Narcissism affects both genders, but it appears to have an especially negative effect on the health of men, according to a study published in the journal PLoS ONE.
"Narcissistic men may be paying a high price in terms of their physical health, in addition to the psychological cost to their relationships," says study co-author Sara Konrath, a University of Michigan psychologist.
Earlier studies have shown that narcissism is becoming more prevalent in American culture - particularly among males. It's characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, overestimations of uniqueness, and a sense of grandiosity.
For the new study, the researchers examined the role of narcissism and sex on cortisol levels in a sample of more than 100 students. Cortisol, which can be measured through saliva samples, is a widely used indicator of physiological stress. Elevated levels of cortisol can indicate significant health implications, such as increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
To assess participants' narcissism, the researchers then administered a 40-item narcissism questionnaire that measures five different components of the personality trait.
"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," explained co-researcher David 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."
Interestingly, the researchers 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.
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.
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Source: University of Michigan