Forthcoming in the journal Psychological Bulletin, the study compiled 31 years of narcissism research and found that men consistently scored higher in narcissism across multiple generations and regardless of age.
“Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including an inability to maintain healthy long-term relationships, unethical behavior and aggression,” says lead author Emily Grijalva, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management.
“At the same time, narcissism is shown to boost self-esteem, emotional stability and the tendency to emerge as a leader,” she says. “By examining gender differences in narcissism, we may be able to explain gender disparities in these important outcomes.” The researchers examined more than 355 journal articles, dissertations, manuscripts and technical manuals, and studied gender differences in the three aspects of narcissism: leadership/authority, grandiose/exhibitionism and entitlement.
They found the widest gap in entitlement, suggesting that men are more likely than women to exploit others and feel entitled to certain privileges.
The second largest difference was in leadership/authority. “Compared with women, men exhibit more assertiveness and desire for power,” Grijalva says. “But there was no difference in the exhibitionism aspect, meaning both genders are equally likely to display vanity or self-absorption.”
In addition, the study looked at data from college students between 1990 and 2013, and found no evidence that either gender has become more narcissistic over time.
Research has shown that personality differences, like narcissism, can arise from gender stereotypes and expectations that have been ingrained over time. The authors speculate that the persistent lack of women in senior leadership roles may partially stem from the disparity between stereotypes of femininity and leadership.
“Individuals tend to observe and learn gender roles from a young age, and may face backlash for deviating from society’s expectations,” Grijalva says. “In particular, women often receive harsh criticism for being aggressive or authoritative, which creates pressure for women, more so than for men, to suppress displays of narcissistic behavior.”
Future research could further investigate the social, cultural or biological factors that contribute to these gender differences.
Grijalva’s co-authors on the study were Daniel A. Newman, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Louis Tay, PhD, assistant professor of industrial/organizational psychology at Purdue University; M. Brent Donnellan, PhD, professor of social psychology at Texas A&M University; P.D. Harms, PhD, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Richard W. Robins, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis; and Taiyi Yan, an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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