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20 December 2019

Who's more likely to be a narcissist – young or old?

The conclusion of a long study is that narcissistic qualities decrease as people get older.

Know any folks who are just too full of themselves? Rest assured: They'll probably get over it eventually.

That's because narcissism tends to decline with age, according to what researchers described as the longest study ever of the personality disorder.

Narrative in our culture

For the study, a Michigan State University team looked at nearly 750 people to assess how narcissism changed between ages 13 and 70.

Their conclusion: Narcissistic qualities – such as an exaggerated sense of self-importance, sensitivity to criticism and forcing your opinions on others – decrease as people get older. Other character traits, such as having high aspirations, increased with age.

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

"There's a narrative in our culture that generations are getting more and more narcissistic, but no one has ever looked at it throughout generations or how it varies with age at the same time," said lead author William Chopik, an associate professor of psychology.

"There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities," Chopik said in a university news release. "As you age, you form new relationships, have new experiences, start a family and so on. All of these factors make someone realise that it's not 'all about them'. And, the older you get, the more you think about the world that you may leave behind."

Huge part of the population

A major contributor to a decline in narcissism is a first job.

"One thing about narcissists is that they're not open to criticism. When life happens and you're forced to accept feedback, break up with someone or have tragedy strike, you might need to adjust to understanding that you're not as awesome as you once thought," Chopik said. "There's a sense in which narcissists start to realise that being the way they are isn't smart if they want to have friends or meaningful relationships."

While the fastest changes occur in young adults, the changes don't stop at a particular age or stage of life, the study found.

"One of the most surprising findings was that – also contrary to what many people think – individuals who were born earlier in the century started off with higher levels of hyper-sensitivity, or the type of narcissism where people are full of themselves, as well as wilfulness, which is the tendency to impose opinions on others," Chopik said.

"There isn't much data on older generations, but now that baby boomers are ageing into that phase of life, it's a huge part of the population that we need to be looking at," he added.

Image credit: unsplash.com

 
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