Science: Ryan Lochte Is a Narcissist or Stupid or Both

He's a pretty boy narcissist who should know better.

Getty Images / Harry How

The defining scandal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics has been decided: Ryan Lochte — medal-winning American swimmer, possible inventor of avocado toast, coiner of the term jeah! — reported being robbed in the wee hours of Sunday morning by fake policemen who held him and three fellow swimmers at gunpoint, taking away their wallets. Lochte’s response? Allegedly: “Whatever.”

But by Thursday morning, that story — a loose, vague one to begin with that became fuzzier as fluid details became even more muddled — was cracked, with CCTV video footage proving the true, far less sinister, story: Lochte and his pals were intoxicated, broke a door at a gas station to pee, got into an altercation, and paid for damages before returning to the Olympic village.

Somewhere along the way, Lochte went from lovable douchebag to downright asshole who blamed his bad behavior on anonymous Brazilians, and the entire bizarre scenario has everyone the world over wondering, “WTF?”

But the answer might lie in Ryan Lochte being a narcissist who got caught up in a web of lies and — for lack of a better set of words — was just plain stupid.

He is, after all, a cookie cutter narcissist, at least according to Jeffrey Kluger, who wrote the book on narcissism, The Narcissist Next Door. He told Minnesota Public Radio back in 2014:

“Narcissists are very often the most charismatic person in the room, the funniest person in the room, the most engaged and energetic person in the room. They do a very, very good job of impersonating interest and engagement with the people around them. Not only are you in the presence of someone who is smart and funny and charismatic, you’re also in the presence of somebody who seems very much to be listening to you and engaged with you.”

Maybe there’s reason to believe that Lochte gets away with being stupid because he’s pretty. Swimming isn’t for a body-conscious dude or gal — your body is on full display, and Lochte admittedly has a solid bod to show off and skills to match. Narcissists love being the center of attention and Lochte is just that in the pool. Lochte’s pretty boy face might lead some to automatically believe him because he might seem more trustworthy: slightly lifted eyebrows, an upturned mouth.

Maybe it’s because we’re willing to forgive — wrongly, we might confess — a white dude. He has white privilege on his side and is able to say laughably ludicrous things that for a woman might be construed as “airheaded” or talking like a “bimbo” but for a guy is forgiven as being just “a boy being a boy.” Twitter pointed out that had Lochte been anything but a white man, things might have turned out very differently in Rio.

Maybe it’s because weirdly, we find Lochte to be … charming? He’s a douche, and unapologetic about it: He smizes into cameras — sometimes with a metallic grill, most recently with a head of possibly blue, maybe green hair — and has an odd magnetism that draws cameras and audiences in. And science says that charm factor in a narcissist oddly makes us trust them more, makes them magnetic and enticing and compelling to us, even though they have nothing to offer us in return.

Or maybe it’s just because Lochte is a millennial, at least according to this recent New Yorker essay on the culture of narcissists. But this sounds like a throwaway excuse — They like selfies and don’t know how to earn praise and think they deserve to be the center of attention! Nope. So psychology wants to assign blame to Lochte because maybe he’s a narcissist, or maybe he’s pretty, or maybe he’s a millennial.

But can it just be that he just was stupid? That maybe he made a dumb decision this week, didn’t think things through, lied to his mom (who went on to tell the media), and spawned a web of falsities that took on a story of its own and became a crazy yarn when really, all Lochte did was blame imaginary robbers because he was freaking out about a dumb thing he did? That’s not to say that what he did was forgivable or okay — it’s not — but Ryan Lochte was stupid. End of story.

Maybe the real lesson we should walk away with from this entire debacle is this: Never lie to your mother.

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