Physiological Reactivity and Neural Correlates of Trait Narcissism

  • Elizabeth A. KrusemarkEmail author


Despite a predominant empirical focus on cognitive-emotional distinctions and problematic behaviors associated with narcissism, investigators are turning their attention toward understanding the physiological and neural mechanisms that underlie these characteristics. A majority of the research examining narcissistic physiological and neural activity focuses on grandiose narcissism measured with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), however, a growing number of studies are examining neurophysiological differences that distinguish dimensions of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Research to date illustrates that grandiose narcissism involves cardiovascular reactivity in response to aversive stimuli and achievement-related stressors that parallel reactivity associated with similar personality traits (e.g., competitiveness, dominance), exhibiting greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Additionally, grandiose narcissism is associated with acute and chronically elevated levels of cortisol as well as heightened testosterone reactivity and aggression. By contrast, vulnerable narcissism and exploitativeness/entitlement are generally associated with heightened cardiovascular reactivity to interpersonal rejection. Research examining structural and functional brain differences suggests a potential link between narcissism and behaviors including impaired empathy and reactive aggression. Grandiose narcissism is associated with structural abnormalities in the fronto-striatal pathway whereas vulnerable narcissism is linked to reduced cortical volume and thickness in frontal brain regions. Functional neuroimaging studies report grandiose narcissism is associated with increased brain activation in response to social exclusion and abnormal resting-state brain activation between large-scale functional networks. Although research examining physiological and neural activity associated with grandiose and vulnerable narcissism is still limited, results from these studies provide compelling evidence that may aid in understanding and reducing narcissistic reactivity to everyday challenges.


Psychophysiological Cardiovascular reactivity Cortisol Testosterone fMRI Brain structure 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Millsaps CollegeJacksonUSA

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