We men, according to an exhaustive mash-up of studies done by the University of Buffalo School of Management, tend to be more narcissistic than you women.
This is no revelation to psychologists and scholars who have studied narcissism for years. It probably comes as no great surprise to many men or women. After all, history (well, mythology) reminds us that the great Greek hunter Narcissus, lured to the edge of a pond by the goddess Nemesis, was immediately taken in by his own beautiful reflection, fell into the water and drowned.
Let's be fair to the devilishly handsome Narcissus, though, and all us poor men who get a little too wrapped up in ourselves. The University of Buffalo study, in the March 2015 issue of Psychological Bulletin, shows that when it comes to the characteristic most associated with your garden-variety narcissist (preening over a pond, say, or simply showing off), men and women are equals.
I like a good "manscaping" on occasion. You spend 30 minutes on your makeup getting ready for a night out. Whatever. We're even.
What may be more surprising in the whopper of a study — which encompasses 355 scholarly papers and interviews, covering some 450,000 participants — is that some of the more positive aspects of narcissism (yes, there are some) skew more toward the men's side.
We men see ourselves as leaders, which isn't a bad thing. We tend to emerge as leaders, too. That's definitely not a bad thing.
We can be downright charming. We're outgoing. We can make great first impressions. Our self-esteem is generally higher than women's, too, and that's a plus.
We get to act that way (and, generally, women don't), in large part due to a whole bunch of biological and social differences, including some big-time social stereotypes.
"I think that's what makes narcissism so fascinating," Emily Grijalva, the lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management, tells MNN. "It does have some positive characteristics associated with it."
Okay. We think more is owed to us, yes. We narcissistic men tend to feel a little more entitled than women. And, admittedly, we might be, if it suits our needs, a little more exploitative and manipulative. Maybe. A little.
Sometimes, too, we exhibit less empathy than women.
But, hey. Nobody's perfect, right?
Egos aren't getting any bigger
Maybe the most surprising takeaway from the entire study — again, this was not a quickie question-and-answer session with 50 men and women done last June, but an in-depth look at many studies done over many, many years — is that, apparently, not much has changed when it comes to men, women and narcissistic tendencies over the past quarter-century.
Part of the study examined data that was gleaned from interviews of college students taken between 1990 and 2013, and it found no evidence that either gender has become more — or less — narcissistic over the years.
"Some people have suggested that we are becoming more narcissistic over time," says Grijalva, who has a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Chicago Champaign-Urbana. "In retrospect, maybe [the study showing that we aren't] is not surprising."
The fact that the study suggests no movement in what can loosely be defined as a whole lotta self-loving, Grijalva says, may have less to do with the people studied than the people doing the studying. Narcissism, Grijalva explains, was not recognized as a personality disorder until the late 1980s. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a questionnaire that is the cornerstone of much of this research, was not developed until 1988. Research into narcissism really only took off in the 1990s.
So it may take a few more studies and many more years to find out, as definitively as we can, whether anyone is becoming more, or less, narcissistic by the definitions we now have.
What can women do?
The 65 House Democratic women elected to the 114th Congress gather on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for a group photo Jan. 7 in Washington, D.C. There are another 25 Republican women serving in the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress and 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
One question that arises from Grijalva's study — and she had six co-authors, scholars from Purdue, Illinois, Cal-Davis, Texas A&M and Nebraska — is whether women should try to become more narcissistic. To be, to crib from "My Fair Lady," more like a man.
Taking the good parts of narcissism, of course. Like being more aggressive, for example, and viewing themselves as leaders.
Women, after all, though they make up nearly half of the workforce in the U.S. (according to the Center of American Progress) and hold more than half of all professional-level jobs, are grossly underrepresented in leadership positions. Only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of the best-paid and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
In politics, it's just as bad. Women today, again according to a 2014 study from the Center for American Progress, hold only 18.5 percent of the U.S. congressional seats, just 20 percent of the Senate. Of the nation's 50 governors, only 10 percent are women. Only 12 percent of the mayors in America's largest 100 cities are women. They hold just 24.2 percent of the seats in state legislatures.
Could a good sense of narcissism given to today's girls and younger women help them in the workplace and in the halls of government in a few years? It’s seemed to work pretty well for us men so far.
Narcissus notwithstanding, of course.
"In terms of whether it would be good," Grijalva says, "that I'm a little bit more hesitant to say."
Yes, there's probably a lot more studying to be done, more interviews to conduct and more numbers to crunch before we find out whether being narcissistic, taken as a whole, could actually be good.
Until then, the narcissists among us will be over there — in equal numbers, men and women, side by side — fixing our hair in the mirror, getting ready for our close-ups.