Origins of narcissism

Origins of narcissism in children
PNAS, March 24, 2015. vol. 112 no. 12
Eddie Brummelman, et al.

Narcissistic individuals feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment. When they feel humiliated, they often lash out aggressively or even violently.
Unfortunately, little is known about the origins of narcissism. Such knowledge is important for designing interventions to curtail narcissistic development.
We demonstrate that narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others.
In contrast, high self-esteem in children is cultivated by parental warmth: parents expressing affection and appreciation toward their child.

Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence.
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



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