While the traits of this condition are fairly well known, the search for narcissistic personality disorder causes has been slow to produce clear-cut, definitive answers. However, recent research findings indicate that certain physical characteristics and patterns of activity in the brain do play a role in its development.

Narcissism and the Brain

In 2013, the Journal of Psychiatric Research published the results of a study carried out in Germany that looked more deeply into the neurological aspects of narcissistic personality disorder.

The brains of test subjects who’d been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder showed unusual thinness in the area of the cerebral cortex that is associated with empathy and compassion. Self-centeredness and feelings of grandiosity are seen in people with NPD, along with difficulty in empathizing with others, so these findings were not surprising. In general, the thinner the area, the higher the subject scored on the narcissistic scale.

An earlier 2010 University of Southern California study also examined the brains of those who registered positive for narcissistic personality traits. In this study excessive activity was measured in the area of the cerebral cortex responsible for self-directed or self-obsessed thinking. This is right in line with the basic defining characteristics of NPD, although it isn’t clear whether the observed neural activity is a cause of narcissistic behavior or simply a reflection of it.

Environmental Influences on the Development of NPD

Researchers have been looking for links between childhood experiences and narcissistic personality disorder for a long time, and most experts agree that home life and the style of parenting one is exposed to can play a role in the future onset of narcissistic attitudes and behaviors.

Interestingly, it seems that excessive praise and excessive criticism can both cause a child to develop narcissistic personality traits once they reach adulthood. Some people seem to model the attitudes and behavior of narcissistic parents, while still others react to childhood neglect by becoming very self-centered and independent in adulthood.

Mental health professionals who analyze narcissistic personality disorder causes are virtually unanimous in concluding that genetics, neurobiology, parental exposures and other environmental influences combine to produce adults who exhibit narcissistic personality characteristics. People may be born with certain predispositions to narcissism, but if they have stable and happy childhoods those potential traits are far less likely to manifest.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Rethinking What We Know (Psychiatric Times)


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