How does narcissism change over the decades?
The study appears in a recent issue of the .
In 1992, researchers surveyed 486 students from the University of California at Berkeley and then caught up with 237 of the original participants 23 years later.
Although this cohort comprises an elite group of individuals — 64% of whom gain a terminal degree and ultimately earn double the national average income — the authors of the new paper feel the patterns in the data are so strong that they likely apply to Generation X overall.
The study's conclusions are also consistent with previous research. Emily Grijalva, the co-lead author of the study and professor of organized behavior at Washington University in St. Louis' Olin Business School, explains:
"Past work has supported the argument that people tend to mature over time by showing that they generally become more conscientious, agreeable, and emotionally stable — less anxious and depressed — from young adulthood to middle age."
Asserting that narcissism is the "antithesis of maturity," she notes that, "Maturity here is considered, in social terms — a more pleasant and productive citizen in a society."
Only 3% of the subjects showed an increase in narcissism. However, "some remained just as narcissistic at age 41 as they had been when they were 18 years old," says co-lead Eunike Wetzel of Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany.
Typically, people see leadership as a positive characteristic, albeit one that requires a sense of self-importance. Because other research has shown assertiveness to increase with age, the researchers expected the leadership trait of narcissism to do the same.
Co-lead Brent Roberts, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, admits, "I thought it was reasonable to hypothesize a similar increase in the leadership facet."
The data showed otherwise. Both leadership and entitlement showed the greatest decline of all the attributes they studied.
The researchers studied other aspects of the participants' lives to determine the impact of narcissism on life outcomes by middle age.