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Narcissism and Violence

With a number of school shootings in recent years psychologists are more and more interested in what leads to aggression and violence. In particular, various experiments have centered around the relationship between self-esteem and violent behavior. That is, does low self-esteem underlie violent behavior or does high self-esteem?

Two studies suggest that those individuals most prone to violent behavior are narcissists. In Greek mythology, we know Narcissus as the man who fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring, and whose excessive self-love killed him. Does this mean self-love, or high self-esteem, leads to violence? Not exactly.

High self-esteem and narcissism are two different creatures. Psychologists define narcissists as those who want desperately to feel superior to other people. High self-esteem, on the other hand, means having confidence in oneself, but does not entail a need to feel superior to others. The problem for narcissists is that despite how much they want to be and feel superior to others, they always feel that they are failing in achieving this superiority. Therefore, narcissists are hardly the confident people they’d like to be. Narcissists want to think well of themselves, but constantly fail.

The experiments at hand entailed measuring the participants for narcissism and self-esteem, then allowing them the opportunity to act aggressively towards another party who was either neutral, who evaluated the participant negatively, or who evaluated him positively. The experiment found that the most aggressive participants in the studies were narcissists who were attacking a person who had evaluated them negatively, and thus, threatened their fragile egos.

Don Glass

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Don Glass has worked in public radio since 1966. From 1970 to 1990 he served as Program Manager for WFIU, becoming Special Projects Director and Senior Producer from 1990 to 2005. He has retired from fulltime employment at the University, but continues to host and produce A Moment of Science. He enjoys working with A Moment of Science and learning fascinating new facts.

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