ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (8): 1354-1365.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.01354

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Narcissism research approaches and integration: Dynamics, regulation, and personality characteristics

KANG Tinghu1, ZHAO Jing1,2   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China;
    2School of Primary Education, Longnan Teachers College, Longnan 742500, China
  • Received:2023-12-03 Online:2024-08-15 Published:2024-06-05

Abstract: Psychological researchers believe that narcissism is a familiar and puzzling concept. In social/personality psychology, narcissism is defined as a trait of excessive self-appreciation, characterized by entitlement, expressionism, self-importance, and superiority. By contrast, in contemporary clinical models, narcissism is defined as an individual’s ability to retain a relatively positive self-image through a variety of self-, affect-, and field-regulatory processes. These two definitions reflect differences in the understanding of narcissism between clinical psychology and social/personality psychology.
In the past decade, researchers have depended on different research traditions, applied different measuring tools and methods to explore the structure and expression of narcissism, and have identified two major themes: Grandiose Narcissism and Vulnerable Narcissism. Trifurcated structural models of narcissism were developed on this basis. The Trifurcated Model of Narcissism (TriMN) and the Narcissism Spectrum Model (NSM) hypothesized that entitlement/antagonism was the core feature, whereas grandiosity/extroversion and vulnerability/neuroticism were the respective phenotypic features. Grandiose narcissism is a combination of antagonism and agentic extraversion, whereas vulnerable narcissism is a combination of antagonism and neuroticism. These views are shared in clinical and social/personality psychology.
What is the relationship between normal and pathological narcissism? What is the nature of vulnerable narcissism? What is at the core of narcissism? The existing trifurcated structural models of narcissism do not address these questions. Social/personality psychology refers to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) as normal narcissism; however, the NPI correlates strongly with the expert-rated characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In contrast, the Narcissistic Grandiosity Subscale (PNI-NG), which was specifically designed to measure pathological narcissistic grandiosity, did not correlate with expert-rated characteristics of NPD. Vulnerable narcissism was considered in social/personality psychology as a narcissistic variant with a neurotic interpersonal style, while in contemporary clinical theory, vulnerable narcissism is the product of narcissistic needs regulation failure, and narcissists would experience a transition between grandiose and vulnerable states. TriMN identified antagonism as the core of narcissism, whereas the NSM tended to believe entitlement as the core of narcissism, But, in fact, antagonism and entitlement were not the same construct.
To resolve the current controversy or inconsistency in narcissism research, we identified cues from the origin of the concept of narcissism and the development of narcissism research. This study traced the early meaning of narcissism in psychoanalysis and identified two developmental paths in the study of narcissism. In psychoanalytic theory, narcissism refers to a set of attitudes, personality characteristics, or personality disorders. However, it can also be a self-directed psychological activity that serves as a dynamic system of self-regulation to maintain self-expression and self-esteem. Contemporary clinical psychology and social/personality psychology have inherited two lines of research on narcissistic personality characteristics and self-regulation, and developed TriMN and NSM. Based on this, this study proposes a three-system integration model consisting of a narcissistic dynamic system, personality characteristics system, and regulatory system.
The three-system integration model of narcissism hypothesizes that narcissistic entitlement can be considered a source of narcissistic motivation and dynamics, the narcissistic regulatory system can explain the fluctuations of narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability under threatened situations, and the personality characteristics system mainly reflects the personality characteristics and baseline level of individual narcissism. Among the three systems, the narcissistic dynamics system provides dynamics for self-regulation and strategy practice, and enables individuals to form specific phenotypic characteristics, which are reflected in relatively stable individual differences. Individuals with different narcissistic characteristics have different dynamics for maintaining a positive narcissistic image or status, which leads to different regulation strategies.
In future research, based on the three-system integration model of narcissism, experimental methods will be used to explore the self-regulatory approach of individuals with different narcissistic characteristics under manipulative conditions, and longitudinal studies will be used to explore the development and change in narcissistic characteristics and their relationship with self-esteem and psychological well-being. Neuroscience techniques and methods can help researchers understand the neural mechanisms underlying narcissism.

Key words: grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, pathological narcissism, the trifurcated structures of narcissism

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