Two recent small studies have indicated that narcissists suffer from a lack of grey matter in the cerebral cortex; as one of them (Altered Brain Structure in Pathological Narcissism) says, there are “structural abnormalities in precisely that region of the brain which is involved in the processing and generation of compassion” (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/1306/19101434.htm). The other study, which I found at psychcentral.com>News>Research News indicates a very similar result. In a nutshell, these studies, through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, indicated that the brains of the narcissists studied are underdeveloped in the areas that control empathy, compassion and selflessness.
So, finally, there is scientific evidence that narcissists have a definitive problem with their brains. This is something that I have instinctively believed right from the beginning of my investigation into the causes and effects of narcissism.
It felt to me, and still feels, that to espouse the notion that narcissism is caused by poor parenting from the mother is totally simplistic and completely lacking in a recognition of the complexity of the human brain; it’s reductionist, to say the least. To say the worst, it just seems to be another attempt to arbitrarily throw responsibility for a societal problem onto the shoulders of women, again.
Yes, there are mothers who are responsible for having perpetrated the narcissistic wound in their children. But there are also fathers, other caretakers, and perhaps anyone else who came into contact with the child who later develops Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
However, I’m getting off-track a little here.
I see these two studies as having a couple of serious problems.
Firstly, there’s no way that the MRI can determine if the damage inflicted was the result of childhood experiential trauma to the tender developing brain or if the child was born with it. The damage could also be a combination of both brain chemistry and experience.
Secondly, the studies are both very small. Less than 50 partcipants. What can those small numbers tell us about anything? Well, as for most things in life, researchers have to start somewhere, and so it was that they started with two small groups. There other thing the small numbers tell me is that the researchers had trouble finding narcissists who would participate. In fact, in one of the studies, the participants were incarcerated.
Narcissists, by their very nature, can’t abide any kind of recognition that they might be less than perfect. To participate in a study where you might be confirmed as having a brain development issue – well, that’s just not on their radar.
To me, it’s perfectly understandable why the researchers turned to a, er, captive audience, so to speak. It must be frustrating to try to study a group that refuses to be studied, that in fact refuses to believe there’s anything wrong.
What would happen if, for instance, diabetics refused to be studied? If they refused to acknowledge that their pancreases aren’t functioning properly? I can easily see researchers turning to a prison population to try to get information.
However, I can also see something else, too: the probable, eventual dismissal of any attention to the issue from the society at large. This would be completely normal, really. What to do with a population that refuses to even recognize that there’s a life – threatening health problem?
Conversation on the matter would likely go something like this: Well, we’ve tried everything. If they won’t recognize the problem then there’s nothing we can do. We just have to let them go. It’s too bad when they go into shock, but that’s their own fault, isn’t it? Just wheel them out of the road when that happens. That’s all we can do.
Eventually, the only people who might care about those with diabetes would be those who have some sort of personal connection. Most others would likely just melt away. Research would become a niche area reserved for eccentrics. Really, there would be little reason for most people to remain involved.
Of course, this is not how we feel about diabetics. Behaving that way would be cruel and bordering on psychopathic, even if it were true that diabetics are unable to recognize their own illness.
Why is narcissism an exception, then? It’s starting to take on the same proportions; it’s beginning to become a very serious, international mental health issue. We are suffering from it personally, economically, and politically. It is widespread and is spreading further. All any of us has to do is Google “narcissism” and look at the results. An awful lot of people have been victims of it: it infects our work lives, our home lives, and every level of government and finance. There are also serious concerns about what’s happening to our children and young adults in this atmosphere of helicopter parents and societal fear of failure.
But it’s not perceived as a problem. Or if it is, it’s someone else’s, or it’s the narcissist’s own. Just wheel them out of the road. Or more correctly, wheel the carnage they cause out of the road.
Yes, these scientists seem to be very alone and out in the weeds with their research, but in my opinion they should be supported and encouraged in every way possible. We need the information. Our world needs this information.
What is your opinion? Should narcissism research receive more support? Should we begin treating narcissism as a serious mental health issue that society needs to work on?