of results were based on gender. My calculations validated the study’s report of no significant difference by gender.
Main effects of the NPI and the PES are similar as well, with gender showing males only slightly more probable than females to have PE. There is another main effect that does seem to have a larger significance: aggressive behavior is more directly connected to negative criticism, and measures similar to self-esteem measures. PE: d = .20, p < .0001 (weighted); d = .17, r = .09 (unweighted), and self-esteem effect size produced d = .21. There is no alpha level indicated for self-esteem, which would have helped with the comparison.
Gaps in the Research
The demographics of Study 9, as well as Studies 1 – 8, were limited in their scope as college student participants were the only ones included in each study. Specific demographic indicators, like age, economic status, or national origin were not mentioned so I can only conclude they were not a part of the study. I found this puzzling, considering the mention of psychological entitlement across social and economic systems in the introduction.
Potential for Future Research
The authors were kind enough to acknowledge the brevity of their research and invite a broad range of researchers to utilize their data and the PES, which they include as an appendix to their article. Research opportunities for organizational, social, behavioral, and other researchers have been suggested.
The authors also indicate a presumption that independent cultures, such as American and Western Europe, would produce higher groups of PE behaviors than would more collectivist groups like Latin America or Asian (eg: Japan). I really believe that this is an invitation to other researchers to either substantiate or disprove the findings of the research on PE and the PES. There does not appear to be any arrogance of presumption of definitive validity across the demographic spectrum by the authors.
Psychological entitlement is not widely recognized as an independent behavioral anomaly. While integrated into Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the authors of the article being critiqued have gone to inspiring lengths to attempt to give PE its own identity.
There is clearly a great deal more research that needs to be done on this topic, but Campbell, et al. (2004) have taken strides to introduce PE to the psychological community. The broad range of environments and disciplines on which PE can have an influence warrants serious consideration by researchers across field(s) in psychology. Although the findings are impressive and significant as they stand, there is a great deal more than can be done in finding out about psychological entitlement and this behavior’s influence on society.
Campbell, W. K., Bonacci, A. M., Shelton, J., Exline, J. J., & Bushman, B. J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(1) 29 – 45, doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa8301_04