Narcissism is a condition which is characterized by excessive love of oneself. As a personality trait, narcissism is characterized by a sense of grandiosity, entitlement and low empathy. New research indicates that it is not only an irritating psychological glitch but it may be physically damaging for men. This does not appear to be the case for women, however, the study of 106 undergraduate students found.
The team of researchers gave the students a 40-item narcissism questionnaire that assessed components of narcissism. They found an unhealthy narcissism score by adding up the entitlement and exploitative-ness subscales, and they generated a healthy narcissism score by summing up others, including authority, superiority, vanity and self-sufficiency. The researchers also took saliva samples to assess the undergrads' cortisol levels.
They noted that individuals with certain narcissistic personality traits may have elevated levels of cortisol - the primary stress hormone - putting them at greater risk for long term health problems, particularly cardiovascular events.
In general, narcissism was not predictive of cortisol in females, but did correlate to cortisol levels in men. When the researchers parsed that even further, distinguishing between so-called healthier and more toxic narcissistic tendencies, they found "bad" narcissism was marginally linked to higher cortisol levels in women, but it was closely tied to higher cortisol levels in men. The study was published Monday evening in the journal PLoS One.
“Past research has stressed narcissists out and then looked at their cortisol levels, which were higher in men,” explained senior author Sara Konrath, an assistant research professor with the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, referencing a study from another University of Michigan researcher from 2010. “Here, we didn't have that stress, but they still had high cortisol [levels]. If men's bodies are always kind of 'activated' like this, it can predict cardiovascular problems in the long term,” she continued.
Dr. Patrick Kelly, director of consultation liaison service and pediatric psychosomatic medicine at Johns Hopkins, said that while the new study has some limitations given the failure to identify whether any participants had full-blown personality disorders, it raises interesting questions about why bad narcissism may be tied to higher cortisol levels in men. “It gives a biological correlation to a psychiatric phenomenon,” Kelly said. “It' helps to say, 'there is a mind body connection.' There are real physical ramifications to your mental state, particularly if you have something like a personality disorder, which can be treated.”
“It just means that clinicians and practitioners have to be creative when dealing with men who they think might be on that [narcissistic] scale somewhere, and be aware of possible long-term problems,” Konrath said. “They have to focus on ways to manage the body's relaxation.”