Friday, February 03, 2012

A Personality Type That Lends Itself To Heart Disease

When you were a teenager, would you have agreed or disagreed with the statement:
"I am an important person."
In the 1950s, only 12% agreed. By the late 1980s, 80% agreed.

Agreement with the following statement increased from the 1960s to the 1990s:
"I have often met people who were supposed to be experts who were no better than I."
If it's true that narcissism, or "unhealthy self-focus" can increase the risk for heart disease (Narcissism And Heart Disease), it indicates another element of the health equation which can be tweaked, compared to, say, genes which are less changeable. Maybe?

This study:
Egos Inflating Over Time: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Journal of Personality, 2008.

Found that narcissism levels have risen in the last ~30 years (1979-2006), at least among college students. It was from this paper I picked up the statistics at the top of this post.
"The most recent college students score about the same on the NPI [Narcissistic Personality Inventory] as a sample of celebrities (Young & Pinsky, 2006)."
What is Narcissism?

From the paper:
"Narcissism is characterized first and foremost by a positive and inflated view of the self, especially on agentic traits (e.g. power, importance, physical attractiveness).

Narcissism involves a wide range of self-regulation efforts aimed at enhancing the self. These efforts can range from attention seeking and taking credit from others to seeking high-status romantic partners and opportunities to achieve public glory.

Those high in narcissism lash out with aggression when they are rejected or insulted.

Narcissism can be conceptualized as a self-regulating system, where self-esteem and enhancement are sought through a variety of social means but with little regard for the consequences borne by others."
When I was growing up, it was "Type A Personality" that was related to heart attack. Here it's narcissism. There does seem to be a particular disposition that lends itself to heart troubles.
Thanks to D and M.


virginia said...

I have so much to say about this, but I'm laughing, and trying to finish some chores. Here's an excerpt, and I think it was from a Terri Gross interview:

"Sarah Silverman commented in an interview about discovering the writing of psychologist Alice Miller: 'There’s a book called ‘Drama of the Gifted Child’ given to me by my sister, and I was thinking, This is unbelievable. It’s all about me. I related to it so much.

'And I asked a friend of mine if she’d read it, and she said that Alice Miller originally titled the book ‘Drama of the Narcissistic Child’ – but she knew that no one who needed to read it would buy it. That was really funny, and a little bit embarrassing.' "

I love being able to google a phrase that I remember, and finding it on the internet:

Bix said...

That narcissism quiz says that celebrities as a group score high.

Dr. Mel said...

Sorry for this *long* comment, but the study just begs so many questions. First of all, the funny (but also scary) thing: "I have often met people who were supposed to be experts who were no better than I." I think this is actually *truer* today than in the past, largely because educational standards have declined and methodologies have changed(even in many professional schools). Hence the higher number of stupid, incurious, inept medical doctors, veterinarians, etc. E.g., the negligent, ill-trained docs who killed both my parents before I could wrest said parents out of their clutches. Or the dozen or more vets I've tried since moving to Philly in 2003, all U of Penn grads, who, frankly, are awful--incurious and not very bright.

Speaking of education, there's been astonishing grade inflation at both the primary/secondary level and in colleges (which of course contributes to the "no mental furniture" syndrome found among many young graduates).

The absence of mental furniture (i.e., a mental matrix of ideas & info) may result from the rise of "constructivist" teaching (group projects would be an example) vs traditional teaching (listening, note-taking, memorization, testing), which stresses content. Constructivist teaching is intended to foster creativity, but w/o a matrix of knowledge already in your head, creativity (even if it results from constructivist teaching, which is questionable) has no material to work with! Constructivism is one reason why today's students and young professionals can't write, do mathematical calculations, or perform other skills that once were taken for granted.

At the college where I teach, there is *such* a sense of entitlement and inflated ego (narcissism) among students whose capacity for learning was never developed in their primary/secondary years. The reasons for this are multiple, but the sense of entitlement would knock your socks off.

Finally, a psychotherapist friend says that personality disorders (such as narcissism) can take decades to modify, if it's possible at all. I don't know the truth of that, but he is a very bright man, so I'll take his word for it. Fixing genes might be easier (someday) than altering basic personality traits. Years of therapy.

Bix said...

You raise so many interesting points, as did this study. There's so much here to talk about.

They mentioned grade inflation too. ("In 1980, only 27% of college freshmen reported earning an A average in high school, but by 2004 almost half (48%) reported a high school A average.") But they didn't speculate as to why.

They say that a rise in narcissism isn't altogether bad, and cite "positive emotional outcomes" such as "self-esteem, positive affect, extraversion."

I thought extraversion and introversion were just qualities, like having red hair or blond hair. The world had both, needed both, and one wasn't necessarily better. But if extraversion is positive, it implies that introversion is negative, or at least less desirable.

Bix said...

They mentioned that 2006 Time Magazine cover, where the 2006 Person Of The Year was "You" and it had a mirror on the cover. Remember it? It sure did feel like a social reinforcement of narcissism. But maybe that's not a bad thing? I don't know ... It's so unlike growing up in an environment where "You are not to speak unless spoken to."

Dr. Mel said...

In education, narcissism is a bad thing for students w/ no knowledge base or skills in writing, math, the ability to construct a logical argument, etc., who nevertheless believe themselves to be brilliant. Hence, they blame the professor when they don't do well in a class, and they end up not learning about either the material or themselves because they're encased in an impenetrable armor of narcissism. But I'm sure it can be somewhat a good trait in talented people.

Bix said...

I'm a fish out of water on this topic! But an interesting topic it is. I learn a lot from these papers, and from the experiences you share, Melinda, and everyone else.

It hasn't been my experience, not too much, that experts were no better than I. Often I feel riveted by their knowledge. But I can understand your frustration. Maybe the word "expert" is too flexible?

The study in my prior post differentiated between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism. It's unfortunate that the word narcissism carries negative connotations, as virginia pointed out. It's easier, for me at least, to see that a certain level of self-esteem is healthy, but qualities of entitlement, greed, exploitation, and others that involve "little regard for the consequences borne by others" are not good ... not good for society, and not good in the long run for the individual.

Claudia said...

By the way, I was watching the news about fighting in Syria and the killings in Egypt and Iran having a nuclear weapon or is that nuclear power? and it made me think about that answer in this test-- "The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me." I agree!

caulfieldkid said...

Dr. Mel,

I don't have a problem with anything you said.

I would like to add that I think the ease at which information is attained makes for a devalued(?) understanding of an "expert." In all honesty, there are steps to brain surgeries that I could look up in minutes. That doesn't mean I could preform the procedure, but I could grasp the concepts. That accessibility of knowledge is a double edge sword. I can find out about a lot of things, but (as you mention ("matrix of knowledge")) I don't really have a context for all that information.


I would argue that extra/introversion are neutral traits. I'm biased, but I would still argue it.


Jim Purdy said...

When I was an eager 20-something, I would have scored very high on that quiz.
Now, as a relaxed (lazy? apathetic?) 60-something, I scored very low.
But I'm not sure that the quiz has anything to do with heart disease.

Bix said...

Jim, long time no see. Hope all is well!