Men's Health

Narcissistic Men at Risk for Health Problems

Narcissism - that inflated sense of self-importance that often interferes with relationships - appears to play a negative role in men's health, as well, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Virginia surveyed 106 college students and found that those who scored highest on two narcissistic traits - entitlement and exploitativeness - had much higher levels of cortisol in their blood. Cortisol is a stress hormone linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Photo of bare-chested young man at swimming pool

Although the researchers found narcissistic traits in both men and women, only men had the increased levels of cortisol.

Closer look

"We generally see narcissism as a personality trait that's bad for others but not narcissists. It's bad for people in relationships with them," says study co-author Sara Konrath, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan. "This study was a way of getting under their skin to see if there are physical consequences."

Dr. Konrath and her colleagues measured several components of narcissism: self-absorption, overestimations of uniqueness -- including attractiveness and intelligence - and sense of grandiosity. They then measured cortisol levels in the students' saliva twice to determine the baseline levels of the hormone. Cortisol signals activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the body's key stress response system. Researchers found elevated levels of cortisol only in men with unhealthy narcissism. They speculated that in these men the HPA axis is chronically activated.

The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Social expectations

Although the study didn't explain why only men seem to suffer from a higher stress response to narcissism, societal definitions of masculinity that overlap with the trait - such as arrogance or dominance - may leave men particularly vulnerable physiologically.

The study "invites people to look at this issue in a more comprehensive way," but it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between narcissism and the body's stress response, says Mark Russ, M.D., at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

"People with narcissism may be type-A, very driven, perfectionistic, and seek high-stress situations, and the cortisol levels may be measuring that," says Dr. Russ. "There may be an overlap."

Narcissism levels have increased in both genders in recent years, Dr. Konrath says. This may be a byproduct of the "self-esteem movement," which emphasizes praise for children over criticism.

She says it's nice that society is trying to be thoughtful and careful of people's feelings, but admits that in the long run such caution may prove to be destructive.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

LabTests Online - Cortisol

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – What Is High Blood Pressure?

Psychology Today - A Field Guide to Narcissism

March 2012

Reduce Work-Related Stress

Studies show having a demanding job that offers you few opportunities to make decisions or provides little reward can increase your risk for heart disease.

The risk from job strain gets compounded when you experience a cluster of stresses, such as not having a strong support system or feeling chronically anxious.

If you can't find a different position within your company, do what you can to gain control over your environment. To prevent work-related burnout, set aside 10 minutes of down time each day.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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