Summary: A new study in Charité reveals those who grew up in the former Western states of Germany between 1949 and 1990, tend to be more narcissistic than those who were raised in the East. The study raises the question of whether narcissism is associated with Western culture.
Researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have been able to show that people who grew up in the former western states of Germany have higher levels of narcissism than those whose socialization took place in the former eastern states. Between 1949 and 1989/90, life in West Germany was characterized by a culture of individualism, with life in East Germany based on more collectivist principles. Both types of societies had a major impact on citizens’ levels of self-esteem and, further, on narcissistic tendencies. According to research published in the journal PlosOne, the reunification of Germany ushered in a gradual re-balancing of the distribution of these traits among the younger generation.
The term ‘narcissism’ refers to excessive self-love and self-centeredness. Narcissism is only considered a pathological phenomenon if the condition has a negative impact on the patient and if he or she develops symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. Researchers led by Dr. Stefan Röpke and Dr. Aline Vater (Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy on Campus Benjamin Franklin) were able to show that a person’s inflated sense of self-importance develops in response to societal influences. “Contemporary western societies promote narcissism. People who grew up on the western side of the former East-West border or West-Berlin had higher levels of narcissism than those who spent their childhood in the former German Democratic Republic,” explains Prof. Röpke. He adds: “In our study, this was shown to primarily apply to ‘grandiose narcissism’, a type of narcissism that is characterized by an exaggerated sense of superiority.”
Results obtained in relation to self-esteem painted quite the opposite picture, with higher scores recorded for people in the former East Germany. For this study, the researchers analyzed data collected as part of an anonymous online survey of German citizens. Out of a total of more than 1,000 respondents who completed the questionnaire, approximately 350 were born in the former GDR, and approximately 650 in the former Federal Republic of Germany. During their analysis, the researchers drew a distinction between ‘subclinical’ (borderline) narcissism – a natural personality trait that is often referred to as healthy narcissism – and a pathological sense of superiority, which goes far beyond what might be considered healthy. Self-esteem was assessed using an established rating scale widely used in research.
As both borderline and pathological narcissism are associated with low self-esteem, the group of Berlin-based researchers set out to compare levels of narcissism and self-esteem in the German population. They found a clear age-related cohort effect: “No difference can be found within the younger generation – people who had either not been born at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, or had not yet reached school-age, and who therefore grew up within the same western society. In this group, the levels of narcissism and self-esteem recorded are the same for respondents from both the former East and West Germany,” says Dr. Aline Vater, the study’s first author. The clearest effect can be seen in those aged between 6 (school age) and 18 (adulthood) years at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Some differences remained within the oldest cohort (i.e., those aged 19 and over at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall), at least with regard to subclinical (or borderline) narcissism. “Overall, our results suggest that levels of narcissism and self-esteem are influenced by societal factors. Western societies appear to promote increased levels of narcissism among their citizens,” concludes Prof. Röpke.
Source: Stefan Röpke – Charité
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Original Research: Open access research in PLOS ONE.
Does a narcissism epidemic exist in modern western societies? Comparing narcissism and self-esteem in East and West Germany
Narcissism scores are higher in individualistic cultures compared with more collectivistic cultures. However, the impact of sociocultural factors on narcissism and self-esteem has not been well described. Germany was formerly divided into two different social systems, each with distinct economic, political and national cultures, and was reunified in 1989/90. Between 1949 and 1989/90, West Germany had an individualistic culture, whereas East Germany had a more collectivistic culture. The German reunification provides an exceptional opportunity to investigate the impact of sociocultural and generational differences on narcissism and self-esteem. In this study, we used an anonymous online survey to assess grandiose narcissism with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) and the Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI) to assess grandiose and vulnerable aspects of narcissism, and self-esteem with the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) in 1,025 German individuals. Data were analyzed according to age and place of birth. Our results showed that grandiose narcissism was higher and self-esteem was lower in individuals who grew up in former West Germany compared with former East Germany. Further analyses indicated no significant differences in grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism or self-esteem in individuals that entered school after the German reunification (≤ 5 years of age in 1989). In the middle age cohort (6–18 years of age in 1989), significant differences in vulnerable narcissism, grandiose narcissism and self-esteem were observed. In the oldest age cohort (> 19 years of age in 1989), significant differences were only found in one of the two scales assessing grandiose narcissism (NPI). Our data provides empirical evidence that sociocultural factors are associated with differences in narcissism and self-esteem.