Is Society Becoming More Narcissistic?

Research reveals if society is becoming more narcissistic. Narcissism refers to excessive levels of superiority, self-love and self-centredness.

Research reveals if society is becoming more narcissistic. Narcissism refers to excessive levels of superiority, self-love and self-centredness.

Modern Western society increases narcissism, research finds.

It could help to explain why — as some people think — society is becoming more narcissistic.

Narcissism refers to excessive levels of superiority, self-love and self-centredness.

The study compared people born and brought up in East and West Germany.

Higher levels of narcissism were found in people who grew up in the western states of Germany.

Professor Stefan Röpke, who led the study, said:

“Contemporary western societies promote narcissism.

People who grew up on the western side of the former East-West border or West-Berlin had higher levels of narcissism than those who spent their childhood in the former German Democratic Republic.

In our study, this was shown to primarily apply to ‘grandiose narcissism’, a type of narcissism that is characterized by an exaggerated sense of superiority.”

Is society becoming more narcissistic?

The study’s conclusions came from a survey of over 1,000 people born in both the Federal Republic of Germany and the former German Democratic Republic.

The largest differences in narcissism between east and west society were seen for those aged 6-18 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For self-esteem, the researchers found the opposite: people who grew up in eastern societies had higher self-esteem

Dr Aline Vater, the study’s first author, said:

“No difference can be found within the younger generation — people who had either not been born at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, or had not yet reached school-age, and who therefore grew up within the same western society.

In this group, the levels of narcissism and self-esteem recorded are the same for respondents from both the former East and West Germany.”

Professor Röpke concluded:

“Overall, our results suggest that levels of narcissism and self-esteem are influenced by societal factors.

Western societies appear to promote increased levels of narcissism among their citizens.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Vater et al., 2018).

Narcissism Epidemic? No Evidence Of ‘Age Of Narcissism’

Is there really a ‘narcissism epidemic’ or is this not really the ‘age of narcissism’?

Is there really a ‘narcissism epidemic’ or is this not really the ‘age of narcissism’?

People are at their most narcissistic when they are college-age, research shows.

Then, people’s narcissism slowly reduces over the years, on average.

Professor Brent Roberts, who led the research, said:

“The average college student scores 15 to 16 on the NPI scale, out of a possible 40.

The average grandparent scores about 12.

Based on that, if you use that as a natural metric, most people are not narcissists.

And, perhaps most interestingly, narcissism declines with age.”

A narcissism epidemic?

The study found no evidence that there is a ‘narcissism epidemic’ among young people.

In fact, young people are slightly less narcissistic than they were twenty years ago.

Professor Roberts thinks this is just older people misremembering how brash they were at that age, and how they have calmed down over the years:

“We have faulty memories, so we don’t remember that we were rather self-centered when we were that age.”

Both millennials and younger generations are frequently portrayed as having poor character traits or of being part of a narcissism epidemic.

However, Professor Roberts said:

“But that’s just wrong.

The kids are all right.

There never was a narcissism epidemic, despite what has been claimed.”

Not the ‘age of narcissism’ at all

The conclusions come from a survey of 1,166 students compared with tens of thousands of students surveyed in the 2000s and in the 2010s.

They all completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the NPI.

This involves choosing between 40 pairs of statements.

For example, here is one:

  • I just want to be reasonably happy.
  • I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.

The second is more consistent with a narcissistic view of the the self.

The study found that whether male or female, White, African-American or Caucasian, people’s narcissism shows a slow but steady decline with age.

Professor Roberts said:

“For the most part, the measure worked pretty well, but we found a few items that didn’t work consistently across different groups.

When you adjust for that, you see decreases in narcissism from the 1990s to the 2000s to the 2010s.”

So, there you have it: there is no narcissism epidemic, nor is this the age of narcissism.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Wetzelet al., 2017).

The One Simple Question That Identifies A Narcissist

Study of 2,200 people finds that just one question will reveal the true egomaniac.

Study of 2,200 people finds that just one question will reveal the true egomaniac.

At first narcissist look better, sound more confident, have trendier haircuts and are funnier.

But soon they become a pain.

So how can you easily identify a narcissist before you get in too deep? The answer is: you just ask them.

Frequently psychologists have used a questionnaire with 40 items called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

One study shows, though, that you can identify narcissists almost as accurately using just one question (Bushman et al., 2014).

In the study of 2,200 people of all ages, people were asked one simple question, including the part in brackets:

“To what extent do you agree with this statement: “I am a narcissist.” (Note: The word “narcissist” means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)”

People rated themselves on a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 is “not very true of me” and 7 is “very true of me”.

The results were pretty close to other measures of narcissism, which all require more questions.

It probably works so well because of the very nature of narcissism itself.

Brad Bushman, first author of the study, explains:

“People who are willing to admit they are more narcissistic than others probably actually are more narcissistic.

People who are narcissists are almost proud of the fact. You can ask them directly because they don’t see narcissism as a negative quality — they believe they are superior to other people and are fine with saying that publicly.”

The narcissist problem

While narcissists seem attractive at first, their personalities can be toxic in the long-run because they have little concern for the feelings of others.

Bushman continued:

“Overall, narcissism is problematic for both individuals and society. Those who think they are already great don’t try to improve themselves.

“And narcissism is bad for society because people who are only thinking of themselves and their own interests are less helpful to others.”

Why not try out the narcissist question on those around you right now and see what results you get?

You might be surprised how many people admit to being narcissists.

→ Read on: One recent study suggested this method for how to get a narcissist to feel empathy.


How To Tell A Narcissist From Their Signature

The study found links between signatures and the darker parts of narcissism, such as authoritativeness and exploitativeness.

The study found links between signatures and the darker parts of narcissism, such as authoritativeness and exploitativeness.

People with bigger signatures are more likely to be narcissists, research finds.

The conclusion comes from a study of the signatures of 500 chief financial officers.

They found that the CFOs with the largest signatures were more likely to bend the truth.

In this case by misreporting the company’s earnings or relaxing internal controls.

Dr Charles Ham, one of the study’s authors, said:

“In an ideal setting, you would be in direct contact with executives and have them take a personality test.

But that’s not usually possible.

A signature comes directly from the executive.

We used two laboratory tests to establish the link between signature size and narcissism.”

Sometimes people think of narcissism as being an advantage, said Dr Ham:

“When people think of narcissism, their first thought is Steve Jobs.

They think of it as a good trait.”

However, only some parts of narcissism are positive, such as the self-confidence.

The researchers only found links with the darker parts of narcissism, such as authoritativeness and exploitativeness.

Dr Ham said:

“We’ve looked for that silver lining, and we haven’t found it.

We didn’t predict at first that signature size would be related only to the dark elements of narcissism.

But that’s what we found.”

The signatures were taken from notarised documents provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Professor Nick Seybert, a study co-author, said:

“We controlled for factors such as gender, tenure and corporate history.

We also measured the size of CEO signatures to determine the interplay — and to see if it was really the CFO driving the oversight process.”

Other ways to spot narcissism in a signature include the use of extra lines or exclamation marks.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality (Mailhos et al., 2016).

Signs Of Narcissism: What You Need To Know

Signs of narcissism are more than just being self-confident or self-absorbed, the personality trait is complex.

Signs of narcissism are more than just being self-confident or self-absorbed, the personality trait is complex.

Narcissism refers to being self-centred, boastful and preoccupied with one’s own needs — which is relatively normal and common among people.

Like all personality traits, narcissism exists on a continuum — most people are at least a little narcissistic.

However, at the extreme narcissism can be become a personality disorder.

Typical traits or signs of narcissism in someone with a narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Convinced of their own superiority to others.
  • Appear arrogant and conceited.
  • Envious: they want power, prestige and adoration.
  • Extremely self-absorbed.
  • Lacking empathy towards others.

Types of narcissist

Psychologists have suggested different types of narcissists:

  • Grandiose narcissists: over-inflated sense of self-importance.
  • Vulnerable narcissists: defensive and see others as hostile. Linked to more anxiety and depression.

Here are some of the ways that these traits manifest themselves:

1. Narcissists have brittle self-esteem

One thing everyone notices about the narcissist is that they appear very full of themselves and self-centred.

But, some people are full of themselves because they simply have high self-esteem, and possibly for good reason.

The narcissist, though, feels they are superior to others, but at the same time not very satisfied with themselves.

Their self-esteem is brittle, ready to crack and reveal the uncertainties underneath.

At their core, they can feel a certain lack, which is why criticism makes narcissists aggressive.

2. Narcissists are susceptible to flattery

The narcissist loves nothing better than when others gather round to tell them how great they are.

And narcissists believe every single word of even the most exaggerated flattery.

While others take it with a pinch of salt, the narcissist laps it all up, believing they are only getting their due.

The reason they are so susceptible to flattery is that their ambition knows no bounds.

They really believe they are royalty.

If you don’t offer flattery to the narcissist, they will start to solicit it from you: “What do you think of my hair today, doesn’t it look nice?”

3. Narcissists know how to attract attention

Narcissists love to make a big production out of everything.

They can turn on the charm in an instant.

It’s why they appear so often on reality TV shows, and TV and entertainment in general.

They adore attention and will do anything to get it from others.

This makes them very attractive, at least initially.

Their antics provide a welcome break from the workaday world.

Watching a narcissist is very entertaining…

…until, of course, they turn…

4. Narcissists are envious

Most people experience the odd burst of envy from time-to-time, but for the narcissist envy burns brightly.

Narcissists are deeply involved with how they are doing in comparison to others.

This means they get pleasure from devaluing others and from showing how much better they are themselves.

Naturally, then, they are competitive and likely to be poor losers.

(However, grandiose narcissist do not feel much envy.)

5. Narcissists lack empathy

The narcissist cares little for how others feel, they are only interested in getting their own needs met.

And their own needs are simple enough: to be worshipped as a living God.

Some narcissists can be very manipulative in order to get what they want.

They take advantage and think little of others’ feelings.

Then, when they have satisfied their egos, it is all over as if nothing happened.

6. Narcissists are volatile

Some narcissists fit in reasonably well with society.

‘Successful’ narcissists manage to maintain their jobs and relationships by keeping their tendencies in check.

For the more volatile narcissist, though, their narcissism escapes in most situations.

They immediately blow up at even the slightest criticism — sometimes known as narcissistic rage.

Their envy, insecurity and vanity boils over at every available opportunity.

The effect is to push people away, tired of being used and abused.

So the narcissist ends up continually seeking new friends and a new audience, after the old ones have got fed up with their antics.

Body language signs of narcissism

Beyond the signs of narcissism mentioned above, one can concentrate on their body language.

There are some conversational signs of narcissism to look out for (from Holtzman et al., 2010):

  • Narcissists tend to use more sexual language and swearing to grab attention
  • Narcissist are overly dramatic in their facial expressions and their hand gestures.
  • Narcissists tend to use a loud voice.
  • Narcissist look over your shoulder while speaking: they want to see if there is someone else to talk to.

One study even suggests that narcissistic eyebrows are the facial feature that reveals their personalites.

However, narcissists do not use the pronoun “I” more in conversation (Carey et al., 2015).

It might seem odd that people who are so self-focused, self-important and superior do not use the words “I” and “me” more often, but the finding is consistent.

Ms Angela Carey, the study’s first author, said:

“There is a widely assumed association between use of first-person singular pronouns, what we call I-talk, and narcissism, among laypeople and scientists despite the fact that the empirical support for this relation is surprisingly sparse and generally inconsistent.”

Two signs of a narcissistic personality

Many narcissists do not have a personality disorder, but their tendencies towards narcissism can be seen in their personality traits.

Research finds that narcissists are highly extraverted along with being disagreeable (Bradlee & Emmons, 1992; Paulhus, 2001).

The combination of the two personality traits explains how narcissists are both very sociable and also prone to being rude and selfish.

Their extraversion makes them very positive.

Along with their self-confidence and energy, people find them very attractive — at first.

Narcissists try to take control of situations and are happy to manipulate people — even if their strategies are self-defeating over the long-term.

Most people who are around narcissists for a while start to notice how disagreeable they are — they have little or no interest in other people’s feelings.

They can also go into a narcissistic rage.

A narcissist will usually prefer to appear higher status, even at the cost of being much less agreeable:

“…the willingness of narcissists to accept negative judgments of their likability as long as they receive positive judgments of their status gives them high overall scores on the NPI [Narcissistic Personality Inventory].”

The conclusions come from two studies, one that surveyed 102 people and the other that reviewed the research on personality and narcissism.

Professor Delroy L. Paulhus, an expert on dark personalities, explains how high extraversion and being disagreeable make a narcissist:

“…reward-sensitivity as the central component.

Thus, the pursuit of rewarding goals is paramount in the cognitions of extraverts.

They also show high levels of self-confidence, optimism, and promiscuous sexual behavior.

Disagreeable individuals display, at best, a cold disdain for others and aggressive anger, when frustrated.

As a combination, the subset of disagreeable reward seekers constitutes those who actively pursue rewards but react with aggression when frustrated in these attempts.”

The narcissist also has a curious combination of an overly positive view of themselves and overly negative view of others:

“…narcissists’ relationships are characterized by an asymmetric positive view of the self and a negative view of other whereas relationships among those with high self-esteem are characterized by a symmetric positive view of both self and other.”


The Eyebrows Are The Facial Feature That Reveals A Narcissist

Just the eyebrows are enough to reveal narcissistic tendencies — no other facial feature is predictive of the trait.

Just the eyebrows are enough to reveal narcissistic tendencies — no other facial feature is predictive of the trait.

People can identify narcissists just from looking at their faces, psychologists have discovered.

In fact, the eyebrows alone can reveal narcissistic traits in people, research reveals.

Grandiose narcissists have thicker and denser eyebrows and people automatically pick up on this cue.

Across a series of studies, hundreds of participants were asked to look at pictures of people with varying degrees of narcissism.

Grandiose narcissists tend to strongly agree with statements like “If I ruled the world it would be a better place,” and “I like to show off my body.”

What they found was curious: when the eyebrows were deleted from people’s pictures, participants could not spot the narcissists.

Next, participants were shown just people’s eyebrows.

This did the trick, suggesting the eyebrow contains particularly salient information about narcissists.

It also suggests that there is little information about whether someone is a narcissist from their eyes, mouths, cheeks or any other part of their face.

The study’s authors write:

“…people can accurately identify narcissism from facial features, even as little as a single eyebrow.

Moreover, although perceivers considered eyebrow femininity, grooming, and distinctiveness when judging narcissism, only the last of these related to their accuracy.

Grandiose narcissists thus seem to have more distinct eyebrows (e.g., thicker and denser), explaining how participants arrived at their accurate narcissism judgments.”

In a subsequent study, the researchers were able to make people look more or less narcissistic by manipulating their eyebrows.

The authors conclude:

“The ability to identify dark personality traits at zero-acquaintance provides particular value for avoiding exploitation and manipulation.

The increasing incidence of narcissism underscores this value.

Fortunately, people can accurately judge others’ narcissism based on how they act, what they say, what they wear, and what their faces look like.

Here, we isolated the facial features that explain the last of these, finding that narcissism judgments principally depend on targets’ eyebrows.”

→ Read on: Signs Of Narcissism: What You Need To Know

The study was published in the Journal of Personality (Giacomin & Rule, 2018).

The Real Reason Narcissists Behave The Way They Do

Classic narcissistic behaviours include exploiting others without guilt, needing constant praise and displaying a sense of entitlement.

Classic narcissistic behaviours include exploiting others without guilt, needing constant praise and displaying a sense of entitlement.

Narcissists behave the way they do because of insecurity and not because they are full of themselves, a study finds.

In fact, people with these tendencies use classic narcissistic behaviours to cover up their low self-worth.

These include exploiting others without guilt, needing constant praise and displaying a sense of entitlement and grandiose self-importance.

Unfortunately for narcissists these behaviours all make others hate them in the long-run and so aggravates their own low self-worth.

Dr Pascal Wallisch, study co-author, said:

“For a long time, it was unclear why narcissists engage in unpleasant behaviors, such as self-congratulation, as it actually makes others think less of them.

This has become quite prevalent in the age of social media — a behavior that’s been coined ‘flexing’

Our work reveals that these narcissists are not grandiose, but rather insecure, and this is how they seem to cope with their insecurities.”

The researchers surveyed almost 300 people, testing them for typical narcissistic behaviours.

People were asked if they agreed with statements like these:

  • “I am likely to show off if I get the chance.”
  • “It matters that I am seen at important events.”
  • “I have exquisite taste.”
  • “I like knowing more than other people.”

These questions access how much people need to manage the impression they give others, the social validation they need, how much they like to raise themselves above others and their social dominance.

The results suggest that genuine narcissists behave the way they do because they are insecure.

Ms Mary Kowalchyk, the study’s first author, said:

“More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover up low self-worth.

Narcissists are insecure, and they cope with these insecurities by flexing.

This makes others like them less in the long run, thus further aggravating their insecurities, which then leads to a vicious cycle of flexing behaviors.”

The researchers looked at two different types of narcissism:

  • Grandiose narcissism: having an overinflated sense of one’s importance.
  • Vulnerable narcissism: this is linked to more anxiety and depression.

Their results suggested that vulnerable narcissists are genuine narcissists.

Meanwhile grandiose narcissists are better seen as a variety of psychopath.

→ Read on: Here are six signs of narcissism and one simple question that identifies a narcissist.

The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Kowalchyk et al., 2021).

How To Get A Narcissist To Feel Empathy

A simple technique to help narcissists develop more fellow-feeling.

A simple technique to help narcissists develop more fellow-feeling.

Narcissists aren’t much interested in other people’s suffering, or, for that matter, any of other people’s feelings.

Erica Hepper, the author of a study on the subject, explains that narcissists are:

“A bit full of themselves, self-centered, and don’t seem too concerned about the effects they have on other people.”

Research by Hepper and colleagues shows, though, that narcissists can be made to feel empathy, if given a nudge in the right direction (Hepper et al., 2014).

In the study, participants were split into two groups: ‘low narcissists’ and ‘high narcissists’.

Those high on narcissism in this study were not considered to have a clinical disorder.

Hepper continues:

“…people high in subclinical narcissism are psychologically healthy and well-adjusted, often even very successful, whereas people with NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] are inflexible and volatile, and don’t manage day-to-day life well.”

Both groups were then given a passage to read which described a relationship break-up.

As expected, the narcissists showed no empathy towards the story’s protagonists, no matter how severe the story.

This is normal for narcissists, whose interest in others is limited to garnering an audience for their antics, or for exploitation.

In another study, though, the narcissists were given a nudge in the right direction.

High- and low-narcissists then watched a 10-minute video of a woman — identified as Susan — describing her experience as a victim of domestic violence.

Sometimes, beforehand, they were instructed to empathise, with the following instruction:

“Imagine how Susan feels. Try to take her perspective in the video, imagining how she is feeling about what is happening…”  (Hepper et al., 2014).

When the high-narcissists were specifically told to imagine how the victim felt, their empathy suddenly kicked in.

In comparison, those low on narcissism didn’t need to be told, so instructing them to take the victim’s perspective had no additional effect.

The researchers even confirmed these results physiologically, to check the narcissists weren’t just saying what they thought was expected of them.

The physiological measures also suggested they really were empathising, after being instructed to do so.

Hepper thinks this simple technique of reminding narcissists to take another person’s point of view can be useful:

“If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from their teammate or friend’s point of view, they are likely to respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way.”

It’s not that narcissists can’t feel for others it’s that they need reminding:

“…the current findings […] imply that narcissists’ low empathy is automatic (instead of consciously suppressed or under-reported), and also that perspective-taking induces genuine change in the way that narcissists process a distressed person’s experience.” (Hepper et al., 2014).


How To Distinguish Narcissism From High Self-Esteem (M)

The crucial difference between being a narcissist and having high self-esteem.

The crucial difference between being a narcissist and having high self-esteem.

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The Most Narcissistic Generation Were Born Between These Years (M)

…and how members of the most narcissistic generation ever react to the label.

...and how members of the most narcissistic generation ever react to the label.

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