Are we more narcissistic than we used to be?

Disorders of Personality Read more from
Chapter Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness

Although some degree of narcissism can be adaptive, high levels of narcissism can cause significant problems. Narcissistic traits appear to be highly susceptible to the environment, to the kind of feedback or values that people pick up from their social milieu. Thus, there can be a cultural component to narcissistic traits.

In a 2008 study, the psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues compared scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) from 16,475 college students who participated in studies conducted between 1979 and 2006. Using the technique of meta-analysis, in which data from multiple studies are pooled together, the authors found a significant increase in NPI scores over the last several decades. Using norms from the early 1980s, in 2006 the average student’s score had increased from the 50th to the 65th percentile. Moreover, the mean score among college students in 2006 was essentially equivalent to that of a sample of celebrities reported in a 2006 study by Mark Young and Drew Pinsky. Interestingly, the change in NPI scores may be largely due to an increase in narcissism among women. While men have traditionally scored higher than women on the NPI, by 2006 women were closing the gap.


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