British citizens who fear immigrants and thought they threatened their values and way of life were more likely to have voted Brexit.
And the results, partly driven by narcissism, were regardless of their age, gender or level of education.
The research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, identified ‘collective narcissism’ as a new voting variable.
Scientists from the UK, Poland and Portugal measured the effect of xenophobia on voting behaviour, and found that it was strongly related to voting in favour of Brexit.
Led by Dr Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, from Goldsmiths, University of London, the researchers then tried to establish what kind of people believe that immigrants threaten the UK.
They found three distinct groups: authoritarians, who fear other groups will threaten the status quo; people who compete for their group’s dominance over immigrants; and collective narcissists, who believe the UK is entitled to privileged treatment but complain this ‘true importance and value’ is not recognised by other countries.
Importantly, the research also found that people who just valued their British identity were not more likely to reject immigrants or vote for Brexit.
Dr Golec de Zavala said this research introduces collective narcissism as a new variable to consider when making predictions for political behavior.
She said: “From Brexit, Trump and support for Vladimir Putin in Russia to the nationalist, ultra- conservative government in Poland, studies from our and other labs show that collective narcissism systematically predicts prejudice, aggression and a tendency to interpret innocent behaviors as provocation to the national group.
“Collective narcissism is not a good attitude to have.
“We should study how this becomes a group norm and find ways of preventing it from happening and spreading.
“We should vet our leaders more carefully in this respect because leaders have the power to make such attitudes normative in their groups.”
The researchers also suggest that as the study was conducted after the referendum, it may be that the ‘yes’ vote increased people’s xenophobia, and made them feel more empowered to express xenophobic attitudes.