Look, we’ve all done it. As much as I hate to do it, I’ll admit it: I’ve cancelled plans last minute. Life is unpredictable. Things come up. People get sick or anxious. And yes, sometimes we do honestly double book or forget about an important obligation.
Pretty much everyone has cancelled plans last minute. But some people do it a lot more than other people. And that’s because they don’t just cancel for logistical reasons (although they do), but they also cancel their plans with others with little or no notice because something more interesting or fun to do came along.
This is a distinct behavior known as “social zapping.”
And it turns out that folks who engage in a lot of social zapping frequently have dark personality traits. I mentioned the dark triad of personality in an earlier installment of this Psyched series.
What Social Zappers Are Like
Here’s what researchers found in a recent study about folks who engage in social zapping:
- Social zappers were high in Machiavellianism. Individuals high in this trait are primarily self-interested and will not hesitate to deceive others if they believe that doing so will benefit them. This was actually the strongest predictive relationship in the study.
- Narcissism was also predictive of social zapping. Highly narcissistic individuals are prone to grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority. Note: Despite having a very similar name, being highly narcissistic is distinct from having narcissistic personality disorder (although individuals with NPD are quite high in narcissistic traits).
- To a lesser extent, attentional impulsivity and procrastination were also linked to social zapping. (But those relationships weren’t as strong as the dark personality traits — most strikingly Machiavellianism.)
Here’s the bottom line, in the exact words of the researchers: “Based on the results, social zappers can be characterized as individuals who tend to make self-serving and/or impulsive short-sighted decisions at the expense of others. Social zapping is a phenomenon of inherent self-interest, where individuals cancel appointments spontaneously (at the last minute) with others to pursue options they deem best for themselves.”
It’s an interesting study for sure! When I ignore the initial defensiveness I feel knowing that I’ve had to cancel last minute before myself (particularly as someone with anxiety) and really think about it, I can actually identify folks from my past who didn’t do this rarely but were prone to this behavior. And truly… I can see what the research is talking about. It frankly well explains one past relationship I had with a truly selfish actor who canceled last minute on me multiple times saying that they were “sick” — and that I ran into later on at group engagements after they canceled on me.
I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back, I can see that they were globally quite selfish — and yes, even Machiavellian. Huh.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.