MONDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The inflated sense of
self-importance common to narcissism can be toxic to relationships,
but a new study suggests the personality trait may also harm men's
Researchers from the Universities of Michigan and Virginia
determined that men who scored high on two destructive narcissistic
traits -- entitlement and exploitativeness -- had markedly higher
levels than others of cortisol, a stress hormone that can lead to
high blood pressure and heart problems. While men and women are
equally narcissistic, study authors said, the cortisol stress
response was not noted in female participants.
"We generally see narcissism as a personality trait that's bad for others but not narcissists. It's bad for people in relationships with them," said study co-author Sara Konrath, an assistant research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. "This study was a way of getting under their skin to see if there are physical consequences."
The study is published Jan. 23 in the journal
Konrath and her colleagues administered a 40-item questionnaire
to 106 college students that measured five components of
narcissism, which is also characterized by self-absorption,
overestimations of their uniqueness -- attractiveness or
intelligence, for instance -- and a sense of grandiosity. They also
measured cortisol levels twice in the students' saliva to assess
baseline levels of the hormone, which signals activity in the
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), the body's key stress
Three of narcissism's five personality components are considered
useful or healthy: leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance and
self-absorption/self-admiration. Konrath also noted that
narcissists tend to be creative people with low levels of
depression, but their fragile views of themselves can lead them to
react defensively and resort to aggression when their sense of
superiority is threatened.
The authors found elevated levels of cortisol only in the men
with unhealthy narcissism, and they speculated that in these men
the HPA axis is chronically activated.
While study data didn't explain why only men seem to suffer from
a higher stress response to narcissism, Konrath speculated that
societal definitions of masculinity that overlap with the trait --
such as arrogance or dominance -- may leave men particularly
"They're at especially high risk because someone who admits they're stressed out is going to get help, but they're not likely to," she said. "There may be a cost to this jerkiness. It's a little sad they're a group that wouldn't get help if they needed it."
While the study "invites people to look at this issue in a more
comprehensive way," it did not prove a cause-and-effect
relationship between narcissism and the body's stress response,
said Dr. Mark Russ, director of psychiatric services at Zucker
Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
"People with narcissism may be type-A, very driven, perfectionistic and seek high-stress situations, and the cortisol levels may be measuring that," Russ said. "There may be an overlap."
Konrath said future research will focus on the reason women
don't respond physiologically to narcissism as men apparently do.
Narcissism levels have increased in both genders in recent years,
she said, perhaps as a byproduct of the so-called "self-esteem
movement," which emphasizes praise for children over criticism.
"It could be a change in the educational environment," she said. "I think it's nice we're trying to be thoughtful and careful of people's feelings, but we may err on the side of not being [constructive]."
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about the
unhealthy aspects of
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