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Narcissism Not a Lifelong Trait, Changes Over Time and With Age: Study

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Dec 31, 2019

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Illustration by Andrew Stocks

For those who think narcissism is a lifelong trait, a new study is here that proves otherwise — it changes over time.

Narcissism can be defined as an intense need to seek approval from others, characterized by a lack of empathy, use of intimacy for self-esteem regulation, boldness and a need to seek attention, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – V, The Swaddle had earlier reported.

The current study may be able to provide some sense of relief for those who think narcissism may last a lifetime. Led by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and published in the journal Psychology and Aging, the conclusions were based on findings from a survey conducted on 750 people, between ages 13 and 70.

Overall, researchers found traits such as “being full of yourself, sensitive to criticism and imposing your opinion on others decline over time and with age.” But other traits such as “having high aspirations for yourself increase with age,” the study mentions.

“There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities,” said William Chopik, associate professor of psychology at MSU and lead author of the study, ScienceDaily reported. “As you age, you form new relationships, have new experiences, start a family and so on. All of these factors make someone realize that it’s not ‘all about them.’ And, the older you get, the more you think about the world that you may leave behind,” he added.


Related on The Swaddle:

Narcissism Is a Diagnosable Illness, Not Just a Cultural Supervillain Trope


The study found young adults underwent changes in their levels of narcissism the fastest. Researchers observed that in older participants, the levels of hypersensitivity, the tendency to be full of themselves and impose opinions on others, along with levels of willfulness was much higher when they were younger. Researchers also said landing a job for the first time tempered down the level of narcissism in young adults.

“One thing about narcissists is that they’re not open to criticism. When life happens and you’re forced to accept feedback, break up with someone or have tragedy strike, you might need to adjust to understanding that you’re not as awesome as you once thought,” Chopik said. “There’s a sense in which narcissists start to realize that being the way they are isn’t smart if they want to have friends or meaningful relationships.”

Researchers also observed a difference in the levels of changes between genders — men were reported to be more narcissistic than women; however, women were found to experience an increase in the feeling of autonomy after middle-age compared to men at any point in their lives.

“It looks like the difference is driven more by men thinking they’re more ideally suited for positions of leadership and authority and using their narcissism to exploit others,” Chopik added.

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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