Narcissistic men have higher levels of stress hormone
January 23rd, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Narcissistic men have higher levels of stress hormone

Men who are narcissistic are likely to have higher levels of a primary stress hormone called cortisol, a new study finds.

However, the same trend was not as strong for women with narcissist traits, according to research published Monday in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

“The more narcissistic, the more cortisol that men have in mundane situations,” said author Sara Konrath, who is the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research at the University of Michigan.

Narcissism is a trait that exhibits “grandiosity, an inflated sense of self-importance, and over-estimations of uniqueness.”  If severe, it can also be a personality disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

The trait has some positive qualities, such as abundance of self-esteem and positive sense of self.  Narcissistic people characteristically tend to overestimate their intellectual abilities, attractiveness and positive personality traits, wrote Konrath.

But they don’t enjoy healthy relationships with others because they’re generally low on empathy and high in hostility – especially when their positive self-image is threatened. Since previous research confirmed that narcissism has a harmful effect on relationships, Konrath wanted to know more.

“I wondered if there’s harm going on, but it’s a harm we can’t articulate or recognize,” she said.

Narcissists aren’t likely to admit that they’re stressed or anxious.  So she needed an objective measure and decided to use cortisol levels to understand how narcissism could affect one’s health.

In the study, 106 undergraduate students (79 females, 27 males, mean age 20.1 years) from one Midwestern and one Southwestern American university took two cortisol tests and answered several questions about themselves.  They were unknowingly taking the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is used to assess people’s narcissism.

It gives statements like “I find it easy to manipulate people,” and “If I ruled the world it would be a better place," to which the respondent agrees or disagrees.

Konrath observed that men with higher levels of narcissism had more cortisol.  It was minimal in women, but about 2.5 times stronger in men.

Cortisol is a measurement of how prepared your body is ready to respond to a threat, said Konrath.  If the cortisol response is always high in the absence of a threat, it indicates an overactive response in the body.  This can have long-term health effects such as blood sugar imbalances, heart problems and weight gain.

The study could not determine why men appeared to be much more affected than women. But Konrath suggested that there could be overlaps between narcissism and male gender roles.

“We think what’s going on is, there’s some sort of especially toxic relationship between both being male and having a sense of masculinity or threat to a masculine identity.”

There could be a special vigilance for any threats that challenge their sense of toughness and competence,  she said.

soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Tony

    I'd like to see a study on how they negatively affect the people around them, which increases stress for their victims.

    January 24, 2012 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AntiNarcissist

      Think of HELL on Earth

      January 24, 2012 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
    • AntiNarcissist

      I wanted to post those studies but CNN blocks most of words in my post. Here goes free speech.

      January 24, 2012 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Long Beach, California

      yes, they will hide your post buton if one keeps it up....don't tell, but it is still there.......the next trick is super slow character input......this took minutes.....will not allow 1st Amendment stifling so I deal with!

      January 24, 2012 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      27 males in the study is a tiny sample size to warrant making any conclusions, much less a whole article on CNN. Come on CNN, this is crazy you would write an article on this study. Its all about the headline and getting readers, nothing about presenting any valid truth.

      January 24, 2012 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • Jenp

      I feel sorry for the Narcissist's children. My dad is one and living with him was a nightmare.

      January 24, 2012 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      Look no further! No scientific research needed!

      Does imbecilic GOPer's, their toilet brain teabagger folks and toupee hair piece, corporate corrupt welfare KING recipient Donald Trump ring a bell?

      You're wasting scarce resources for scientific research whilst you're surrounded daily by GOP narcissistic disorder elements. Their impotence, dysfunctional brains cells have negatively affected all of us directly inclu. the World at large and anyone that surrounds them. Turn on your TV and you see them in full view and on display like out of control filthy hyenas. They're nuisance to every society they dwell in. What more evidence do you need?

      January 25, 2012 at 07:21 | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Why can't we leave politics out of one discussion, just once?

      January 25, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Greg – most politicians are narcissists – Rep. and Dem. alike. Plus, everything is political when you really look at it. Also, AntiNarc – stop screaming about free-speech issues. CNN automatically flags certain words in posts not to censor ideas but for vulgarity issues and spam control. Every so often someone posts versions of those words when people are convinced CNN is personally certain ideas. Once you see them, you'd understand it has nothing to do with censorship.

      January 26, 2012 at 04:16 | Report abuse |
    • Sharon

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      May 24, 2012 at 17:59 | Report abuse |
  2. The_Mick

    Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way. I smile when I look in the mirror, cause I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me: I must be one hell of a man. Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble, but I'm doing the best that I can.

    January 24, 2012 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin

      So hard to be you. But we all appreciate your herculean effort because the world is such a wonderful place with you in it!

      Thanks for articulating the self-image of all those insufferable narcissists we all have to deal with every day!

      January 24, 2012 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      @Martin: I think these are the words of a song from the 70's or 80's. They're meant to be mocking.

      January 24, 2012 at 09:40 | Report abuse |
    • BigCityJam

      Martin – These are lyrics from a country song by Mac Davis called It's Hard To Be Humble from the late 70's or early 80's. It was meant as a satirical piece and is actually quite funny.

      January 24, 2012 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
  3. Johnny

    It would be interesting to compare the cortisol level in narcissistic men with that of men who were raised with low self-esteem.

    January 24, 2012 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie

      Narcissists DO have low self esteem! That is why the grandiosity to begin with! Seems a lot of people here have really NO CLUE what a true narcissist is- those that do, know that DEATH is better than living with one!!!

      January 24, 2012 at 12:08 | Report abuse |
    • Sy2502

      Narcissists deep down do have low self esteem. That's why they overcompensate. Narcissists have terrible skills dealing with anything negative, no wonder they are always so stressed out! They see everything that goes wrong as a personal attack and a slip in their control. They are rather pathetic and sorry individuals, but their lack of empathy toward others makes it very hard for anyone to feel sorry for them.

      January 24, 2012 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • NPost

      I read a study on (criminal) narrissists a few years ago. The results showed that those narsissits had very high self esteem.

      January 24, 2012 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
    • MarkC

      Narcissists absolutely DO NOT have low self-esteem. "Deep down" or anywhere else.

      January 24, 2012 at 21:22 | Report abuse |
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      Come on spill it!
      You must be talking about impotent, imbecilic GOPer's, their toilet brain teabagger folks and toupee hair piece, corporate corrupt welfare KING recipient Donald Trump.

      January 25, 2012 at 07:25 | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Valerie and Sy-It seems to me like you are confusing low self-esteem with exaggerated self-image. In the eyes of the beholder, the narcissist is overcompensating, in the mind of the narcissist, he/she is just expressing "reality." True low self-esteem is more tied to depression, anxiety and social withdrawal than anything else. Methinks that perhaps your perceptions have been colored by frustrating relationships.

      January 25, 2012 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
  4. Narcissisticpplsuck

    I agree with Tony. Id like to see a study on percentage of PTSD in survivors of narcissistic people!

    January 24, 2012 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. katpat

    What's the cortisol level in Obama? Must be off the charts.

    January 24, 2012 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sabina

      Really, you have to bring President Obama into this????

      January 24, 2012 at 08:54 | Report abuse |
    • trigtwit palin... America's favorite tard baby

      katpat... *poot*

      January 24, 2012 at 09:05 | Report abuse |
    • Observer

      Not anywhere near W, Cheney, and the other folks that surrounded them.

      January 24, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      @katpat, since your name sounds like a kiddy cat; FYI: you stand ALONE on this one.
      Have your brains examined for Heavens sake and for your good.

      January 25, 2012 at 07:30 | Report abuse |
  6. alimonyjones

    Wow. Yet another article about Newt G!ngr!ch...

    January 24, 2012 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Observer

    Gingrich brings stress and distress to every conversation. He's bipolar and folks never know when his short fuze is at it's end. He's definitely a self-centered temeramental person (90% temper, 10% mental). It's also been rumored that he had mommy issues which may be why he has so many issues with women he can't buy. I'll quit telling the truth about him when he quits lying about the 99%.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. r

    Yeah, I can see the stress from constantly thinking about where/who am I going to get it from next.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryana

      Yes you can use them to write checks get cash etc. BUT it is a huge tikmase!Rip the checks up ASAP they give you 6 months with 0% interest but charge you a fee to cash the check and they know you can't pay it all off in 6 months. They will get thier money from you don't fall into this credit trap!Live debt free! It is a wonderful feeling.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  9. Coriolana

    In other words, all men are stressed out.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Easy E

      I think all of us humans these days are stressed out. We all need to relaize what's important in life and keep our focus there. But nice implied joke there...maybe you just need to meet some different men, you might find some that you like!

      January 24, 2012 at 12:35 | Report abuse |
  10. Easy E

    If you take away the hostility and insecurity, the narcissist would actually be a great personality. Grandiosity is a marvellous trait to behold, especially in such a humdrum and boring world. The focus then should be on getting rid of the irrational hostility towards others, that is the real problem, not self-love.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • coolboy

      Good luck trying to get rid of the hostility and insecurity! Because of the insecurity, these narcissists get so defensive and all hostility breaks loose, thus bringing out the irrational berating to those around them. Such a nightmare living with them. It is a shame, though, because they could go so far if they could keep their mouths shut.

      January 25, 2012 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  11. Easy E

    Why complain about narcissists? They are the easiest people on earth to shop for come the Holidays. All they need is a mirror, the bigger the better!

    January 24, 2012 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Nathan

    I can relate, it is hard trying to keep a fit body in order to look good in thong underwear.

    January 24, 2012 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Blue Heron

    Narcissists are thought to feel shame where others feel guilt. That's got to add to the stress. Regardless, those suffering from acute narcissism are exceedingly poor company and a burden for their families.

    January 24, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nathan

      How narcissistic am I for wanting to look good in thong underwear? Just curious, I oftened wondered.

      January 24, 2012 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      What is shame, if not the outward expression of guilt? Haven't you ever felt ashamed of yourself?

      January 25, 2012 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
  14. Scott

    I dated a girl who was a narrissist. Likley a Sociopath. Eiether way, I agree with the tone of the replies i read here. Studies should be done to help those effected by these type of people. Becuase they devastate, use, and destroy anyone that is unfortunate enough to come across them.

    January 24, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. NRGDrinks101

    Wow, really? Narcissistic men have more cortisol......determined from a study of only 27 men?? There are well over 100 million men in this country and a conclusion like this can be made from studying 27 of them? Seriously? Study 27,000 men and the result will be much more realistic. And don't have them all be college students either because college students already have more stress anyway.

    January 24, 2012 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      Whether the cortisol study may be very flawed or not will remain uncertain until a better one challenges it. One thing is certain though, narcissistic men have a much higher level of noclassatall.

      January 25, 2012 at 09:39 | Report abuse |
    • coolboy

      since all of the people tested were college students (and you are implying they are all stressed, anyway) what difference does it make? They are not comparing apples to oranges. They are comparing apples to apples.

      January 25, 2012 at 18:08 | Report abuse |
  16. Peter Meter Maid

    The author of this article has serious jealousy issues.

    January 24, 2012 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ABomb

    Is it a coincidence CNN is doing stories on psychopaths and narcissists right after Gingrich wins SC?

    January 24, 2012 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mushster

    When we can confidently come up with a lot of labels (think DSM-V and beyond), to tag and objectify all varieties of others besides ourselves, that's real power, baby!

    January 24, 2012 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. NPost

    We are all like snowflakes,
    some of us are beautiful,
    some of us look like crap.

    January 24, 2012 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply

    small caps LARGE CAPS doing study which one feels more pain HMMMM lol

    January 25, 2012 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Cindy Comperchio

    My ex husband is narcissistic and since our divorce 6 years ago has gained about 50 pounds, now at 5' 9" and 250 pounds. He's developed heart and blood pressure problems that have him on several very strong medications. He's so overweight that he looks like he can barely get around and looks very unheatlhy. He's got few if any friends and can't accept that he's got a problem. If he would get help everything in his life, including his health, would be so much better. This study is right on target from what I've experienced.

    January 25, 2012 at 04:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      Sounds like your ex-husband is Republican.
      Give Prez. Obama a call and he will be anxious to help your ex-husband work thru. his problems. Will ya?

      January 25, 2012 at 07:34 | Report abuse |
    • coolboy

      wait'll he reads your post! that will push him over the edge.

      January 25, 2012 at 17:58 | Report abuse |
  22. ﺶCHEﺶ

    Yeb; this personality disorder fits perfectly with imbecilic GOPer's and their toilet brain teabagger folks. Not to leave out toupee hair piece, corporate corrupt welfare KING recipient Donald Trump included.

    January 25, 2012 at 07:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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      October 11, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
  23. Jorge

    In reference to the article's subject matter, it must refer to narcissistic men without the power or social attention that they must need for self-confirmation, it seems that in a society like this one they would surely be very stressed. One thing is certain, they have a way of spreading that stress around among everybody else like typhus, empowered or not, and many parts of this country seems to be infested with them.

    January 25, 2012 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rob

    Our narcissism is a result of the combination of 2 factors – our natural egoism and the reinforcement of this trait by our social environment. And it is growing worse. For example, studies show that current college students are more narcissistic and less empathetic than students in the 1970's.

    This narcissism is certainly not limited to men or to college students. We are all just a reflection of what our society values and teaches us. And society has placed an increasing emphasis on the self, self-centered goals, fame, and financial and personal success at any cost. The result? All the current crises – financial, social and environmental.

    The only way to solve these crises is to get to the heart of the problem. First, we each need to recognize the damage our egoism is doing, both to ourself and to the world, since everyone and everything is now so highly interconnected. Our ego constantly demands more and more for our self, but it can never be satisfied. It keeps us feeling isolated and prevents us from connecting with each other on a deep, emotional level.

    Second, we need to start building a society that encourages respect and caring for others. Just as we have been shaped by an environment that pushes us towards selfishness, we can reshape ourselves by creating an environment that encourages positive characteristics like empathy and understanding, and rewards actions that reflect those traits.

    January 25, 2012 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Frank P

    sample size of 27? Please. What shotty work.

    January 25, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Lindsey

    "grandiosity, an inflated sense of self-importance, and over-estimations of uniqueness"

    Wow, this perfectly describes to a T one of the Republican presidential candidates. LOL!!!! Is it hard to guess WHO???

    Hey Newt, the men in white coats with the nets are coming to take you away, ha ha hey hey!!!

    January 25, 2012 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. LD

    I was married to Narcissistic for 15 years. It never matter what was going on – I was wrong – he was right – I was stupid and he was the smartest person in the room. I had to laugh when we went to court and he was refusing my request concerning part of the settlement and the judge called him a narcissistic, arrogant ass on the record!!!!

    January 25, 2012 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. PHinMiami

    Narcissism is no laughing matter. After being married to a 'Malignant Narcissist', the divorce was a war I could never have preparer for. The marriage councilor explained how staying married to a narcissist is a personality disorder of it's own.

    January 25, 2012 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. SilentBoy741

    Maybe it's a chemical reaction between the excessive hair mousse and Axe body spray that's raising the cortisol levels. You are working with narcissistic college boys. Your entire study is probably flawed.

    January 26, 2012 at 03:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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  33. Lorr50

    I lived with a narcassist for 6 years. I managed to escape thank God, but it has taken me almost 2 years to get back my self esteem. I am not blameless in this.....the warning signs were there. But please do not joke about these people. They have an illness that is incurabe. They have no "Feelings" and target people with the traits they would like to have ie being popular/positive/from stable families etc And they NEVER leave you alone. Even after 2 years, HE has managed to get my telephone number and actually had the audacity to call me to say he was SORRY!!!.........They mess with your head.........if you let them

    August 30, 2012 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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