A new international study finds that young people who score high on certain aspects of subclinical narcissism may be more mentally tough, and in turn, perform better at school.

“Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism,” said study leader Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, director of the InteRRaCt lab in the school of psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland.

“Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder. In our research, we focused on subclinical or ‘normal’ narcissism. Subclinical narcissism includes some of the same features of the clinical syndrome: grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.”

Researchers have noted that narcissism is a spectrum disorder, existing on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown personality disorder.

Papageorgiou conducted the study in collaboration with Professor Yulia Kovas, director of InLab at Goldsmiths University of London (UK), as well as leading experts from King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan University, Huddersfield University and the University of Texas at Austin.

The study involved 340 adolescent students who were participating in the Multi-Cohort Investigation into Learning and Educational Success study (MILES). The students came from three different Italian high schools in the Milan province and took part in two assessment waves.

The study suggests that in some ways, narcissism might actually be a positive attribute. Previous research in Papageorgiou’s lab has shown that subclinical narcissism may increase mental toughness. If an individual scores high on mental toughness this means they are more capable at performing well in pressured and diverse situations.

“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,” said Papageorgiou.

“If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth. 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.”

The study suggests that the link between narcissism and mental toughness could be one of the personality mechanisms that leads to variation in school achievement. However, at this stage, the findings have mainly theoretical rather than practical implications.

“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 but are adaptive or maladaptive. Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature,” Papageorgiou said.

Papageorgiou will continue to investigate whether subclinical narcissism decreases symptoms of psychopathology through mental toughness.

The findings are published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Source: Queen’s University Belfast