ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Health»
  • Men's Health & Wellness

Narcissism and Stress Research: Study Confirms the Health Risk in Men

Updated on February 13, 2012
jpcmc profile image

I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest is just life's add-ons: an educator, administrator, learning & development professional.

Narcissus painted by Caravaggio
Narcissus painted by Caravaggio | Source

A recent research showed that narcissistic men have a higher health risks compared to narcissistic women. A study by Sarah Konrath and David Reinhard of the University of Virginia along with William Lopez and Heather Cameron of the University of Michigan reported this new finding.

Earlier research paper by Konrath showed that there is a rise in narcissism in the US. Moreover, her earlier research indicated higher occurrence in males than in females. Now, Konrath explores how narcissism affects the health of individuals by measuring the cortisol levels.

Sigmund Freud, Father of Psychoanalysis
Sigmund Freud, Father of Psychoanalysis | Source

A quick background on narcissism

First thing’s first, what is narcissism? Narcissism is a broad concept. It can mean anything from a mere personality trait to mental illness. Unless it refers to healthy, self-love; it is often regarded as a personality disorder. In addition, it is usually associated with ego, vanity and even conceit.

Narcissism is not a new concept. In fact, it goes way back to the ancient Greeks. Not so say that they are the first to be narcissistic, but the narcissistic personality was a topic Greeks pondered on. Ancient Greeks used the term hubris to refer to what we call narcissism. In more recent times, people like Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis and Otto Rank wrote papers on narcissism. In fact, it was Freud who distinguished between primary narcissism (the healthy one) from secondary narcissism (the unhealthy one).

Konrath and her colleagues have unearthed a new correlation between narcissism and health. In particular, they have uncovered the health risk in men with narcissistic tendencies.

Check the research here:

David A. Reinhard, Sara H. Konrath, William D. Lopez, Heather G. Cameron. Expensive Egos: Narcissistic Males Have Higher Cortisol. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (1): e30858 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030858

The research

Konrath and her colleagues focused their attention on the subjects exhibiting secondary narcissism. The researchers measured the subjects’ cortisol level while doing stress-free activities. Their study showed that men had higher cortisol level compared to their women counterparts. By the way, cortisol is a hormone that indicates stress level in humans.

Reinhard explains; "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,” Furthermore, he states that these types of stress can put a strain on the cardiovascular system of the individual. As such, the connection between narcissism, stress and cardiovascular health cannot be overlooked.

Would you consider yourself narcissistic?

See results

Simply put, even narcissists have a soft spot. When this gushy part gets challenged or threatened, they tend to be defensive. Moreover, the coping mechanism contributes to higher stress. Likewise, this stress increases cardiovascular risks in the person.

As for healthy narcissism, the research group did not find any relationship between cortisol levels in males and females. The research shows that narcissism is not just unhealthy on a social level but on an individual physical level as well.

Konrath adds 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,". What this suggests is that it does not take any extraordinary situation to induce high level of cortisol.

One facet of the research is that it compares males and females. In the comparison, health risk in men was clearly seen compared to women. The reason for this can be placed on the “societal definitions of masculinity that overlaps with narcissism,” as Konrath explains. Stereotypical views of male masculinity drives the stress levels higher. As such, males face higher health risks because of stress.

An Afterthough

Several ideas caught my attention when I read the research paper and other resources. First, there is a difference between primary (healthy) narcissism and secondary (unhealthy) narcissism. I still have a chance to fall under the first category. Second, there is higher incidence of narcissism in males than in females. Makes you think about vanity and women – it’s nothing compared to men. Next, narcissism is on the rise. Why? Lastly, narcissism, stress and cardiovascular health in men are not a good combination.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello Reluctant Shaman. Thank you for sharing your expertise on the sibject. Also, thank you for sharing the link.

    • profile image

      Reluctant Shaman 5 years ago

      To jpcmc, Good article which raises many questions. The subject of narcissism is often misunderstood as being a behaviour that is "all bad", but actually that is not the case.

      The truth is that Narcissism is a spectrum of behaviour that is prevalent in the human condition universally. What this means is that we are all narcissistic to a degree, and the narcissistic traits can range on a continuum from 1 – 10, from what we call Healthy Narcissism (being a 1), all the way to a pathological form, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD (being a 10), with varying degrees in between. When narcissism reaches a stage called “Malignant Narcissism” the person consistently manifests at least 5 of the 9 criteria necessary to put it into the category of being a mental disorder.

      I am a therapist, so if you would like to know a little about the difference between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism, follow the link below.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Arthur, is some ways i think we are all at risk. LOL

    • profile image

      Arthur dacena 5 years ago

      I think I'm at risk here. HA HA. Good to know jpcmc.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Thanks for the vote up and comment Dahlia. I guess I'm licky enough not to know any person with secondary narcissism.

    • Dahlia Flower profile image

      Dahlia Flower 6 years ago from Canada

      Very interesting subject -- narcissism -- and this type of research regarding narcissists and their health is interesting, too. If you live or work with someone who falls into the category of secondary narcissism, it's more challenging than interesting. Great hub. Voting up.