Does narcissism evolve throughout life?

Recent research from Michigan State University revealed that narcissism can evolve throughout life.

The study is published by William Chopnik and Kevin Grimm in the latest issue of Psychology and Aging.

This life-span based finding on how narcissism transforms from adolescence to the later stages of adulthood is highly important because, unlike other studies on narcissism, the MSU researchers did not rely on cross-section samples, which only offer a glimpse of narcissism over a short period of time.

The study helps to debunk some old myths about the nature of narcissism, such as the speculations that “millennials” are bigger narcissists than “boomers” or vice versa.

By studying 747 people from different generations aged 13 to 77 over a long period of time, the researchers identified that no matter what generation a person belongs to, adolescents tend to be more narcissistic than older people.

As the authors explain,

“We found that more maladaptive forms of narcissism (e.g., hypersensitivity, willfulness) declined across life and individual autonomy increased across life.”

The most important lesson of this research is that we now know that narcissistic traits typically fall off with time and age, regardless of the decade someone was born.

“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,” William Chopik, professor of psychology at MSU and lead author of this study, said in a news release.

Chopik and Grim discovered that young adulthood seems to be the most rapid period of fdevelopment when it comes to narcissism.

As per Chopik, the strongest stimulus connected to declining narcissism in young adults seems to be getting your first job and joining the workforce.

“There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities,” Chopik noted. “As you age, you form new relationships, have new experiences, start a family, and so on. All of these factors make someone realize that it’s not ‘all about them.’ And, the older you get, the more you think about the world that you may leave behind. There’s a sense in which narcissists start to realize that being the way they are isn’t smart if they want to have friends or meaningful relationships.”

This finding points out that changes in narcissism happen across our lifespan; it continues to evolve as we age and does not seem to entirely go away at a specific age or stage of life.

“There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities,” Chopik added. “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.”

The researchers hope that their findings will help parents of teens and society in general, understand that the adolescents of today aren’t any more narcissistic than teens from previous generations.

“If you’re worried that someone is truly a narcissist, there’s the hope they will change for the better as they get older,” Chopik concluded.

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