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Origins of Narcissism Lie In Upbringing

A new study argues that children could be turned into narcissists if their parents go overboard in telling them that they are more special than others. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The research work is the first of its kind – the origins of narcissism and its development over time were not examined before.

A team of researchers with the goal of tracing back the source of narcissism analysed a group of parents and their offspring to identify any factor that could be pushing the latter to cultivate the notorious characteristic. It was then found out that parents emphasising the “specialness” of their children over other kids might be training them to cultivate narcissism. The researchers added that thinking too highly of one’s child can also happen inadvertently.

The survey was done four times and spanned over one and a half years. 565 children were made subjects of the study. They were from the Netherlands and were in the age group 7 to 11 when the study began. Their parents were tested to determine whether they overvalued their children. The latter were later surveyed to calculate their scores for narcissism tests. The results were surprising: parents overvaluing their offspring were correlated with children with high scores of narcissism.

Parents were made to answer questions pertaining to whether they considered their children to be “more special than other children”. They were asked if they believe that their kids “deserve something extra in life”.

It is to be noted that there is a difference between believing one’s child is special and believing that he is more special than others.

The researchers made the children take tests for both narcissism and self-esteem. They argued that narcissism is not synonymous with self-esteem. According to them, children with high self-esteem would consider themselves as being happy and content with themselves, as opposed to narcissism which is about believing one is more special than others.

The lead author, Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, explained this as follows:

“Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism.”


Co-author Brad Bushman, who is a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, commented on the findings:

“People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others,” Bushman said.

“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society”.

Moreover, the researchers found that the parental overvaluation was linked to narcissism even before they considered how narcissistic the parents themselves were. They also added that other factors contribute to children developing narcissism. For instance, genetics and the temperamental traits of the children also play a role.

“Some children may be more likely than others to become narcissistic when their parents overvalue them,” Bushman said.

If you’re a parent with these tendencies, you might want to take the test here.


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