CHAMPAIGN, Ill. We all know one, or think we do: the person whose self-regard seems out of proportion to his or her actual merits. Popular culture labels these folks "narcissists," almost always a derogatory term. But a new study suggests that some forms of narcissism are at least in the short term beneficial, helping children navigate the difficult transition to adulthood.
The study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
"Most people think of narcissism as a trait that doesn't change much across the lifespan," said postdoctoral researcher Patrick Hill, who conducted the study with University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts. "But a lot of recent studies have shown that the developmental trajectory of narcissism goes upward in adolescence and what we call emerging adulthood the late teens and early 20s, and then typically declines."
This reduction in narcissistic traits coincides with a decline in their usefulness, the researchers found.
Hill and Roberts surveyed 368 undergraduate college students and 439 of their family members to get a picture of the narcissistic traits of the students and of their mothers. (There were enough mothers but not other relatives in the study to provide a robust sample size for analysis.)
"We looked at three different forms of narcissism," Hill said. The first, an inflated sense of leadership or authority, is the belief "that you know a lot and people should come to you for advice," he said. The second is "grandiose exhibitionism," being pompous, wanting to show off, and having an exaggerated sense of one's capabilities and talents. The third is a sense of entitlement and a willingness to exploit others for personal gain.
In the study, young people who were high in the l
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign