If you’ve ever spent time around a narcissist, you know it. A true narcissist can be easy to spot, considering they’re notorious for being self-obsessed, having an over-inflated ego, and not experiencing much empathy for others. But while all those traits may sound negative, new research has indicated they may make narcissists more “mentally tough” and give them an edge over the rest of us that sets them up for success in life.
The new research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, comes out of the InteRRaCt lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with the InLab at Goldsmiths University of London, King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan University, Huddersfield University, and the University of Texas at Austin, according to a statement about the study published by Queen’s University Belfast. Director of the InteRRaCt lab and lead researcher Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou found that “adolescents who score high on certain aspects of subclinical narcissism may be more mentally tough and can perform better at school,” according to the statement.
The results of the study, which looked at 340 Italian high schoolers, indicated that “narcissism might actually be a positive attribute” when it comes to success in life. Papageorgiou explained in the statement that students who scored 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.”
Papageorgiou highlighted that he and his colleagues investigated subclinical narcissism, which “includes some of the same features of clinical syndrome — grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority,” but does not necessarily mean the person displaying those traits has full-on narcissistic personality disorder.
“If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward,” Papageorgiou explained in the study statement. “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.”
Essentially, this data may indicate that those who have narcissistic qualities and therefore an inflated sense of self-worth, get a crucial bolster for their self-confidence, which can be especially important in adolescence, when people tend to experience major drops in self-confidence, according to Dr. Carl E Pickhardt writing for Psychology Today. Pickhardt wrote that he sees two common self-confidence drops in adolescents, one between ages nine and 13, “when separating from childhood,” and one between ages 18 and 23, “when leaving home to operate on one’s own terms.”
“In both cases,” Pickhardt added, “the young person must get used to functioning on a significantly expanded playing field of life experience than she or he encountered before.”
Being thrown into a new life situation and adapting effectively is one of the signs of mental toughness, Papageorgiou said in the study statement. “If an individual scores high on mental toughness this means they can perform at their very best in pressured and diverse situations,” he noted, saying that previous research from his lab has shown that “subclinical narcissism may increase mental toughness.”
This new research builds on Papageorgiou’s prior work and suggests “the relationship between narcissism and mental toughness could be one of the personality mechanisms that leads to variation in school achievement,” according to the study statement.
These results ultimately should inform the way we think about narcissism, Papageorgiou said in the statement. “Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.” However, “It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism,” he said. “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.” And for those with narcissistic personality traits, it looks like the scale tips toward adaptive.