Mind & Body

These Are the Differences Between Male and Female Narcissists

Narcissism isn't cute. In fact, it can be flat-out destructive. But in order to protect yourself from it, you need to know what you're looking for. According to research, the telltale signs of narcissism that you may have on your radar could be slightly off, depending on who you're looking at. It turns out that narcissism has some distinct gender differences.

Related Video: The Upside of Social Media Narcissism


You know the major cues when it comes to spotting a narcissist: someone being totally full of themselves, completely self-absorbed, having no time for anyone else, and on and on. About 6 percent of Americans have narcissistic personality disorder, says a 2009 study. As described by the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder is "a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others." But that doesn't quite cover everything. According to a 2016 meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin, it's not one-size-fits-all — there are differences between male and female narcissists.

The study looked at three decades of data from narcissism research that included more than 475,000 participants and found that men, on average, are more narcissistic than women. Regardless of age, men consistently scored higher in narcissism compared to the women studied. That could say more about society at large than you'd think.

"Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including an inability to maintain healthy long-term relationships, unethical behavior and aggression," says lead author Emily Grijalva, Ph.D., an assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management, in a statement. "At the same time, narcissism is shown to boost self-esteem, emotional stability and the tendency to emerge as a leader. By examining gender differences in narcissism, we may be able to explain gender disparities in these important outcomes."

Narcissistic as 1, 2, 3

The team looked at three aspects of narcissism: leadership/authority, grandiose/exhibitionism, and exploitative/entitlement. They found that male and female narcissists don't score evenly across these groups. Just because a man is more self-absorbed, let's say, than a woman, it doesn't mean he's necessarily more narcissistic overall. Of these buckets, the researchers found the widest gap between men and women in the entitlement camp. This suggests that male narcissists are more likely to feel entitled to certain things and exploit people than female narcissists are.

The next biggest gender gap in narcissism was in leadership/authority. The third aspect, exhibitionism, had no gap at all. "Compared with women, men exhibit more assertiveness and desire for power," Grijalva says, "but there was no difference in the exhibitionism aspect, meaning both genders are equally likely to display vanity or self-absorption."

The team speculates that gender stereotypes may showcase or suppress which narcissistic traits either gender expresses. "Individuals tend to observe and learn gender roles from a young age, and may face backlash for deviating from society's expectations," Grijalva says. "In particular, women often receive harsh criticism for being aggressive or authoritative, which creates pressure for women, more so than for men, to suppress displays of narcissistic behavior."

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Want to dive further into the mind of the narcissist? Check out "Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety" by Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

6 Ways to Tell if You're a Narcissist

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The immense concern with one's appearance is a huge factor of narcissism. 00:20

  2. Narcissists are often oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others. 00:49

  3. Narcissists are known to post very frequently on social media. 01:59

Written by Joanie Faletto May 11, 2018

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