Younger adults are more likely to show signs of narcissism, while older adults tend to have lower levels of it, according to a comprehensive new study that included more than 250,000 participants. The findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also indicate that men tend to exhibit slightly more narcissistic traits than women on average.
Narcissism refers to a personality trait characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, an intense desire for attention and admiration, a lack of empathy for others, and a tendency to exploit or manipulate others for personal gain. People with narcissistic traits often believe they are exceptional and entitled to special treatment, while simultaneously disregarding or demeaning the feelings and needs of others.
The researchers conducted wanted to investigate age and gender differences in narcissism. The perception that younger individuals are more self-involved and narcissistic than older individuals has been a long-standing belief. This study aimed to empirically explore whether this perception holds true and to examine the role of gender in these differences.
“Narcissism (and narcissists) have always fascinated me,” said study author Rebekka Weidmann, a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University. “This is a personality trait that has clearly negative implications, for example, in terms of long-term relationships but also has some positive sides, for example, in terms of leadership and entrepreneurship.”
“This paper was a concerted effort of many labs and co-authors to examine how age and gender are related to narcissism. Because there are different scales and instruments out there to assess narcissism, we wanted to see if these age and gender effects generalize across different measures.”
Weidmann and her colleagues first conducted an initial study to assess the degree of overlap or correlation between different measures of narcissism. The researchers aimed to understand how closely related these measures were within a single sample and to establish whether they represented highly similar constructs or whether they tapped into distinct aspects of narcissism or even different constructs altogether.
The methodology involved recruiting a sample of 5,736 participants who completed eight different measures of narcissism. These participants were sourced from both a university subject pool and Amazon Mechanical Turk. The eight measures were: the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale, Dirty Dozen Narcissism, the Psychological Entitlement Scale, Narcissistic Personality Disorder Symptoms from DSM-IV (DSM-IV NPD), the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire-Short Form (NARQ-S), the Single Item Narcissism Scale, and the brief version of the Pathological Narcissism Inventory.
The researchers found that none of the measures of narcissism displayed high multicollinearity with each other. This indicated that the measures did not measure exactly the same construct. In other words, these measures were capturing distinct aspects or facets of narcissism, and they were not excessively redundant in the information they provided.
Next, Weidmann and her colleagues conducted a second study to examine whether younger adults exhibited higher levels of narcissism compared to older adults, and they also explored whether these age differences were consistent across different subscales within each narcissism inventory.
The data for the second study were collected from a consortium of individual difference researchers who contributed 42 different data sets, each containing at least one measure of narcissism. The combined data sets included 270,029 unique individuals from various sources such as online surveys, panel studies, student subject pools, and community/clinical samples. Since some data sets contained multiple measures of narcissism, the data were restructured to form separate data sets for each measure. This resulted in 8 data sets, one for each measure of narcissism used in the study.
“Bill Chopik, who was the second author, orchestrated this large collaboration,” Weidmann explained.
The researchers found that narcissism tended to decline with age, with younger adults showing higher levels of narcissism compared to older adults. Men generally scored higher in narcissism than women.
“Consistently across measures, we found that age and gender were linked to narcissism. Our findings showed that narcissism was lower in older adults compared to younger adults and lower in female compared to male individuals,” Weidmann told PsyPost.
However, the magnitude of these age and gender effects was small, and while consistent, their ability to explain variance in narcissism was limited. The researchers also noted that the effects of age and gender on narcissism varied across measures, indicating that different facets of narcissism might be sensitive to different developmental mechanisms.
“It was interesting to find such consistency in the age and gender effects, even though some of the narcissism measures did not overlap (or correlate) as much as we would expect,” Weidmann said. “This opened a lot of new questions about how we measure narcissism and what drives these age and gender effects.”
The study provides insights into the distribution of narcissism across the adult lifespan and its relationship with age and gender, but the factors driving these differences require further investigation.
“Even though we used data of over 250,000 participants and different, popular narcissism measures, we cannot conclude anything about lifespan development,” Weidmann explained. “These findings are cross-sectional and therefore it is difficult to state anything about whether these effects are driven by generational or developmental processes.”
The study, “Age and Gender Differences in Narcissism: A Comprehensive Study Across Eight Measures and Over 250,000 Participants“, was authored by Rebekka Weidmann, William J. Chopik, Robert A. Ackerman, Marc Allroggen, Emily C Bianchi, Courtney Brecheen, W Keith Campbell, Tanja M. Gerlach, Katharina Geukes, Emily Grijalva, Igor Grossmann, Christopher J. Hopwood, Roos Hutteman, Sara Konrath, Albrecht C. P. Küfner, Marius Leckelt, Joshua D. Miller, Lars Penke, Aaron L. Pincus, Karl-Heinz Renner, David Richter, Brent W. Roberts, Chris G. Sibley, Leonard J. Simms, Eunike Wetzel, Aidan G. C. Wright, and Mitja D. Back.