Depressing news from the world of psychology: Nearly every stereotype about the gender gap with regards to narcissism, ambition and leadership is right.
That’s according to a study in the March issue of the Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association. In a review of three decades of survey data from nearly half a million participants, researchers found that men are more likely to demonstrate narcissistic behavior than women, regardless of generation or age.
With what must have been a tremendous tolerance for inflated egos, the researchers examined some of humanity’s least-attractive characteristics — manipulativeness, self-absorption, aggression and arrogance among them — and looked at how people responded to statements that included “If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place” and “I know that I am good because everyone keeps telling me so.” Lucky them.
They then qualified “narcissism” according to three facets: entitlement, leadership/authority and grandiose/exhibitionism. Men scored measurably higher than women in the first two categories and were more likely to agree with phrases like “I like having authority over people” and “I insist upon getting the respect that is due to me.” They were also more likely to exploit others and to believe that they were entitled to special privileges. But there was hardly any deviation between the two genders in the grandiose/exhibitionism category, which includes qualities like vanity and self-absorption.
Higher levels of narcissism have been a helpful adaptation for men, the study said, boosting their self-esteem and emotional stability and making them more likely to take on leadership roles. But it has its drawbacks.
“Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including an inability to maintain healthy long-term relationships, unethical behavior and aggression,” lead author Emily Grijalva, a professor at the University of Buffalo, said in a news release.
The study doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already assume, but it is the first systematic review to back up the magnitude of gender stereotypes with actual data, according to Grijalva. It also looks into why those stereotypes exist in the first place.
“Individuals tend to observe and learn gender roles from a young age, and may face backlash for deviating from society’s expectations,” Grijalva said. “In particular, women often receive harsh criticism for being aggressive or authoritative, which creates pressure for women, more so than for men, to suppress displays of narcissistic behavior.”
Stereotypes about the way men and women exhibit entitlement and leadership can be self-perpetuating, the study argued. For example, women score lower on the leadership/authority facet, meaning that they are less likely to wind up in leadership roles. But the resulting lack of female leaders could then reinforce the idea that women are worse leaders and less authoritative, pushing women to suppress those aspects of themselves to conform to gender expectations.
“For a woman who has deeply internalized a feminine gender identity, endorsing gender-stereotypical occupational preferences might be a mechanism used to avow her femininity to herself and to others,” the study said.
The study did include one piece of good news: Neither female nor male college students are any more narcissistic now than they were in 1990. Hopefully that means we can stop writing think-pieces about the “me, me, me generation” and the worrying selfie trend.
More from Morning Mix: