Summary: Grandiose narcissists are more likely to be “mentally tough”, experience less stress, and are less prone to depression.
Source: Queen’s University Belfast
While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who is Director of the InteRRaCt Lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, has revealed that it could also have benefits. He has published two papers on narcissism and psychopathology in Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry.
Dr Papageorgiou explains: “Narcissism is part of the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. There are two main dimensions to narcissism – grandiose and vulnerable. Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power.”
He adds: “Individuals high on the spectrum of dark traits, such as narcissism, engage in risky behaviour, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, are overconfident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt.
“However, what this research has questioned is – if narcissism, as an example of the dark tetrad, is indeed so socially toxic, why does it persist and why is it on the rise in modern societies?”
The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlight some positive sides of narcissism, such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.
A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism can increase mental toughness and this can help to offset symptoms of depression. It also found that people who score high on grandiose narcissism have lower levels of perceived stress and are therefore less likely to view their life as stressful.
The research is a fresh approach to the study of personality and psychopathology, highlighting that there are some positives to be found in terms of potential societal impact.
Dr Papageorgiou comments: “The results from all the studies that we conducted show that grandiose narcissism correlates with very positive components of mental toughness, such as confidence and goal orientation, protecting against symptoms of depression and perceived stress.”
“This research really helps to explain variation in symptoms of depression in society – if a person is more mentally tough they are likely to embrace challenges head on, rather than viewing them as a hurdle.”
Dr Papageorgiou says:
“While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes.”
“This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.”
“This move forward may help to reduce the marginalisation of individuals that score higher than average on the dark traits. It could also facilitate the development of research-informed suggestions on how best to cultivate some manifestations of these traits, while discouraging others, for the collective good.”
The bright side of dark: Exploring the positive effect of narcissism on perceived stress through mental toughness
Previous research reported that Subclinical Narcissism (SN) may increase Mental Toughness (MT) resulting in positive outcomes such as lower psychopathy, higher school grades and lower symptoms of depression. We conducted three studies (N = 364, 240 and 144 for studies 1, 2 and 3, respectively) to test a mediation model, which suggests that SN may increase MT predicting lower Perceived Stress (PS). The participants were drawn from the general population in studies 1 and 2; and were undergraduate students in study 3. SN exerted a negative indirect effect on PS, through MT across all three studies: β = −0.26, SE = 0.039, 95% CI [−0.338, −0.187]; β = −0.25, SE = 0.050, 95% CI [−0.358, −0.160]; β = −0.31, SE = 0.078, 95% CI [−0.473, −0.168]. The results were replicated in the combined dataset. In study 3, we extended the sensitivity of the model showing that, it is the Grandiose SN that decreases PS, through MT; Vulnerable SN exhibited the reverse pattern. The findings indicate that the model, from SN to MT, may predict positive outcomes in various domains (e.g. in education and psychopathology) suggesting that inclusion of SN in the dark triad of personality may need to be reconsidered.
The positive effect of narcissism on depressive symptoms through mental toughness: Narcissism may be a dark trait but it does help with seeing the world less grey
Subclinical Narcissism (SN) is part of the Dark Triad (DT), which includes also Subclinical Psychopathy (SP) and Machiavellianism. SN comprises facets retained from the clinical syndrome, such as grandiosity and dominance. Previous cross-sectional and longitudinal research indicates that SN may increase Mental Toughness (MT) resulting in various positive outcomes, including lower levels of psychopathy.
Method The researchers conducted three studies (N = 364, 244 and 144 for Study 1, 2 and 3 respectively) to test if the path model from SN to higher MT predicted lower symptoms of depression (DS). An extension to the model considered Openness to Experience (OE) as a possible mediator. Participants completed self-report measures of SN, MT, OE and DS. In Study 3, participants responded to an additional measure of SN to allow differentiation between grandiose and vulnerable aspects.
Results SN exerted a negative indirect effect on DS through MT across studies; and a negative indirect effect on DS through MT and OE in Study 2. In Study 3, Grandiose SN increased MT contributing to lower DS. Vulnerable SN demonstrated the reverse pattern. MT subfactors of Control and Confidence had a mediating effect across studies.
Conclusion The current findings support the model that SN to MT predicts positive outcomes in various domains, including lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. Exploring the link between SN with prosocial traits can be particularly helpful when seeking to identify and promote SN’s adaptive tendencies against symptoms of psychopathology.
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