Are narcissists born or made? As with most psychological traits, the answer is probably: both, to some extent (although we’re not sure what extent).
Under evidence for “made,” though, you can add the results of a recent study published in Journal for Personality and Social Psychology. The study found evidence that certain life changes in young adulthood are associated with subsequent increases in levels of narcissism.
The study focused on an aspect of narcissism psychologists refer to as narcissistic admiration. Some researchers have previously suggested that narcissism can be divided into two broad categories of traits: admiration and rivalry.
Narcissistic admiration is the desire to seek out admiration and attention, to be the center of attention. In the recent study on life changes and narcissism, the authors describe admiration as the “assertive or extraverted” side of narcissism.
By contrast, narcissistic rivalry is about building up an inflated sense of self by competing with others and putting others down. The researchers who originally proposed this distinction referred to admiration and rivalry as the “bright side” and “dark side” of narcissism respectively.
In the study on how narcissistic admiration changes over time, the researchers tracked about 7,500 young adults total and identified three types of life events that tended to increase their levels of narcissistic admiration (that is, their desire to seek out admiration and elevate their sense of self). These life changes were:
- Experiencing a change in eating habits or sleeping habits that people described as positive
- Experiencing a romantic breakup that people described as positive
- Failing an important exam
Admittedly, this seems like kind of an odd collection of events that could trigger increases in narcissism. But the variety in this list goes to show how complex the sense of self is. It appears that both positive life changes, like self-improvement in the area of sleep or diet, and negative life changes, like bombing a big exam, can drive people to seek out admiration and pump up their sense of self.
Image: Flickr/jason saul