Expensive egos: Narcissism has a higher health cost for men

The personality trait narcissism may have an especially negative effect on the health of men, according to a recent study published in PLoS ONE.

"Narcissistic men may be paying a high price in terms of their , in addition to the psychological cost to their relationships," says Sara Konrath, a University of Michigan psychologist who co-authored the study.

Earlier studies by Konrath and others have shown that the level of narcissism is rising in American culture, and that narcissism tends to be more prevalent among males. The personality trait is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, overestimations of uniqueness, and a sense of grandiosity.

For the new study, Konrath and colleagues David Reinhard of the University of Virginia, and William Lopez and Heather Cameron of the University of Michigan examined the role of narcissism and sex on in a sample of 106 undergraduate students. Cortisol, which can be measured through saliva samples, is a widely used marker of .

The researchers measured cortisol levels at two points in time in order to assess baseline levels of the hormone, which signals the level of activation of the body's key system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Participants were not asked to complete any tasks that would elevate their stress. Elevated levels of cortisol in a relatively stress-free situation would indicate chronic HPA activation, which has significant , increasing the risk of .

To assess participants' narcissism, the researchers administered a 40-item narcissism questionnaire that measures five different components of the . Two of these components are more maladaptive, or unhealthy – exploitativeness and entitlement; and the other three are more adaptive, or healthy – leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self-admiration.

"Even though narcissists have grandiose self-perceptions, they also have fragile views of themselves, and often resort to defensive strategies like aggression when their sense of superiority is threatened," says Reinhard. "These kinds of coping strategies are linked with increased cardiovascular reactivity to stress and higher blood pressure, so it makes sense that higher levels of maladaptive narcissism would contribute to highly reactive stress response systems and chronically elevated levels of stress."

Reinhard, Konrath and colleagues found that the most toxic aspects of narcissism were indeed associated with higher cortisol in male participants, but not in females. In fact, unhealthy narcissism was more than twice as large a predictor of cortisol in males as in females.

They also found that there was no relationship between healthy narcissism and cortisol in either males or females.

"These findings extend previous research by showing that narcissism may not only influence how people respond to stressful events, but may also affect how they respond to their regular day-to-day routines and interactions," says Konrath. "Our findings suggest that the HPA axis may be chronically activated in males high in unhealthy narcissism, even without an explicit stressor."

Why should narcissism affect males differently? "Given societal definitions of masculinity that overlap with narcissism – for example, the belief that men should be arrogant and dominant – men who endorse stereotypically male sex roles and who are also high in narcissism may feel especially stressed," Konrath suggests.

In future research, she hopes to examine why narcissism is not as physiologically taxing for women as it is for men, and also to examine the potential links between maladaptive and other physiological responses related to stress and poor coping, including inflammatory markers such as C-Reactive Protein.

More information: Article online at PLoS ONE: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0030858
Narcissistic Personality Self-Test: psychcentral.com/quizzes/narcissistic.htm

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kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2012
Sad news for neocons, libertarians and fascists overseeing bankster austerity measures.
Shelgeyr
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2012
Nonsense! I don't recall anyone polling ME about this...
210
1 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2012
Shucks, Darn, shoot, dagnabit...!!! Someone better call Newtered Gingrich and get him to one of the local Narcissist's Anonymous meetings...FAST! That last debate, he dropped his drawers and let the worm squirm in public when he said, "...I do think in grandiose terms..." But then again, these kinds of guys are a HUGE hit with 99.99999999% of the women who have ever lived. Hummm...could that be...could that be a source of the habitual marriage issues he has faced??? Anyone can have marriage problems but Newtered is said to have asked for an, " OPEN marriage..." He apparently felt that his worm was Moby DICK and needed all the practice fidelity was not giving him...His royal-enormity-grandiosity-ness!
word-to-ya-muthas
ryggesogn2
2.6 / 5 (8) Jan 23, 2012
narcissists have grandiose self-perceptions, they also have fragile views of themselves, and often resort to defensive strategies like aggression when their sense of superiority is threatened,

Sounds just like President Obama.
RobPaulG
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2012
Obama's narcissism has cost us about $5 trillion to date. You bet it is expensive.
rubberman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
The American public wouldn't elect a non-narcissistic president. The healthy qualities of narcissism are a must to be the leader of anything other than a male gay rights movement. They actually list leadership as one of the qualities. Are you saying he spent 5 trillion at the spa?
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
But for women, it helps them acquire more...