Originally published August 26, 2016
By Leonard Martinez
Every few months, Kim Kardashian posts a provocative picture or tweet that temporarily dominates social media feeds.
In early July 2016, she shook up the Internet again when she posted Snapchat clips of Taylor Swift and Kanye West talking about West’s song “Famous” with its controversial lyrics about Swift. The drama then snowballed into a story that crossed from pop culture into mainstream media.
But does Kardashian post such items because she needs the drama, or just for the heck of it?
Scott Frankowski, doctoral student in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Psychology, and his colleagues studied the need for drama (NFD) and created a test for it.
The research was published this year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“Some celebrities, like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, seem to have a high need for drama, but they also seem very narcissistic and very successful,” Frankowski said.
The NFD studies found a correlation between NFD and the traits known as the dark triad – psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.
“Maybe in the right context, where your life is public and where you get more recognition for the crazy stunts you do, maybe in that case the need for drama fuels that and makes you more successful,” Frankowski said, referring to West and Kardashian.
Frankowski wanted to study NFD because he wanted to disprove the assumption that only women want drama in their lives.
“We know it’s not true that women have more drama, so we developed a scale to test need for drama for a (statistics) course,” Frankowski said.
The test measures interpersonal manipulation, impulsive outspokenness and perceived victimhood. The test also provides insight into some people’s dramatic behavior online and in person, according to the published research.
There were two NFD studies conducted – one using samples from UTEP students and one using samples from across the U.S. Both studies were validated.
“With the UTEP sample, we have a different demographic here,” Frankowski said. “It’s mostly Latino and it’s a lot younger than our other samples.”
The UTEP and national studies both found that young people are a little higher on the need-for-drama scale than the older participants.
The studies found that there are almost an equal number of men who have a need for drama as women. There were a few surprising results.
“We didn’t expect the (NFD) trait to be so manipulative,” Frankowski said. “It correlates really strongly with the traits we call the dark triad – psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. These are really anti-social traits. These people are seeing themselves as victims a lot in order to manipulate others. It’s not really surprising but we didn’t think you’d always be using that to influence others and manipulate others.”
Since the research was published this year, several media outlets have picked up on it and published the NFD quiz. It also could lead to more research on NFD worldwide.
Researchers from Turkey, Iran, Portugal, Germany, New Zealand and Bangladesh are interested in trying to validate the NFD construct in those countries.
“It would be neat if it did validate the same way in other countries,” Frankowski said. How the statements are translated is important because some phrases are taken literally, such as “many people have stabbed me in the back.”
UTEP Psychology Professor Osvaldo F. Morera, Ph.D., said the research and work done by Frankowski and the other students on this project “set a standard for what could happen from a class project.”
“Students who enroll in my classes know a publication is possible and they are not doing a class project to simply satisfy a course requirement,” Morera said.
Morera said publication of students’ research helps the students add to their curriculum vita.
“Being able to publish one’s research is important for all graduate students, as it shows potential employers that the students can develop a research idea, design a study to answer the question, carry out the study and then communicate what was done to a scientific audience.”