Cognitive Biases due to a Narcissistic Parent, Illustrated by HPMOR Quotations

A pattern of cognitive biases not yet discussed here are the biases due to having a narcissistic parent who seeks validation through the child’s academic achievements.

HPMOR clearly shows these biases: Harry's mother is narcissistic, impressed by education, and not particularly smart, and Harry does not realize how this affects his thinking.

Here is my evidence:

The Sorting Hat says Harry is driven by "the fear of losing your fantasy of greatness, of disappointing the people who believe in you" (Ch. 77). Psychology texts say that this fear is what children of a narcissistic parent usually feel. The child feels perpetually ignored because the narcissistic parent seeks validation from the child's accomplishments but refuses to actually listen to the child, spurring the child to ever greater heights of intellectual achievement. 

The text supports this view: “Always Harry had been encouraged to study whatever caught his attention, bought all the books that caught his fancy...given anything reasonable that he wanted, except, maybe, the slightest shred of respect” and “Petunia wrung her hands. She seemed to be on the verge of tears. "My love, I know I can't win arguments with you, but please, you have to trust me on this … I want my husband to, to listen to his wife who loves him, and trust her just this once - " (Ch. 1) describes a narcissistic, anxiously needy mother, an avoidant father, and a son whose parents provide for his physical needs but neglect his need for respect (ego). “If you conceived of yourself as a Good Parent, you would do it. But take a ten-year-old seriously? Hardly.” (Ch. 1) 

Harry goes Dark when the connection to his family is threatened. For example: "The black rage began to drain away, as it dawned on him that...his family wasn't in danger [of legal separation]" (ch. 5) indicates that Harry went Dark even though no one’s life was threatened. The cost of Harry’s Dark Side is becoming an adult at a young age: Harry says, “Every time I call on it... it uses up my childhood.” (Ch. 91). This is consistent with spending nearly all free time studying (instead of wasting time with friends) to impress Harry’s mother.

Typically, children of narcissistic parents inherit either narcissistic or people-pleasing traits. I predicted that if my theory is correct then Harry would have a narcissistic personality. To test this, I found a list of personality traits that describe a narcissist (by Googling “children of narcissistic parents” and clicking the first link), and compared with Harry’s personality as described in HPMOR. I got a 100% match. Questions and answers are as follows: 

1. Grandiose sense of self-importance? Check. Harry plans to “optimize” the entire Universe, expects to “do something really revolutionary and important” (Ch. 7), and is trying to “hurry up and become God” (Ch. 27).

2. Obsessed with himself? Check. He appears to only care about people who are smarter or more powerful than him -- people who can help him. He also has contempt for most students and their interests (Quidditch, etc.)

3. Goals are selfish? Check. Harry claims to want to save everyone, but he believes the best way to help others is to increase his own power most quickly. I address two possible objections below:

Harry’s involvement in the Azkaban breakout was selfish, because Harry could not risk losing Quirrell’s friendship: “ It was a bond that went beyond anything of debts owed, or even anything of personal liking, that the two of them were alone in the wizarding world” (Ch. 51). This, again, mirrors a child’s relationship with a narcissistic mother: the child cannot risk losing the mother’s protection. Harry also had selfish reasons for hearing Quirrell’s plan: “There was no advantage to be gained from not hearing it. And if it did reveal something wrong with Professor Quirrell, then it was very much to Harry's advantage to know it, even if he had promised not to tell anyone.” (Ch. 49)

Harry’s efforts to save Hermione are also selfish because Harry sees Hermione in the same way he sees his mother -- weak in many ways and bound by emotions and convention, but someone Harry must impress and protect. Harry’s statement that “it’s disrespectful to her, to think someone could only like her in that way” (ch. 91) makes sense because Harry is disgusted by the Oedipal implications. If Harry’s mother was not narcissistic, then Harry would not have worked so hard to impress Hermione and would have been less disgusted by the thought of being sexually attracted to her.

4. Troubles with normal relationships? Check. Harry is playing high-stakes mind games with the people he is closest to (Quirrell, Draco, Hermione, Dumbeldore), which is not normal friend behavior. Harry has contempt for nearly everyone else.

5. Becomes furious if criticized? Check. When Snape mocked Harry in Potions class, Harry tried to destroy Snape’s career. Quirrell explained, “When it looked like you might lose, you unsheathed your claws, heedless of the danger. You escalated, and then you escalated again” (Ch. 19).

6. Has fantasies of unbound success, power, intelligence, etc.? Check. Harry wants to conquer the entire Universe with the power of his intelligence, and has plans for how to fill an eternity, including to “ up with everyone else who was born on Old Earth to watch the Sun finally go out…” (Ch. 39).

7. Believes that he is special and should only be around other high-status people? Check. Harry avoids average students when possible, and certainly does not hang out with them for fun. “Note to self: The 75th percentile of Hogwarts students a.k.a. Ravenclaw House is not the world's most exclusive program for gifted children” (Ch. 12). 

Harry’s association with the (presumably non-special) students in his army is not an exception because minimal text is devoted to Harry instructing them, while much text explains how powerful and high-status the students in the army have become. For Harry, it appears that the army is a tool to use and an opportunity to show off, not an opportunity to give back and help friends improve their skills for their own sake.

8. Requires extreme admiration for everything? Check. Harry takes anything less than admiration for his brilliance as an insult, and responds by striving for new levels of intellectual achievement and arrogance, until the others recognize his dominance. “And I bit a math teacher when she wouldn't accept my dominance” (Ch. 20). Quirrell’s lesson on how to lose described how to avoid making powerful enemies, not how to empathize and care for others -- the insatiable need for admiration is merely delayed and repressed, not corrected.

9. Feels entitled - has unreasonable expectations of special treatment? Check. Harry requires subservience from the school administration, and special magic items such as the time-turner. “McGonagall said, "but I do have a very special something else to give you. I see that I have greatly wronged you in my thoughts, Mr. Potter...this is an item which is ordinarily lent only to children who have already shown themselves to be highly responsible” (Ch. 14).

10. Takes advantage of others to further his own need? Check. Harry justifies his actions toward Draco by saying "I only used you in ways that made you stronger. That's what it means to be used by a friend." (Ch. 97)

11. Does not recognize the feelings of others? Check. One example is Harry not realizing how Neville felt about the prank on the train to Hogwarts. Another is Harry’s remarkably clueless question to Hermione, “Er, can I take it from this that you have been through puberty?" (Ch. 87) Harry has not learned empathy yet: “Harry flinched a little himself. Somewhere along the line he needed to pick up the knack of not phrasing things to hit as hard as he possibly could” (Ch. 86). 

12. Envious or believes they are envied? Check. Quirrell said to Harry, “You have everything now that I wanted then. All that I know of human nature says that I should hate you. And yet I do not. It is a very strange thing.” (Ch. 74)

13. Behaves arrogantly? Check. “Minerva's body swayed with the force of that blow, with the sheer raw lese majeste. Even Severus looked shocked.” (Ch. 19) I can’t think offhand of a single instance when Harry is not arrogant. 

Therefore, I conclude that Harry and Harry’s mother are both narcissistic. If you want further reading on this topic, look up "The Drama of the Gifted Child" by Dr. Alice Miller (Google for the .pdf) for a more detailed description of a child’s typical relationship with a narcissistic parent.

I am sharing this because it reveals a pattern of cognitive biases that many people (like me) who enjoyed HPMOR, and their parents, probably have. Specifically, there is a strong bias toward either narcissistic or people-pleasing habits, and a difficulty with recognizing and following one’s own desires (because the Universe, unlike a parent, never tells people what to do). One possible reason for studying science is to defend against a parent’s emotional neediness and refusal to provide ego-validation by building an impenetrable edifice of logical truth. Unfortunately, identifying the parent’s cognitive biases does not stop their criticism. A more pleasant strategy is to recognize the dynamic, mourn the warping of childhood by the controlling parenting, set appropriate boundaries in the future, and draw validation from following one’s own goals instead of an internalized parent’s goals.

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It's an interesting observation. Clearly Eliezer has some narcissistic traits and Harry is modeled after a part of him, so, in retrospect, it is not very surprising, but only in retrospect. However, Harry is very different from a stereotypical narcissistic genius like Sheldon Cooper. How do you tell if someone off-the-scale smart is unreasonably narcissistic or simply aware of their own strengths (and weaknesses)? Your average narcissistic personality tests assume an average person as a test-taker, and so cannot tell whether one's overly inflated ego is justified or not.

Thanks, glad it's of interest.

In this case, Harry was narcissistic before he learned about magic, when he had no realistic chance of boundless success (when he was one of many child prodigies, most of whom would turn out "pretty much ordinary" (Ch. 10), not the only magician-scientist), which is evidence that Harry's narcissism was due to his upbringing, not due to a realistic awareness of his own strengths.

I disagree with the premise that off-the-scale smart people are usually narcissistic, but I agree that many child prodigies are narcissistic. The work of doing research or another off-the-scale smart person activity encourages humility because of repeated failures (incorrect theories, etc.) on the way to new successes. Child prodigies (especially with a narcissistic parent, who distorts results to protect their own ego) can seem to go from success to success without apparent failures and while feeling fundamentally superior to others.

How do you tell if someone off-the-scale smart is unreasonably narcissistic or simply aware of their own strengths (and weaknesses)?

You compare their behaviour and the way they live their life to that of garden variety narcissists, and to that of most very intelligent people, and you see what they look more like.

Narcissism is a complex behavioural pattern with many very odd traits.

The way you tell is looking for narcisistuc traits other than "expects respect", for instance belittling others.

A track record of achievement or lack thereof is the obvious answer. Much harder to apply to a child, of course.

I enjoy thinking about this, but I find find the unquantifiedness of your terms hard to stomach. You treat narcissism as a binary trait, while psychoanalysts would say everyone has more or less of that particular set of behaviors.

And it is easy to find evidence for any pattern of behaviors in someone you know enough about (and that especially includes youself).

Try to look for narcissism in other characters in HPMOR, and see if your observed frequency doesn't directly correlate with how much the book talks about them. I bet it does, and that says more about your narcissism detection mechanism than it says about the book.

For example, it is obviously easy to find examples where Harry does recognize what other people are feeling, where he does not become furious where criticized, etc. ...but you have chosen to quote examples that fit the pattern Alice Miller taught you to see everywhere.

I suggest you find out what is evidence against narcissism, and look for that, too.

Unfortunately, psychology terms/traits are difficult to quantify, e.g. I can't know someone is "10% narcissistic" in the same way I know a glass of water is "10% full". I agree, different people have different levels of narcissism.

To test my narcissism detection mechanism, I will look at how narcissistic the main characters of a few other popular books are. This is a better test than looking for narcissism in other characters in HPMOR (where the most-frequently-observed character is the most narcissistic). The evidence against narcissism is the opposite of the traits listed: average or low sense of self-importance, primarily interested in others, goals are usually about others, many relationships, etc.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Grandiose? No -- Elizabeth has no expectation of becoming Queen or even, initially, of marrying a very rich man. Self-obsessed? No -- Elizabeth is concerned for her sisters' welfare as much as she is for her own. Troubles with normal relationships? No -- she has social contacts appropriate for her era and standing. Furious if criticized? No -- she reacts to criticism with thoughtful calm in public, followed by private reflection. Fantasies of unbound success, power, etc.? No -- she wants to marry a good man and live happily etc.
  2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: Grandiose? No -- Frodo longs to remain in the Shire, at peace. Self-obsessed? No -- Frodo takes the Ring for the good of other people, and resists the urge to use it himself. Troubles with normal relationships? No -- Frodo is well-liked by the Fellowship and many friends attend his going-away party. Requires extreme admiration for everything? No -- Frodo is OK with being subservient to Gandalf. etc.
  3. Watchmen by Alan Moore: Grandiose? No -- Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl) retired from crime-fighting and lives quietly. Self-obsessed? Probably not -- While Dreiberg lives alone, he goes out of his way to help Rorschach and Laurie. Troubles with normal relationships? Maybe -- Dreiberg lives alone, and it's not clear what he does with his time outside of the events of the story. Fantasies of unbound success, power, etc? No -- Dreiberg is not seeking more power, and only reactivates his crime-fighting gear when driven to it by the events of the story. Feels entitled? No -- is frustrated but doesn't complain much at all when Dr. Manhattan takes Laurie to Mars.

From these negative results I conclude that my narcissism detector is working adequately.

Hmm. Would I be wildly wrong in describing Mrs Bennett (Elizabeth's mother) as a terrible narcissist though? In which case Elizabeth should be more likely to be a narcissist herself, or a people-pleaser? Maybe she got lucky, because she's hardly either. Although her sisters, well...

Good fiction often rings true to real life, but it's no more than a bit of fun to analyse it as though it were a case study of something that actually happened. Still, I'm not against fun. I bet it was fun for Jane Austen to write the character of Mr Collins. Let's see your science explain him ;)

But, I do see what you mean, that listing pro-narcissist examples is less convincing than comparing the number of pro- and anti-narcissist examples. Harry rarely recognizes or cares about what other people are feeling and rarely accepts others' dominance, and often fails to recognize others' feelings and often refuses to accept others' dominance.

You might consider comparing to other teenage protagonists. I think that on average a 12 year old is going to score much higher on an evaluation of narcissism than a retiree. A lot of this is developmental.

I can think of lots and lots of examples of characters within the fantasy/magic genre that I feel like would meet your definition of narcissism. Frodo is, as far as I can tell, the exception rather than the rule in hero stories, and indeed his mediocrity is a central plot point. If we look back to traditional hero stories, they all seem a bit full of themselves. Is Harry more narcissistic than Achilles? Agamemnon? Is he more excited about his own cleverness than Odysseus? Compare Harry to a young Bean or Ender from the Orson Scott Card novels. Compare him to Rand al'Thor's obsession with his own personal strength. Compare him to Batman.

You've picked two novels that don't have heroes in them and one with an intentionally mediocre hero. There's a lot of literature out there. It's pretty easy to cherry-pick it to support just about any conclusion, but I feel like within genre Harry is much more the norm than the exception.

Good! I'm pleased to see an example of LW going meta on itself in this vein.

As an extension, note that there's a well-established pattern by which people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to attract (and be attracted to) people with Borderline Personality Disorder. An evocative line from The Last Psychiatrist:

The narcissist creates an identity, then tries to force everyone else to buy into it. The borderline waits to meet someone, and then constructs a personality suitable to that person....

The narcissist thrives with the borderline because she provides for him the validation that he is, in fact, the lead; the borderline thrives with the narcissist because he defines her. And, as she will tell you every single time, without fail: "you don't know him like I do." Everyone else judges his behavior; but the borderline is judging his version of himself that she has accepted."

I'd invite folks to consider what it would look like if a few "intellectual narcissists" attracted a following of "intellectual borderlines," in particular what the individuals' personalities would look like in Near, and what the memetics of that community would look like.

An intellectual narcissist will tend to make wrong predictions about things they don't fully understand, and intellectual borderlines will tend to believe those predictions.

I'm not sure what you mean by "look like in Near".

Thanks for pointing out this is going meta. Now I can go one level more meta.

The important information seems to be in the last paragraph of the article (the rest is analysing a fictional evidence; yeah, I see how it is related, but it distracts from the message). I thought about it, and it feels to me you may be right about something.

When I think about my family, mother was never impressed by anything I did. For example, the day I returned home after winning a gold medal in international mathematical olympiad, she reminded me that a person shouldn't consider themselves educated unless they can play a musical instrument well (my weakness; I don't have an ear for music). My father spent a lot of time away, for job-related reasons, and he died when I was 11. My mother greatly values education, but it's more about "memorizing passwords" and signalling.

I can see how a part of my motivation, deep inside, can be a desire to do something so awesome that even my mother would have no other choice than to admit that I really am smart. Nothing I do is good enough, therefore "tsuyoku naritai" resonates with me strongly. Also the whole idea that "rationality" is the skill to win in all aspects of life, not just in some specialized area; because I feel I need to be fixed in many aspects.

But as I said (about Harry, but it can also apply to me), in a lawful universe everything has to be caused by something, so the mere fact of causation doesn't make it wrong. I may have good desires for bad reasons. On the other hand, if I have good desires for bad reasons, it is likely that they will be miscalibrated. If I could change myself, would I? I would prefer to be calibrated better. I would prefer not to be driven by fear or by disappointment. But I still wish to keep the spirit of "tsuyoku naritai"; just in a happier way.

Realizing all this can be useful for me personally; it can explain why I do some mistakes, and then perhaps I can improve. For example, I am constantly frustrated when "parent figures" at my job don't respect my expertise. Yes, this feeling has a rational aspect (if they'd respect me more, I could probably get better position in the company hierarchy, get more money, maybe other privileges), but there is also the irrational emotional component. (Hypothetically speaking, if there would be an opportunity to somehow get more money or other advantage, but disappoint some "parent figure", it could be rationally better for me, but my emotions could prevent me from even noticing this possibility.) Also, someone could easily manipulate me by giving me the kind of attention I desire, so I'd like to not be blinded by that.

Realising this -- if it applies to significant part of the LW membership; which is a question that yet has to be answered -- could also be useful for our community. I believe that rationality is useful for everyone, but maybe the specific way it is presented on this website or how I present it to other people, is attractive only to some kind of people, and may repel others. It could help explain why some smart and rational people are not interested in LW. We could use this knowledge to find another way to cooperate with them.

This community is so dear to me because it fulfills those emotional needs. I get love (karma, positive replies) just for writing something sane. (And hugs for going to meetup!) For example, I predict 10 karma points for writing this comment; some people will relate to this, others will admire my openness. But looking from a different angle, I merely again spent a lot of time debating on the web, when I originally planned to do something else; and most likely, I will forget all these insights soon. Here I am rewarded for merely trying, not for actual success. But I need it because, well, success only comes once in a time, but the emotions are always here.

So, what next? I guess we could try to find out how many people here are trying to "please an unsatisfiable parent figure", and then compare it with the general population. (Easier said than done; we can have a poll here, but how to make the general population take the poll. Perhaps we could try to find a correlation between this answer and karma, assuming that karma correlates with that which is specific for this website.) If the hypothesis is confirmed, then we can debate how to overcome this bias, while not losing our desire to improve ourselves and the world. (Meanwhile, or if the hypothesis is not confirmed, I can still think about how deal with this myself.)

As far as a survey, going through the replies shows that 2 people in addition to me thought they probably had a narcissistic parent, 7 people thought I was wrong, and ~4 were mostly neutral. So, about 20%, if this poll is accurate. Of course, there's reporting bias, denial, etc. to throw off the results.

I believe that rationality is useful for everyone, but maybe the specific way it is presented on this website or how I present it to other people, is attractive only to some kind of people, and may repel others. It could help explain why some smart and rational people are not interested in LW.

Another reason is that rationality is usually less economically valuable than subject-area learning: reasoning from first principles is a LOT harder and less reliable than looking up how something worked last time. Rationality is helpful for identifying and removing cognitive biases, but so is specific experience. Exhaustive study of rationality does not confer magical ability to reason much beyond existing experiments/examples. Thus, for a well-read, well-informed person (the kind we want here), usually they can do just fine by copying what worked for other people they know or read about.

Connotationally: In a lawful universe, everything has to be caused by something. That includes Harry's exceptional behavior. Even if this analysis is correct, it does not reduce the meaning of Harry's goals. They had to be caused by something anyway; either by this, or by something else.

To make this more clear, let's take a larger view, and analyze Harry as a member of homo sapiens. We could consider "being homo sapiens" as a diagnosis, a genetically transferred condition, which influences thinking and behavior. Having been born to homo sapiens parents, Harry is driven to care about people around him, and to use his brain to invent solutions. Et cetera.

I agree: Harry's goals are meaningful to Harry regardless of why Harry holds them (parental influence, Voldemort influence, etc.).

Understanding why these beliefs are held is useful to make sure there is sufficient evidence for the belief. For example, if Harry's "unverbalizable fear" of failure (that the sorting hat tells him about) is the fear of being separated from his mother, then Harry could take more appropriate risks by being aware of this. Harry appears biased against friendships/alliances with weaker students (such friendships are seen as threatening by a narcissistic parent) and biased toward terribly risky unilateral actions to protect relationships with parent figures (Quirrell, Hermione). Another example: someone I know who enjoyed HPMOR was nicknamed "genius" by his grade-school friends, but he left an MD/PhD program to become a high-school teacher, presumably so he could continue to be the "genius". He might have been a good researcher if he had learned how to lose, and recognized that his parents would still love him even if he wasn't always the smartest person in the room.

One interpretation of LessWrong is that it is a defense against a parent’s relentless criticism and neediness by building an impenetrable edifice of logical truth.

Specifically, there is a strong bias toward either narcissistic or people-pleasing habits, and a difficulty with recognizing and following one’s own desires (because the Universe, unlike a parent, never tells people what to do).

Parents who acquiesce to their child's resolution to withdraw from school do not sound domineering or unduly impressed by education.

Thanks for pointing out that inconsistency -- instead of "relentless criticism and neediness", I meant "relentless high standards, refusal to be impressed, and need for inappropriate emotional validation from their child".

To clarify how Harry's parents fit the narcissistic-parent pattern: they don't take Harry seriously. If he does something impressive, or makes a good argument, they laugh at him and feel good about themselves. "Both of Harry's parents howled with laughter at that, like they thought it was all a big joke" (Ch. 2) is their reply to Harry's description of school as "child conscription". They're not directly critical of Harry, but they do laugh at and ignore him, which is similarly harmful.

They value education in that Petunia, presumably a stay-at-home mother, married an "eminent professor" and has her son educated by "tutors from the endless pool of starving students" and "encouraged to study whatever caught his attention" (Ch. 1). A description of what Petunia actually does all day is conspicuously absent. Taken together, this is evidence that she highly values education but is not highly educated herself.

Harry's father is usually avoidant: he says only "Huh" when first confronted with magical levitation (Ch. 2) and tries to solve a disagreement with his wife by "reading a book of higher maths to show how smart he was" (Ch. 1). This attitude on top of his time-consuming professor duties indicates that Harry spends most of his time at home around only his mother.

Harry is frustrated with this treatment from his parents: "There! You see what I have to deal with?" (Ch. 2) he says to McGongall when his parents laugh at and ignore him, again.

I could see an older Harry putting together something like LessWrong to show his parents once and for all that he was smart and therefore worthy of respect as an equal, only to be met with disinterest from his father and more requests for love/validation from his mother. It's difficult to judge how narcissistic the posters here are, due to the excellent moderation and high standard for reason-driven discussion. This analysis is in no way a criticism: I share the goals of solving life's problems and mysteries using science, and I'm posting this out of a narcissistic wish to refine my own ideas.

If he does something impressive, or makes a good argument, they laugh at him and feel good about themselves. "Both of Harry's parents howled with laughter at that, like they thought it was all a big joke" (Ch. 2) is their reply to Harry's description of school as "child conscription".

No, this is their reaction to Harry's explanation of why he isn't in school. He says that he's a conscientous objector to child conscription. They find this very funny, because the reason they took him out of school is (possibly among other things) that he bit a math teacher. This is not Harry doing something impressive or making a good argument.

What follows feels almost like a fully-general criticism, so I don't know how seriously you should take it:

This post, and the comment thread, feels to me very much like you're arguing towards a bottom line, like you've decided what personality traits you're going to find and now you're looking for things that you can present as evidence towards them, if you squint and don't read the text. Another example would be

Feels entitled - has unreasonable expectations of special treatment? Check. Harry requires subservience from the school administration, and special magic items such as the time-turner.

Harry's reaction to getting the time turner is along the lines of "what the fuck are you thinking?" Later he grows attached to it, but the initial reaction doesn't feel at all like it fits.

That makes sense -- this and a few other replies are making me doubt my ability to accurately weigh the evidence. The pro-narcissism examples tend to be vivid and exciting and so are more memorable than anti-narcissism examples which tend to be ordinary and less interesting. One solution might be to re-read a large-enough sample of HPMOR and rate how indicative of narcissism is everything Harry says or does. This would be interesting but would take some time. I'll be much less confident in my conclusions until I do this.

Saying only 'huh' to that seems to me to be recognizing that you have nothing useful to say at this point.

I see you stuffing Harry into a box you've made, and stuffing his parents into caricatures of their traits.

He studies to impress Mommy? No, he studies because he wants to know.

He avoids average students because he has little in common with them.

Harry’s efforts to save Hermione are also selfish

Let's see. He gave up his fortune and went into debt to an enemy to protect her. He was fully ready and willing to risk his own life and dreams to save her.

On hearing the suffering of people in Azkaban, criminals, the lowest status of all that no one cares about, that other people approve of torturing, he almost kills himself with his desire to save them.

Is that what we're calling selfish these days? I could do with more of such selfishness in the world.

As for visions of grandiose self importance - they aren't visions if they're real. That's just the story. He is that important and special. He's a child prodigy. He's a wizard. He's making independent and significant discoveries in transfiguration. He can destroy dementors. He broke someone out of the unbreachable Azkaban. And he's doing this a nine years old, in less than a year from his first exposure to magic. Oh, and somehow at 1 year old he seems to have defeated the Dark Lord against whom the whole of the wizarding world was helpless.

Envious or believes they are envied? Check.

And the proof of this you give is an instance of someone actually envying him? Would he be more psychologically healthy if he was delusional and couldn't see the envy? And even in that case, my recollection is that he wasn't focused on the envy at all, but more on the great white shark who passed up making a snack of him. Fear, relief, and relative inferiority and powerlessness seemed the emotions of the moment.

Do you see how this example just didn't fit your model? There's a lot of that going on here.

Is his dad particularly narcissistic? No. You could make a better argument about his mom, who was considering suicide because of the consequences of her poor looks. Yet she seems perfectly well adjusted now that she is pretty and people are nice to her. And wanting to have your husband trust you and take your word for something you know to be true is not narcissism.

the narcissistic parent seeks validation from the child's accomplishments

Neither of them particularly plays stage mom, pushing Harry, or putting him forward publicly to get attention for themselves. They're supportive in what he wants to do.

Narcissism and narcissistic parenting are very real (and hard-to-detect) problems, with potentially serious long-term consequences, so I think it's good that you brought this up.

You might also want to see

(as stated in another comment, though - I really don't see Harry as being narcissistic)

Thanks for the link! Looks like demanding academic perfection is a relatively benign way to express narcissism.

First, a minor point: The unusual font of this post (presumably because you wrote it in that font in a text editor and then copy-pasted here) take a lot of effort for me, at least, to read, and as a result I had to expend a moderate conscious effort to start reading, and found it nearly impossible not to skim or skip some sections. I imagine at least some other people experienced a similar effect.

Object-level, a very interesting post. One of my parents, who is quite similar to me psychologically, seems to have some narcissistic traits as described. They (sing.) make a conscious and explicit effort to avoid, e.g., excessive vicarious pride in their children or withholding praise except for highly exceptional achievements, and I think this has been pretty successful. But I have definitely noticed, in myself, unusually low empathy, high self-expectations and very excessive envy of exceptionality, to take a few. I predict that your recommended reading will probably improve my self-model substantially.

Font fixed, thanks I'm glad to hear this was useful.

I am sharing this because it reveals a pattern of cognitive biases that many people (like me) who enjoyed HPMOR, and their parents, probably have.

This post is the clearest example of generalizing from fictional evidence that I've seen in quite a while. Harry and his parents don't have the personality traits they do because they mesh together coherently, but because they make for a more entertaining story and give the characters the tools to carry out the plot. To use the characters as evidence of the author's mindstate (or the mindstate of the readers) does not follow.

A book's content can be predictive of the reader's and author's mindstate: reading the Bible predicts religiosity, reading old fiction predicts high education, and reading Japanese predicts living in Japan. I have high confidence that people who enjoy HPMOR have a higher-than-average likelihood of narcissistic parents, because we chose to spend hours reading about a very narcissistic protagonist. In other words, HPMOR is a filter for people who share Harry's arrogance and desire to save/conquer the Universe using science.

Thanks for the link - it was useful. Generalizing from fictional evidence would be to assume that real-world relationships are like HPMOR relationships, without considering that HPMOR is fiction. It looks as if I'm making this error even though I'm not, because I'm using enjoying reading about a certain kind of personality as evidence that readers are more likely to have that same kind of personality. If I used, for example, enjoying reading about desserts to predict, for example, that readers are less (or more) likely to be diabetic, it would be clearer that I'm not making this error.

A book's content can be predictive of the reader's and author's mindstate: reading the Bible predicts religiosity,

You are wrong about that. The average atheist know more about the Bible than the average Christians for measures such as being able to name as many of the ten commandments as possible.

Interesting, do you have a source for this? I found which is ambiguous. (Roughly, it looks like Mormons and white Evangelicals do better than atheists, but atheists do better than white mainline Protestants and Catholics - and the latter two groups are slightly larger.)

It isn't ambiguous. It says 4.2 correct for Christian at the Knowledge of the Bible and 4.4 for atheists/agnostics. For knowledge for Christianity it's 6.2 for Christians and 6.7 for atheists/agnostics.

As far as the source with made me form that belief I don't have noted it down.

You are however right that individual groups like Mormons still outperform the atheists.

Things are further complicated that a lot of Christians get knowledge of the Bible by attending Church where they don't read themselves. An atheist on the other hand might have doubted Christianity and then went to read the Bible to make up his mind that Christianity is bullshit.

“Always Harry had been encouraged to study whatever caught his attention, bought all the books that caught his fancy...given anything reasonable that he wanted, except, maybe, the slightest shred of respect”

This is rather odd-- I imagine narcissistic parents as having very definite ideas of what their children should be studying. I also think letting a child study what they want is a sign of respect, though (it's been a while since I've read the book), I suppose it's possible to want a child to learn without wanting them to have any real-world impact.

Yes-- for the narcissistic parent, the goal of learning is high social status, not impact. Harry must become an "eminent professor" like his father, or something equally prestigious. Actually doing anything beyond getting the title is irrelevant.

Random thoughts while reading:

  1. I wonder how many psychological pathologies occur in the population at large. Could we benefit from some kind of psychological screening similar to how we screen for cancers after certain age? I assume that even sub-clinical syndromes cause quite high economic and/or utilitarian harm.

  2. Can this kind of analysis be carried out for any major work of fiction? I enjoyed reading the analysis and would read a similar one for other works of fiction such as A Song of Ice and Fire.

  3. Can we get any information about the state of mind the author is in or the reader is in from the way the characters are written and what characters are enjoyed?

Thanks for reading! Random replies:

  1. Probably a lot -- of people you know, how many are optimally pursuing their goals? Voluntary psychological screening would make many people happier. However, peoples' right to be crazy is a civil liberties issue.

  2. Yes -- I did this one because it's personally meaningful to me; I don't have plans to do others now but I also would enjoy reading similar analysis of other works. You might also enjoy "Please Understand Me" by Kiersey and Bates, which provides insight into the motivations of different personality types but unfortunately does not explore how childhood experiences shape these types.

  3. Yes -- provided the author isn't trying to deceive, the writing reveals how the author sees the world and so is predictive of the author's thoughts and memories. I strongly suspect that most people who enjoyed HPMOR had parents who strongly encouraged them to learn as much as possible [to satisfy the ego-needs of the parents]. This matches what little data I have [edit: but anecdotes in the comments below suggest I'm wrong]. I would be very interested to see a poll to check this.

I strongly suspect that most people who enjoyed HPMOR had parents who strongly encouraged them to learn as much as possible.

There's an important difference between "strongly encouraged to learn as much as possible because the parents believe knowledge is an important good" and "strongly encouraged to learn as much as possible in order for the child to become a machine that generates ego- and status-boosts for the parents" -- the form arising from "having a narcissistic parent who seeks validation through the child’s academic achievements."

Good point -- that is an important difference, and I'm glad many readers were in the former group.

I strongly suspect that most people who enjoyed HPMOR had parents who strongly encouraged them to learn as much as possible.

As anecdotal evidence: I was never strongly encouraged to learn (the best I can say is that I wasn't hindered) and I enjoy HPMOR tremendously.

Also the base-rate of "encouraged to learn" amongst a mostly-educated audience, such as the readers of HPMOR would be quite high and one might see a similar rate in other fiction that attracts a similar, educated, audience.

Glad to hear it. I was worried that most of the LW/HPMOR community might have spent most of their childhood reading books to prove themselves, because most others couldn't handle Harry's narcissism. I agree that most educated people were "encouraged to learn" but probably did not have a narcissistic parent, because I'm assuming a low base rate for narcissism and no correlation between narcissism and learning, but I don't have evidence to support this.

  1. What would voluntary screening look like? Lengthy dialogue with a psychologist? Filling out standardised forms? A mixture of both? Do the necessary tools even exist?

  2. I'll look into it. Unfortunately many popular books on psychology are a waste of time.

  1. One example: one college I know of had voluntary screening for depression and substance abuse. Students would have a short meeting (~10 minutes) with a counselor (someone who had a few hours' training in giving this kind of test), and the students answered questions about how they feel most of the time and how much they drink. It helped a few people realize they had a problem with these issues, but I don't know how effective it was overall. Some students had a problem but didn't realize it or were not interested in changing.

  2. This book helped me, for example by showing what kind of praise different personalities usually want to hear, and by helping me understand the thoughts/goals of someone with a very different personality. It might or might not be a waste of time for others.

Interesting analysis. I'd agree, except that we just learned that Harry got a big chunk of Voldemort's personality downloaded into him as a baby, and Voldemort is a narcissistic, amoral, manipulative trainwreck of a human being. Petunia might have played a role, but I think the author's intent is that these are Voldemort's traits making themselves known.

One wonders, though, if perhaps Tom Riddle had a narcissistic caretaker in the orphanage that raised him. Unlike canon!Riddle, the MoR version doesn't seem to have been born a sociopath, but rather made one.

Harry's parents aren't perfect, and neither is Harry's reasoning unassailable, but to the extent that the diagnostic criteria for having one's values warped by a narcissistic parent can be applied to Harry, I think that this mainly demonstrates that it's simply too easy to fit those diagnostic criteria to situations where they don't apply, much like a technique for determining if mythological figures are solar deities, which can be applied equally well to the professor who devised it.

While I enjoyed reading this, amused and intrigued, I am somewhat hesitant to accept it, lacking a search for traits that are anti-correlated and without exploring alternative theories explaining these traits. I'm also a little confused by

I predicted that if my theory is correct then Harry would have a narcissistic personality. To test this, I found a list of personality traits that describe a narcissist (by Googling “children of narcissistic parents” and clicking the first link),

wouldn't this be a list of traits of children of narcissistic parents? If it's not, why did you use a different list to determine if Petunia was narcissistic?

On the topic of the specific traits, we could use a lot more information about which traits are useful and which aren't. I understand there are a number of folks around here who have worked to acquire some traits, self-awareness and mindfulness (which are very clearly useful) come to mind, but they appear (very roughly) to be on a different level than, say, need for praise. With that, thank you for inspiring me to look more into them.

Thanks for the feedback. To address your points:

  1. Traits that are anti-correlated with narcissism include the opposites of the "symptoms" listed. For example, Hermione is not at all narcissistic. She is not grandiose: she reminds Harry that they are young and shouldn't do anything important yet. She is not selfish: she helps Hufflepuffs with homework. She doesn't become furious when criticized: she reacts to harsh criticism by being sad and retreating (instead of attacking). Etc.

  2. Identifying Harry as "child of a narcissistic parent" seemed to have strong predictive power, and helped me understand people with similar personalities in the real world. There may be other theories that are simultaneously correct. One possible other theory is that Harry and his parents have a "healthy, loving" relationship, and that Harry's narcissism is due to the Dark Lord and the scar, not his parents' influence. Harry's mother's insecurity and neglect of Harry's ego needs is evidence against this theory.

  3. Though the search and website are for "children of narcissistic parents", the "symptoms" listed are "Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder". I argue that (A.) Harry is very narcissistic and (B.) Petunia is a "narcissistic parent". I used the "narcissistic personality disorder" test for Harry to support (A.) and matching to a description of "narcissistic parent relationship to a child" to support (B.). The argument would be stronger if I could use the "narcissistic personality disorder" test for Petunia too, but she is in the book so little that this is difficult. Instead, I argue that the Harry-Petunia relationship fits a pattern where Petunia seeks emotional validation from others (Harry or Michael), does not meet Harry's ego needs (respect, understanding), and puts Harry in a role of caring for her ego needs (for example, solving the disagreement with Michael in Ch. 1).

  4. As far as "useful", I don't know -- it depends on your goals. In "How to Hire the Best People You Ever Worked With", Marc Andresseen writes that very successful people are motivated by different things, including "the burning desire to make it big" or "guilt, often created by family pressure". Richard Feynman was famous for doing what he enjoyed instead of what other people (including his parents) wanted. In "The Drama of the Gifted Child", Alice Miller writes that children of narcissistic parents develop adult skills (sharing, studying, etc.) more quickly, but are trying to please their parents and so do much worse when the parental pressure is removed. From these anecdotes, and presuming the goal of making an economically significant impact on the world, it appears that narcissism and parents' narcissism may not make a significant difference, but I don't know of data to be sure about this. As far as happiness, narcissism appears to be anti-correlated with traits that predict happiness such as quality and quantity of relationships, but again, data is lacking.

A little brief reading elsewhere still doesn't explain what narcissist means here. Is it just a word that means "this group of symptoms (presumably commonly found together)"? If it doesn't mean anything else, its use carries strong negative connotations that distract from the traits it encompasses.

The argument would be stronger if I could use the "narcissistic personality disorder" test for Petunia too,

I was under the impression that you identified Petunia as narcissistic first, and was using that as a predictor for Harry's, my confusion.

"Narcissist" is just a word! Just kidding. It means "arrogant pride". Here, it also means "arrogant pride as a defense mechanism against parental emotional neglect".

When I first read about narcissistic parents, I pattern-matched on Petunia laughing at Harry and Harry being kind of arrogant. I expected to find examples in HPMOR for Harry showing about 1/2 to 2/3 of a list of narcissist traits. I was surprised to find examples for every item on the list.

"Arrogant pride", or at least arrogance, is listed among the traits already, that doesn't add anything to the meaning.

Imagine I'm writing a computer program that models people. People who exhibit a high number of these traits gain the label narcissist. Does this label allow me to make better or more efficient predictions about the person than the individual traits? What sorts of predictions?

The label is an efficient way of describing someone with most of or all of these traits. If your computer is memory-limited, storing the label "narcissist" may be more efficient than storing answers to all of a list of questions.

Someone who shows these traits will probably continue to show these traits. Additionally, someone who shows most of these traits probably shows the other traits as well.

Let's say that child-prodigy Harry was in the top 0.01% of demonstrated intelligence. There was a kid of comparable aptitude per every 10,000 children. If anything, this measure is setting the bar for "child prodigy" too low. He is smarter, and thus in some sense superior to other children. This is especially true since intelligence is the axis that he has been taught to value and to measure people by.

You say he has trouble with normal relationships, but I feel like that just sort of happens when you're out in the tails of the distribution. Harry's emotional life is tied up in different values and different problems that the emotional life of his peers. He is from a different culture and has a fundamentally different worldview. I wasn't a child-prodigy by any stretch of the imagination, but I know exactly what it's like to be reading Feynman at 12 years old and wanting to share it with someone and realizing just how impossible that would be. And so Harry gravitates towards the adult world, who may have higher status, but are also more his peers in some sense than many of the people in his age group.

Additionally, Harry is essentially home-schooled. His tutors and parents, most of his social group is older. It's not really surprising he doesn't quite know how to relate to large groups of 12 year-olds. And he's still an awkward 12 year old himself. “Er, can I take it from this that you have been through puberty?" is in my mind more a symptom of Harry being an awkward teenage boy than it is some condemnation of his long-term ability to feel empathy for others. I can think of similarly cringe-inducing statements from my own personal history, especially when trying to talk to girls. Reread the whole scene with the idea that Harry is a 12 year old boy terrified of girls and romance and afraid that in entering the brave new world of love and romance he's going to lose this one childhood friend that he feels like he can actually talk to. That is the interpretive lens I get out of statements such as:

Harry Potter's breathing was starting to scale up toward hyperventilation. "Very good friends! Extra-special friends, even! Best friends forever, possibly! But not that kind of friends!"

This whole bit about love hormones and everything is just Harry making things up. Little kids have crushes all the time. They fall in love have their 3rd grade boyfriends and girlfriends and it's cute to us, but it's pretty serious business to them. I'm not aware of any science that says that children aren't capable of love or strong affection, or that some hormone produced in adolescence enables people to love.

I'm really not sure that parental narcissism plays a role in this. I think that Harry's eclectic education doesn't sound particularly satisfying to a narcissistic parent. Harry is just another home-schooled spelling bee champion in the eyes of most of the world. There's far more opportunity for vicarious achievement and the sort of educational attainment valued by the not particularly bright if Harry stays enrolled in school and aces all the tests and finishes at the top of the class in everything. If Petunia wants to see her son be better than everyone else, it seems weird she wouldn't put him in a classroom situation where he could demonstrate that. I don't see Petunia imposing goals on Harry in the book at all.

You confuse cognitive biases with utility functions. Being selfish isn't a bias.

HPMOR does make an argument that more people should see themselves as a mission to change the world for the better. Do you think that's a bad thing, because it involves a narcissistic self view of one's own self importance?

What does this 'Nope' apply to, exactly? There is significant in-universe evidence that HJPEV does have narcissistic traits, after all. This is made abundantly clear when the Sorting Hat very nearly sends him to Slytherin House, as well as during his exchanges with e.g. Dumbledore, Hermione, perhaps McGonagall.

The post hypothesized Harry has a pattern of biases due to having a narcissistic parent who seeks validation through the child’s academic achievements. Harry having narcissistic traits? Sure, I could see that. Harry's pathologies being due to his mother seeking validation through her child’s academic achievements? That's about as likely as Baba Yaga murdering Harry's pet rock.

That's about as likely as Baba Yaga murdering Harry's pet rock.

I agree that a small percentage of people fit the pattern of

having a narcissistic parent who seeks validation through the child’s academic achievements

but I've shown that the Harry/Petunia relationship seems to fit the pattern. It sounds like you're either not updating on this evidence (hopefully for a reason you'll share), or are saying that Baba Yaga probably did kill Harry's pet rock.

Most of the evidence for this theory presented came down to:

  1. If Harry's mother is narcissistic, then Harry will be narcissistic.
  2. Harry is narcissistic
  3. Therefore, Harry's mother is narcissistic

Even if we stipulate 1 and 2, getting to 3 is just affirming the consequent. Affirming the consequent can be a valid Bayesian inference, but I don't think it works well here. Harry's narcissism would be explained away by Voldemort accidentally bestowing his conceit when marking Harry as his equal. Or professor Michael Verres-Evans' raising a far more confident child than Uncle Vernon. Or Harry's narcissism just being part of the this author's conception of Harry. There are many reasons Harry could be narcissistic, and very little of the probability mass comes from Harry's mother being narcissistic.

Most of my prior evidence speaks against this reading (Harry challenging his parents repeatedly where Draco and Hermione do not, Harry's parents' jaw-droppingly good letters of consolation, a conspicuous lack of evidence for Petunia's narcissism in Status Differential, Harry's happy thought being "you can never have enough books"). I have no doubt that you can think of reasons for all of those to fit the theory, but please keep in mind confirmation bias.

Though I did update slightly in favor of Petunia being narcissistic, I still mentally put the odds at 9 to 1 against. That was before the author of the story swooped in and said "Nope."

Thanks for clarifying. I agree there are other possible explanations, but I see evidence in the text for Petunia's narcissism that you don't see. I've shared the theory and evidence I wanted to share so I understand if further argument is not worthwhile. My confidence in my own sanity decreases as this discussion continues. Plunging ahead regardless:

In "Status Differential" (Ch.36), there's more evidence that Harry's parents pushed Harry to be a prodigy for their own (narcissistic) validation:

"...his own father had always done everything he could to support Harry's development as a prodigy and always encouraged him to reach higher and never belittled a single one of his accomplishments..." ""Hermione has always been quite good in school," said Dr. Leo Granger in a satisfied tone. "Harry competes at the national level!" said Professor Michael Verres-Evans. "Dear!" said Petunia.

Here, Harry's parents want Harry to be a prodigy - specifically, better than others - while Hermione's parents care about Hermione regardless of her achievements. Hermione says her parents "don't know that [she is a prodigy], and (Harry will) never be able to tell them, but they love (her) anyway."

Harry's mother's letter of consolation talks only about her needs (for Harry to survive because Harry owes it to her), not about Harry's needs.

The happy thought refers to Harry's father, not Petunia.

Harry challenges his parents only to protect them and their connection to him (e.g. after the Troll Incident) but recognizes their dominance in other situations (early chapters).

I'm still not sure what to make of the "nope", because it doesn't say why or what part of the theory is wrong. Additionally, it's possible (though somewhat unlikely) that the author is basing Petunia on a real person whose narcissism he does not recognize. This seems like a "don't poke the sleeping bear" situation.

I wouldn't question your sanity, and I wouldn't speak against interpreting the story as you have. It doesn't matter one way or another if an image is the author's interpretation; if you get something out of it, go for it.

Harry's pathologies being due to his mother seeking validation through her child’s academic achievements?

Why not? Consider that HJPEV's life history is a major, perhaps the most important point of departure from canon, so this actually makes for a highly parsimonious explanation of his other differences from canon, most relevantly the activity of his Dark soul fragment, the fact that unlike canon!Harry he could not really qualify for House Gryffindor (as revealed by the Sorting Hat) and possibly others.

Keep in mind that Love is freely acknowledged as being the most important magical force in Harry Potter's world, so it stands to reason that an unusual lack of Love, even from adoptive parents, could have very bad side effects. It should be noted that while canon!Harry was also raised by Muggle adoptive parents, and is known to have been severely bullied/punished for his accidental magic, his life was otherwise quite ordinary and not really marked by other kinds of abuse or unusual narcissism.
And there are intriguing analogies between HJPEV's posited childhood as adopted child of narcissist parents, and Tom Riddle's.

Other possible "Nope" reasons include "I'm not going to run the risk of damaging my motivation by thinking about this" and "It's possible to recover from the error of ignoring this (someone with higher karma will tell me later if it's important) but it's not possible to recover from being a few hours' too late to stop a superhuman AI from destroying humanity."

I assume this is a "Nope, because of secret author evidence that justifies a one-word rebuttal" or a "Nope, you're wrong in several ways but I have higher-value things to do than retype the sequences".

(Also, it's an honor; I share your goal but take a different road.)

Further evidence that Petunia is emotionally demanding of Harry is the short letter she sends after the Incident With The Troll: "You promised me that you wouldn't let magic take you away from me. I didn't raise you to be a boy who would break a promise to his Mum. You must come back safely, because you promised" (Ch.93). The letter is entirely about Petunia's needs: Petunia does not attempt to help or console Harry.

"You promised me that you wouldn't let magic take you away from me. I didn't raise you to be a boy who would break a promise to his Mum. You must come back safely, because you promised"

It does sound somewhat off-putting out of context. However, she wants him to be safe, and she knows him well enough to realize that the best way to make him want to be safe is not to appeal to his own self-preservation instinct, but to his sense of duty and responsibility. This desire to keep your child safe might be selfish, but it is hardly indicative of narcissism. Most loving parents, especially mothers, would go to some length to keep their underage child out of mortal danger. If this requires some blatant guilt-tripping, so be it.

I would have expected a longer letter, with more offers of help, and reassurances of love and validation of Harry's needs, in addition to the guilt-tripping, had Petunia not been narcissistic.The letter comes across as controlling (I raised you to be X; you must be X). You may be right -- Petunia may have stopped herself from writing a longer letter, after reasoning about it -- but I am skeptical because she doesn't seem to be that subtle in her interactions with others. I'll be interested to see how Harry and Petunia interact in the future.

I share your goal but take a different road.

What goal do you understand yourself to share with Eliezer, and what different road?

I don't deserve to be arrogant here, not having done anything yet. The goal: I had a sister once, and will do what I can to end death. The road: I'm working as an engineer (and, on reflection, failing to optimize) instead of working on existential risk-reduction. My vision is to build realistic (non-nanotech) self-replicating robots to brute-force the problem of inadequate science funding. I know enough mechanical engineering but am a few years away from knowing enough computer science to do this.

It says a lot of things. Let's unpack.

You are wrong. That is, I think you are wrong. That is, I see value in saying you are wrong. This suggests I expect my argument to be convincing. But I'm not giving an argument. This is unconventional, and suggests I deliberately do not intend to give an argument. This would normally cause my point to be dismissed; thus I believe there to be an obvious reason why my point would stand up in the face of this absence of evidence. A likely candidate seems to be Special Authoral Foreknowledge, which I have cited before.

I said you were wrong in response to a detailed post by you. Thus, I have already accounted for your arguments and did not find them convincing. Having already brought to mind Special Authoral Foreknowledge, the lack of engagement with the question suggests that answering it would require citing Special Authoral Foreknowledge, which I do not want to do [and which you should not want me to do]. Nonetheless, I believe that revealing that your theory is incorrect due to conflict with SAF is not in itself spoilerful. [Also, none of this is unambiguous but I believe it to be bolstered to prominence by reading "Nope."]

In conclusion, Draco is obviously Voldemort.

You might review the concept of Bayesian evidence. A lot of things happen to be evidence.

Good point. The above one-word replies are weak evidence in favor of my hypothesis.


The simplest explanation for choosing a career in existential risk reduction is that it makes not building a humanity-saving superintelligent AI a virtue instead of a failure. Not that there's anything wrong with failing every now and then.

This response is quite funny, now (in 2015) that we know what we know about why Harry is the way he is. EY was clearly chuckling to himself while reading this article.

Some of Harry's traits that strike me as strongly non-narcissistic:
high self-awareness - which appears genuine
capable of (correctly) understanding others' feelings and motivations - does not label or vilify people with very different values
desire to see all things as they really are, even if it's painful (while narcissists typically have delusions)

Thanks for looking for contradictory evidence. I must disagree with your examples, however, because none of them seem non-narcissistic. For example, a narcissistic car salesman can feel superior and swindle people without empathy, despite:

  1. Having high self-awareness of his strengths and weaknesses as a salesman, 2. Understanding people (but not actually caring about them) well enough to sell to them, and 3. Accurately perceiving reality (understanding physics, peoples' motivations, how to drive to work, how to not act crazy, etc.).
  1. Having high self-awareness of his strengths and weaknesses as a salesman

That's not at all the same thing as having high self-awareness overall

  1. Understanding people well enough to sell to them

Which may well be not very well at all. Understanding people in the context of sales is not the same as understanding then generally.

  1. Accurately perceiving reality (understanding physics, peoples' motivations, how to drive to work, how to not act crazy, etc.).

Which most people do. (though actually an accurate understanding of neither physics nor people's motivations is required to get by). I was taking about the "litany of Tarsky"-esqe desire to always seek the truth, even if unpleasant and emotionally painful to learn - which Harry has and very few people generally do.

If you read a list of narcissistic traits, you will see that self-awareness, understanding others, and desire to know the truth are not there. In other words, a narcissist may or may not be self-aware, understand others, or want to know the truth.

Harry is self-aware but is also self-obsessed, understands people but is also selfish, and accurately perceives science but is also grandiose.


Unrealistically so? Is Harry's assessment of self less accurate than other people's self-assessments on average?

accurately perceives science

Once again, not what I was talking about.

The traits I mentioned Harry possessing are opposites of what are considered to be narcissistic traits. From
A lack of psychological awareness (see insight in psychology and psychiatry, egosyntonic)
Difficulty with empathy.
Magical thinking: Narcissists see themselves as perfect, using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.

What writes my bottom line to a large extent is that my "read" (intuitive assessment) of Harry is that he isn't a narcissist. (For reasons I won't go into now, I trust my ability to recognize that).
With that as starting point, I picked the minimal set of traits, which to me prove conclusively that Harry isn't a narcissist (unless to a very small extent).

After reading through the article and your response to comments, I would wager that Harry and Petunia's narcissism is also permeable to flour.

The text says Harry does not feel respected by his parents and provides numerous examples of Harry's arrogance, grandiosity, etc. What more do you want?

An acknowledgement that

a) Narcissism may not apply to children b) there's other ways to interpret the text than the one you presenting. c) you're not presenting text that runs contrary to your theory d) that there are other causes for a person and a parent not to respect their children than narcissism

Many human children start their lives being incredibly self-centered. One element of the process of maturation is tempering that. Harry starts off being pretty arrogant, but quickly, thanks to Quirrell, learns to lose. He genuinely cares about people, not so their reflection shines on him, but for their own sake. That's anti-narcisistic.

Most of your examples have many anti-examples that simply show that Harry is sometimes clueless about "people stuff" and is an eleven year old boy.

Petunia isn't a narcissist. She genuinely cares about her son. Several times you conflate the wishes of both parents or of Michael and assign them to Petunia alone.

To keep this on track with Less Wrong's stated goals, my permeability to flour reference may not have been the most accurate reference. But you need to define "narcissist" first and then stand by that definition even if the text doesn't support Harry and Petunia doing it.

I'm not going to re-read the whole thread to see if you're actually coming up with justifications to support you argument after the fact. But it does feel like you're not going to be convinced your theory is wrong, no matter what evidence is presented.

Ask yourself this: What evidence from the text would it take to change your mind?

Two, you're also falling into the arguments/soldiers problem. You're unwilling to concede your theory has even the tiniest weakness...even when the author of the text himself says your theory is wrong.

What you really want to do is:

1) Refine the qualities of narcissism. Your 13 qualities have a lot of overlap. There's maybe 5 unique qualities there. Let's shorten to 3: Grandiose sense of self-importance. Becomes furious if criticized Does not recognize the feelings of others

2) Decide what proportion of behavior needs to be for a person to be consider narcissist. 70/30? 90/10?

3) Pick 5 characters, including Harry and assign them a status of Narcissist / Not narcissist.

4) Ask 3 people for each category to read HPMOR and find examples of this characters being a)grandiose or humble b) responds to criticism with anger or acceptance c) empathizes or not

5) With blinding, tally up the results and compare to your ratio of N / not N behaviors for each character then see how the results compare to your predictions.

That's comprehensive. I agree, my argument is non-rigorous and hinges on a qualitative assessment of an entire story. Other people might not agree with my assessment because I'm relying on my (fallible, biased) pattern-matching capabilities to recall examples from the story; other people will tend to remember different examples more clearly. I also agree that it's not clear where the line is between "narcissist" and "not narcissist"; there appears to be a wide indeterminate area where the evidence is not clear. What you propose would answer the question much more rigorously.

Evidence to get me to change my mind would include examples of the following: 1. Petunia listening to a worry/concern of Harry's and then acting to make Harry feel better 2. Harry expecting that he will probably fail at "world optimization" 3. Harry seeking out association with Ron or similarly-average students 4. Harry being told he is average at something important to him and feeling OK about that 5. Harry accepting rules he sees as unreasonable without trying to "get creative" to get around them 6. Harry being open about his goals with others, and avoiding people who he is afraid of being honest with 7. Harry helping others with no expectation of reward

On re-reading this list, it looks like being less narcissistic would be bad for Harry as well as bad for most others in-Universe. I still think Harry is narcissistic and Petunia may be narcissistic, and that this skews the rate of narcissism among HPMOR readers. But, I'm not clear about what changes, if any, people should make based on this information. My standard advice of "get an advanced technical degree from a top school, then build something useful" is orthogonal to narcissism, and there's no reason-driven way to derive "should" judgments from scientific facts.