When we think of vanity, we often imagine women, perhaps preening themselves in the mirror or snapping a selfie. Narcissistic behavior, yes, but vanity is only one piece of the puzzle. A new study from the university of buffalo finds that, overall, men score higher in nearly every measure of narcissism.
What scientists aren’t quite sure of, though, is why that is.
In analyzing data from over 355 studies that included nearly 500,000 participants, 30+ years of narcissism research showed that men demonstrate more narcissistic characteristics than women regardless of age or generation.
Narcissism is measured in thee categories: Leadership/authority, entitlement and grandiose/exhibitionism. The latter category, understood as vanity and/or self-absorption, is actually the only category in which men and women are equally likely to be full of themselves. In the others, though, men consistently outpace the ladies.
Men displayed more desire for leadership and power than women, but the widest divide was in entitlement. Far more than women, men feel entitled to certain privileges and feel less remorse about exploiting others to obtain them.
Any such research is sure to ignite a “nature vs. nurture” debate, but as in most cases, it’s not that simple. Though it’s certainly possible that biological differences are at play, the researchers note that societal norms can have a huge impact on how our personalities develop.
“Individuals tend to observe and learn gender roles from a young age, and may face backlash for deviating from society’s expectations,” says lead author Emily Grijalva, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management. “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.”
Those gender norms, the researchers say, may partially explain the conspicuous lack of women in high-level leadership roles: The sorts of narcissistic traits desired in such roles typically conflict with our cultural view of femininity.
We may lack a clear-cut explanation for the disparity in narcissism, but is narcissism a bad thing, in and of itself? Yes and no, the researchers say.
“Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including an inability to maintain healthy long-term relationships, unethical behavior and aggression,” Grijalva says. “At the same time, narcissism is shown to boost self-esteem, emotional stability and the tendency to emerge as a leader.”