Narcissistic men are more stressed, researchers say

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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Men with big egos, known to play games in relationships or be obsessive about their appearance could be living with unnecessary stress. According to a new study, men with narcissistic tendencies have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can cause serious health problem such as cardiovascular disorders.

The study published in the journal PLoS ONE explored the role that narcissism and sex had on cortisol levels of 106 undergraduate students with an average age of 20.1.

Of the 79 females and 27 males tested, from two different universities in the US, the students were identified with narcissistic traits by using the forty question Narcissistic Personality Inventory test.

The group underwent two tests, in which saliva samples were taken to measure basal cortisol concentrations, during a relatively non stressful situation. The researchers found that elevated levels of cortisol were found in the male students with narcissistic tendencies, but females with the same tendencies were not nearly as affected, in fact, unhealthy narcissism was more than twice as large a predictor of cortisol in males as in females.

"Narcissistic men may be paying a high price in terms of their physical health, in addition to the psychological cost to their relationships," says Sara Konrath, who is the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research at the University of Michigan who co-authored the study.

The study was done after previous studies had shown a rise in narcissism in American males. The personality trait is characterised by an inflated sense of self-importance and uniqueness, with a higher value on material things and who can be obsessively concerned with their outer appearance.

Related article: Men: How to deal with stress

"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," says David Reinhard of the University of Virginia who collaborated on the study. "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."

"These findings extend previous research by showing that narcissism may not only influence how people respond to stressful events, but may also affect how they respond to their regular day-to-day routines and interactions," says Konrath. "Our findings suggest that the HPA axis may be chronically activated in males high in unhealthy narcissism, even without an explicit stressor. The more narcissistic, the more cortisol that men have in mundane situations."

Stress can be a helpful response to certain situations, triggering 'flight or fight' hormones that can aid a quick escape from danger, but if experienced for a prolonged period of time, it can promote personality disorders which may lead to depression.

When questioned why Konrath thought narcissism affect males differently she suggested, "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 is now looking forward to further exploring the potential links between maladaptive narcissism and other physiological responses related to stress and poor coping, including inflammatory markers such as C-Reactive Protein and into finding out why narcissistic women were not as affected by stress.

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