By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
In the field of psychology, research into narcissism is focused primarily on two main aspects, the clinical and the socio-psychological. These represent two different approaches to narcissism, with the former viewing the condition as a disorder and the latter considering it as a human trait that should be viewed as a continuum and can be present to varying degrees.
These two approaches to narcissism are generally divergent to one another, but they do converge over certain aspects and a 2007 review of the published narcissism literature by Campbell and Foster concluded that narcissism is always characterized by the following basic features.
Narcissists have an unrealistic view of themselves. Analysis of self-reported measures versus objective measures showed that narcissists have a greatly exaggerated and distorted view of themselves.
These individuals believe they are superior to others.
Research supports that narcissists are selfish.
These individuals have a preoccupation with power and success.
Narcissists believe they are unique and special in terms of their achievements and talents.
Narcissists tend to be most exaggerated in the agentic domain, which refers to a person’s ability to self reflect, self regulate and make choices.
Campbell and Forster believe that self-regulatory approaches are key factors in narcissism. Self regulation is considered in terms of how the individual strives to feel positive, successful and special. Some differences in how self regulation is handled between narcissistic and non-narcissitic individuals are demonstrated by two studies conducted by Campbell, Reeder, Sedkides and Elliot in 2000. In both experiments, participants were given an achievement task, which was followed by feedback designed to either indicate failure or success. Analysis of the participants enhancement strategies showed that both narcissists and non-narcissists enhanced themselves, but that non-narcissists were more flexible in how they did this. When narcissists received negative feedback that could be interpreted as damaging their self image, they tended to enhance themselves at any cost whereas among non-narcissists, there were limits.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Dec 16, 2014