Can neuroscience help to understand narcissism?

Neuroscience of Narcissism

2.1 Current research questions for the neuroscience of narcissism

The overarching goal of this review is to highlight the possible con- tributions of neuroscience to the understanding of narcissism in its different expressions. Though self-report and behavioral research on narcissism have acquired a great deal of knowledge in the past decades, some questions still remain open. Broadly, these concern two fundamental aspects of personality functioning: (1) intraper- sonal, self-related characteristics of narcissism and (2) interper- sonal, other related characteristics of narcissism.

(1) It has long been hypothesized that narcissism, particularly grandiose narcissism and NPD as its clinical expression, entail vul- nerable aspects, which need not necessarily be overtly expressed (e.g., Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). The mask model of narcissism posits that grandiosity is a façade to mask an underlying fragile self (Akhtar, 1989); that is, that grandiosity compensates for underlying vulnerability. Whether or not grandiosity is indeed causally related to underlying vulnerability, as this model implies, clinicians working with narcissistic patients are inclined to agree with their coexistence (in correlational terms). In their seminal review, Pincus and Lukowitksy (2010) assert that “many contemporary clinical experts on narcissistic personality disorder now recognize that grandiose self-states oscillate or co-occur with vulnerable self-states and affec- tive dysregulation” (p. 428). Similarly, in her review on NPD, Ronningstam (2009) states that: “the narcissistic individual may fluctuate between assertive grandiosity and vulnerability” (p. 113). Following this perspective, one might assume that individuals high in grandiose narcissism should hold implicit negative self-views along their explicit positive self-views (cf. Kuchynka & Bosson, 2018). However, this view is not commonly supported by systematic research. Self-report studies on grandiose narcissism find positive correlations with explicit (Campbell et al., 2002) and also implicit self-esteem (Campbell et al., 2007), and research on NPD suggests no difference in implicit self-esteem between NPD patients and con- trols (Marissen et al., 2016; Vater et al., 2013).

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