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Dr Minna Lyons is a psychology lecturer at the University of Liverpool. Her research interests include altruism, morality, and the ‘Dark Triad’ of personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy). Minna appeared on the University of Liverpool Podcast to discuss narcissism in Western civilisation.

5 things I’ve got to tell you about narcissism

  1. Narcissism appears to permeate all aspects of culture
    Do individuals reflect their cultural surroundings, or does culture reflect the individuals who create it? That’s the intriguing question raised by analyses of pop songs and novels over the last 40 years, both of which appear to have become increasingly self-centred and narcissistic in their content.

    The prevalence of narcissism in pop songs is perhaps unsurprising. However, narcissism in literature also seems to be on the rise. “There are a lot more people writing about the first-person experience,” observes Minna. “Everything’s more about ‘me’, rather than an individual as part of a bigger group.”
  2. There’s evidence to suggest narcissism is on the rise
    The Narcissistic Personality Instrument (NPI) is a 40-item questionnaire. It has been regularly used since the 1980s, across a range of different studies, to determine a respondent’s tendency towards narcissism.

    And researchers say the direction of travel is clear. “What they’ve found,” says Minna, “is that nowadays people score much higher on this instrument than they did before.”
  3. It’s actually quite normal
    In some cases, the perception of narcissism among today’s population has been described as an epidemic. But that’s a label Minna rejects.

    She argues that narcissism is a “normal variation” rather than a “mental illness or maladaptive”. She says that while ‘narcissism epidemic’ is an eye-catching term, she doesn’t believe it accurately reflects the reasons behind the apparent changes in the frequency and intensity of narcissism that researchers are reporting today.
  4. Wealth and paternal approaches seem to be key
    Is narcissism a result of nature or nurture? In some cross-cultural studies, wealth appears to have a significant bearing on an individual’s likelihood to display narcissistic tendencies.

    One study found that people from the United Arab Emirates who grew up with nannies and maids showed a much higher likelihood of narcissism than British individuals with less financial freedom. Another study, by Paul Piff at the University of California, found individuals from a higher socioeconomic standing looked more frequently at mirrors while taking part in his research.

    Minna adds: “We also found that those people in the UAE who recalled their fathers were quite cold and uncaring… when they were children, those people have much higher entitlement as adults.”
  5. New evidence suggests narcissism might not be on the rise
    A recent study appears to contradict the widespread belief that narcissism is rising. Instead, it questions the methodology used to make this assessment – primarily, the NPI, which has largely remained unchanged since 1989.

    Researchers found what’s known as ‘measurement invariance’ in how respondents approach the 40 questions raised in NPI tests.

    Minna explains: “This… basically means that people in different cohorts of students, they understand the question differently. So they don’t necessarily have higher scores of narcissism per se, but the questions have got a different meaning to people in different generations. And it could that that’s caused the seemingly increasing scores on narcissism.”

About this podcast

The University of Liverpool Podcast aims to bring listeners closer to some of the academic experts, authors and innovative thinkers from the University who, through their in-depth analyses, research and discoveries, are affecting positive change in the world today. Each episode features one or more of our academic experts discussing research in their specialist field. Subscribe to the University of Liverpool Podcast via iTunes, Tunein and Google Play Music (US and Canada only).

Interested in learning more about the University of Liverpool’s online psychology programmes? Find out more about the MSc in Psychology and our other psychology programmes.

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