Narcissism and Gender Roles

In a recent meta-review of the scientific literature, one group of researchers published their findings on narcissism in men and women, and how gender roles might have an influence. What exactly did they find? Apparently, men are significantly more narcissist than women, as measured by the Narcissist Personality Inventory (NPI). The NPI is the most commonly used way to measure narcissism in psychology and is based upon a simple questionnaire. Furthermore, the NPI also measures what scientists call the three “facets” of narcissism: Exploitative/Entitlement (E/E), which is demanding behavior/arrogance; Leadership/Authority (L/A), the desire for power; and Grandiose/Exhibitionist (G/E), which describes superiority, self-absorption, and wanting to be the center of attention.

Which of these facets might be the driving factor behind increased narcissism in males? That turned out be to E/E, meaning men are more likely than woman to exploit others and feel specially entitled to privileges. In second place was L/A, meaning men also exhibit more assertiveness and motivation to lead. Bringing up the rear, was G/E. In fact, men and women were almost equally likely to endorse grandiosity/exhibitionism.

Another interesting finding they present is that there has been no narrowing of the gender gap in narcissism with recent generations. This counters the argument that recent generations are more narcissist than past ones, based on the theory that women have increased the gender gap in narcissism over time because of changing gender roles.

Speaking of gender roles, now it’s time for the so what part! What does the data mean? Well, the authors start by saying the data validates one model of social theory called the “Biosocial Construction Model”. Basically, this social theory model says “gender differences in personality should arise from gender role beliefs and expectations”, their examples being that men are more proactive and self-regulating, while women are more communal. The authors also theorize that differences in the NPI facet of entitlement might be due to the fact that the workforce places more men in leadership roles that have higher social status and greater resources, especially given that the majority of cultures they studied were patriarchal.

At the same time, increased narcissism and entitlement among men can also put them at a disadvantage sometimes. For example, they cite studies showing individuals that score high on the E/E section “tend to be antisocial and display counterproductive behaviors at work/school”. Of course, my summary here is but a tiny snapshot of what they found (it’s a very long paper), so I highly encourage you to read it (if possible, I think it’ll require institutional access)!

Last, there are always limitations to any study. For this one, the authors emphasize that while the average male is more narcissist than the average female, the within-group trait differences for men and women (man vs man, women vs women) are usually much larger. Furthermore, their analysis was limited to ages 8-55 and so the data does not truly represent the entirety of the human lifespan. Nonetheless, these authors bring up some very interesting points, ones that we should all think about from time to time as members of the human society.

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