Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Mar 24;112(12):3659-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420870112. Epub 2015 Mar 9.
Origins of narcissism in children.
Brummelman E1, Thomaes S2, Nelemans SA3, Orobio de Castro B4, Overbeek G5, Bushman BJ6.
1Research Institute of Child Development and Education, Department of Educational Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1001 NG, The Netherlands; Department of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands; email@example.com.
2Department of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands; Center for Research on Self and Identity, Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, England;
3Research Centre Adolescent Development, Department of Youth and Family, Utrecht University, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands;
4Department of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands;
5Research Institute of Child Development and Education, Department of Educational Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1001 NG, The Netherlands;
6Department of Communication and Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1339; and Department of Communication Science, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands.
Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence. The origins of narcissism, however, are not well understood. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first prospective longitudinal evidence on the origins of narcissism in children. We compared two perspectives: social learning theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation) and psychoanalytic theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by lack of parental warmth). We timed the study in late childhood (ages 7-12), when individual differences in narcissism first emerge. In four 6-mo waves, 565 children and their parents reported child narcissism, child self-esteem, parental overvaluation, and parental warmth. Four-wave cross-lagged panel models were conducted. Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents' inflated views of them (e.g., "I am superior to others" and "I am entitled to privileges"). Attesting to the specificity of this finding, self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, not by parental overvaluation. These findings uncover early socialization experiences that cultivate narcissism, and may inform interventions to curtail narcissistic development at an early age.
childhood narcissism; childhood self-esteem; parental overvaluation; parental warmth; socialization