How Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissists React Differently to Psychosocial Stress Research shows

New research published in Frontiers in Psychology sheds light on the different physiological reactions exhibited by vulnerable and grandiose narcissists when exposed to social stress.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Turku and the Institute for Mind and Biology at The University of Chicago, aimed to understand the biological factors underlying personality traits that define the two subtypes of narcissism.

Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, preoccupation with power, status, and dominance. Vulnerable narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by a more fragile and sensitive sense of self, a tendency towards anxiety and insecurity, and a need for validation and approval from others.

The study involved 56 healthy individuals from the University of Chicago campus who completed several questionnaires before undergoing the Trier Social Stress Test, an experimentally verified stress-induction task. The participants were categorized as either having high vulnerable or grandiose narcissistic traits, and their physiological and emotional responses to the task were measured.

The results of the study showed that those with high vulnerable narcissistic traits experienced a significantly greater increase in their cortisol levels compared to those with high grandiose narcissistic traits. Similarly, participants with high vulnerable narcissistic traits reported increases in anxiety, anger, shame, and devaluation, while participants with high grandiose narcissistic traits reported only an increase in devaluation.

These findings suggest that vulnerable and grandiose narcissists tend to have different patterns of physiological reactions when exposed to a socially stressful situation.

The researchers also found that individuals with vulnerable narcissistic traits scored higher in schizotypal traits related to social anxiety and interpersonal issues and tended to score lower in extraversion compared to those with grandiose narcissistic traits.

On the other hand, individuals with grandiose narcissistic traits scored higher in psychopathic traits related to fearlessness and social influence and tended to score higher in stress immunity compared to those with vulnerable narcissistic traits.

Javier I. Borráz-León, the lead author of the study, said, “Our results showed that vulnerable narcissism is more associated with strong cortisol and emotional reactivity to psychosocial stress and psychological traits linked to schizotypy, whereas grandiose narcissism is more associated with blunted cortisol and emotional responses to psychosocial stress and psychological traits linked to psychopathy. These findings provide additional validation for these two subtypes of narcissism.”

However, one limitation of the study is that it used a sample of college students, and it is unclear whether the findings apply to a more diverse range of people. Further confirmatory research with larger and more diverse samples is necessary to replicate these findings.

The study’s findings are significant in psychology as they can help clinicians better identify and treat individuals with narcissistic personality disorder. Understanding the biological factors underlying personality traits is essential to understanding the origin and evolution of personality disorders.

The study, “Cortisol reactivity to psychosocial stress in vulnerable and grandiose narcissists: An exploratory study“, was authored by Javier I. Borráz-León, Alena Spreitzer, Coltan Scrivner, Mitchell Landers, Royce Lee, and Dario Maestripieri.

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