Monday, March 12, 2012

Narcissism Research Update: new fMRI research can distinguish narcissism from normal

Narcissism is over-represented among people involved in divorces, and in my experience with hundreds of litigated divorce cases, narcissists are involved in a high percentage of litigated divorces. New research has further refined both the public persona and the unique brain characteristics of narcissistic people (NPD).

First, the public persona. Researchers compared narcissists identified by their personality test scores and compared their Facebook pages with more normal people. The results were just what one would expect. Narcissistic people had a greater number of "friends' than those who were not, a confirmation of the NPD tendency to have more but shallower relationships. Their profile photos tended to be more stylized and "glamour shot"-like than less narcissistic people. Finally, their posts tended to be more self-promoting. For more information look here:

This research is consistent with some other research which compared annual company reports  and other company PR of narcissistic CEOs with those of companies run by normal people. As expected, the text of reports of narcissistic CEOs had more references to "I" and fewer to "we", had larger photos of the CEO on covers and press releases, and were generally more self-promoting than company promoting. There are a notable gap in salary between the CEO and the second in command in these companies as well, unlike companies without narcissistic CEOs.

Both of these findings provide tools for divorce attorneys to do some free discovery on clients or spouses in these public records and get a "heads up" about the personality functioning of these people without a mental health professional evaluation or records (most narcissists NEVER see a shrink, so records are rare).

Now for the look inside the brain of a narcissist. Research investigating the function of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPC) in maintaining self-perception compared normal and narcissistic people on their ability to identify faces after a brief shock. The shock had scrambled the MPC for a fraction of a second and the participants were shown pictures of themselves, friends, and known strangers during the interval when their MPCs were scrambled. Normal people could identify friends and strangers but NOT themselves, confirming the function of the MPC in self recognition. However, even when the MPC was "off-line", narcissists could still identify their own photos. The researchers concluded that narcissists have larger portions of their brains devoted to "ME" (wonderful, glorious, fabulous me, I might add) than do normal people. This research may be another step toward developing an reliable imaging (fMRI) diagnostic tool for identifying NPD. It may also identify the neural underpinnings of this very destructive personality disorder.

For more information about this research and other fMRI research on narcissism, look here:

NPD is an aggravating factor in a large percentage of very malignant divorces, so better diagnosis, especially of the non-psychological test variety, will be increasingly helpful in future child custody evaluations.

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