New research suggests narcissism might actually be a POSITIVE attribute

Research challenges the widely held view that narcissism is a negative trait.

The study was led by Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, Director of the InteRRaCt lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, and it looked at the association between narcissism, mental toughness and school achievement. 340 high school students from three different Italian schools participated in the study and took part in two assessment waves. According to Science Daily, the researchers found that ‘adolescents who score high on certain aspects of subclinical narcissism may be more mentally tough and can perform better at school’.

The study focused on subclinical narcissism instead of NPD.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their importance. In addition to this, they believe that they are superior, special, and entitled to the attention of others. Furthermore, those who suffer from NPD lack empathy and can hurt, deceive, and manipulate the people around them. Subclinical narcissism is what is known as ‘normal’ narcissism. Dr. Papageorgiou reportedly explained that ‘subclinical narcissism includes some of the same features of clinical syndrome — grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority’. Furthermore, the lead researcher commented on the relationship between narcissism and mental toughness:

If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward. Being confident in your own abilities is one of the key signs of grandiose narcissism and is also at the core of mental toughness. If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth.

Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou

Narcissism can be seen as being a positive trait.

With the recent research on narcissism, our society views narcissism as a negative and extremely destructive trait that harms the people in the narcissist’s life. Dr. Papageorgiou commented on this, saying: ‘Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism’. Now, however, the study has found that it is actually more positive than it is perceived to be:

People who score high on subclinical narcissism may be at an advantage because their heightened sense of self-worth may mean they are more motivated, assertive, and successful in certain contexts.

Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou

In other words, narcissists are more likely to succeed as they are not afraid of a challenge.

The study found that ‘mental toughness correlated positively with subclinical narcissism in adolescence’ and that ‘narcissism exerted a significant positive indirect effect on school achievement through mental toughness’. Put differently, the adolescents who scored high on subclinical narcissism are more mentally tough and thereby, more likely to do better at school. If this is true, it follows then that society needs to change the way they view narcissism:

It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism. We perceive emotions or personality traits as being either bad or good but psychological traits are the products of evolution; they are neither bad nor good — they are adaptive or maladaptive. Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature.

Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou

The study ‘Longitudinal associations between narcissism, mental toughness and school achievement’ has been recorded in the Personality and Individual Differences journal and can be found here

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