Using data from six different studies, researchers charted how narcissism changes over time and between generations in 747 people aged 13 to 77.
? Willfulness, or being full of yourself;
? Hypersensitivity, or being overly defensive;
? Autonomy, or a sense of leadership and authority.
On average, negative forms of narcissism — willfulness and hypersensitivity — declined with age, while the more positive feeling of havin control over your life increased as people got older.
The increase in this “good” narcissism over time is surprising, says William Chopik, author on the study and assistant professor at Michigan State University. “It looks like the most rapid changes occur just after people experience those setbacks or experiences,”Chopik says. That could be a divorce, or some other adverse experience. Overall, people change the most rapidly during their middle age.
Narcissism is often thought of as a monolithic personality trait, but this study suggests autonomy may stand alone. It also makes sense that as we age, we feel more competent in our lives and actions, Chopik says. “Oftentimes, life experiences, jobs, and relationships have a tendency to change our priorities as we age, and that’s what we think we’re seeing here.”
People are indeed most narcissistic in their twenties, Chopik says .
Contrary to the stereotype, young people today are likely no more narcissistic than any generation before them .
The results defy a popular piece of folk wisdom about younger generations — and the current generation of 20-somethings in particular — that they are hopelessly full of themselves.
“You can find people as long ago as 700 B.C. lamenting at how narcissistic today’s kids are,” says Chopik, “So for all the talk about how young people are narcissistic, it’s generally the case that they “age out of it” and become more mature, responsible, and considerate of others. I hope it starts to challenge the misconception that all young people are narcissistic or are more narcissistic than previous generations.”
The researchers also found some outliers: Some people just stayed narcissists. Some people declined really dramatically and became quite humble people. Others didn’t change much at all, suggesting that narcissism might be a lifelong condition for them.