High Narcissism and Low Self-Esteem as Risk Factors for the Development of Conduct Problems and Aggression in Children. Tammy D. Barry, Ph.D. 1 , Alice Thompson 2 , Christopher T. Barry, Ph.D. 1 , John E. Lochman, Ph.D. 3 , Kristy Adler 1 , & Kwoneathia Hill 4
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High Narcissism and Low Self-Esteem as Risk Factors
for the Development of Conduct Problems and Aggression in Children
Tammy D. Barry, Ph.D.1, Alice Thompson2, Christopher T. Barry, Ph.D.1, John E. Lochman, Ph.D.3, Kristy Adler1, & Kwoneathia Hill4
1 The University of Southern Mississippi, 2 The University of Alabama Birmingham, 3 The University of Alabama, 4 The University of Mississippi
Narcissism is not viewed simply as high self-esteem. Indeed, narcissism includes a strong motivation to establish one’s superiority in the eyes of others (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003). Research has linked narcissism to aggressive and violent behavior in adults and conduct problems in children (Barry, Frick, & Killian, 2003; Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Frick, Bodin, & Barry, 2000). The relation of self-esteem is less clear, with lower self-esteem relating to aggression and conduct problems in younger children (e.g., Lochman & Dodge, 1994) but higher self-esteem relating to such problems in adults (e.g., Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996).
The present study examined the relation between narcissism and self-esteem in children and the relation of these constructs to conduct problems and aggression. The unique contribution of narcissism, above and beyond a well-established predictor of severe and persistent conduct problems (i.e., callous-unemotional traits), was also examined.
Table 1. Results of multiple regression analyses with narcissism and self-esteem as predictors of conduct problems, aggression, and subtypes of aggression.
Initial Model Main Effects Model Interaction Model
Criterion Variables R2ß ß ΔR2 ß ß ΔR2 ß
Gender Race Narca SEb Narc X SE
Conduct Problems-Parent Report c .082** -.28*** .03 .319*** .57*** -.14* .001 -.03
Conduct Problems-Teacher Reportc .078** -.24** .14† .121* .16†-.13† .001 .02
Aggression-Parent Report c .082** -.25** -.15† .435*** .67*** -.14* .000 .01
Aggression-Teacher Report c .080** -.21** .19* .063** .16† -.19* .000 -.01
Proactive Aggression-Parent Report d .032† -.18* .03 .483*** .72*** -.07 .012* -.11*
Proactive Aggression-Teacher Report d .042* -.14†.15†.080** .22** -.18* .000 -.01
Reactive Aggression-Parent Report d .062** -.24** -.09 .424*** .66*** -.14* .000 .01
Reactive Aggression-Teacher Report d .097** -.26** .18* .073** .17* -.21** .000 -.01
Note. Narc = Narcissism; SE = Self-esteem. Scores on Narcissism and Self-esteem were centered for these analyses.
a Composite based on the greater of parent or teacher report on the Narcissism scale of the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (APSD); b Score on the General Self-Worth scale on the Perceived Competence Scale for Children (PCSC); c From the Behavior Assessment System for Children (Parent Rating Scale and Teacher Rating Scale; BASC-PRS and BASC-TRS); d From the VIRA-R Measure of Proactive and Reactive Behaviors.
† Trend; p < .10; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
The results generally supported the present study’s hypotheses. Narcissism was significantly related to race and gender, thus these variables were controlled for in all subsequent analyses. As expected, narcissism and self-esteem were unrelated and were differentially related to problem behavior, with high narcissism and low self-esteem generally predicting conduct problems and aggression, even when controlling for gender and race (see Table 1). Contrary to prediction, an interaction between narcissism and self-esteem was generally not found. Narcissism was a good predictor of aggression in general, and no differences between proactive and reactive aggression emerged. Although CU traits were positively related to parent-reported conduct problems and aggression, narcissism predicted unique variance in these problem behaviors, even when controlling for gender, race, and CU traits (see Table 2).
The overall conclusions apparent from the child and adult literature appear to suggest that development plays a crucial role in the nature of the relation between self-esteem and narcissism. The findings of the present study provide further evidence that narcissism and self-esteem are unrelated (or negatively related) in a sample of children with moderate to high aggression and that high narcissism and low self-esteem predict aggression and conduct problems. Furthermore, narcissism is an important predictor of conduct problems and aggression in children, even when controlling for CU traits. Thus, consideration of narcissistic traits appears useful in the prediction of behavior problems. By providing interventions to regulate narcissistic behaviors (e.g., emphasis on appropriate responses to threats), externalizing behavior problems in children with narcissistic tendencies may be minimized.
Table 2. Results of multiple regression analyses with narcissism and CU traits as predictors of conduct problems, aggression, and subtypes of aggression
Main Effects Model Interaction Model
Criterion Variables ΔR2 ß ß ΔR2 ß
Narc a CU b Narc X CU
Conduct Problems-Parent Report c .327*** .49*** .19*** .001 .04
Conduct Problems-Teacher Report c .026 .18† -.02 .035* -.19*
Aggression-Parent Report c .438*** .60*** .17** .004 -.06
Aggression-Teacher Report c .028 .18* -.02 .033* -.18*
Proactive Aggression-Parent Report d .506*** .64*** .19** .044*** .21***
Proactive Aggression-Teacher Report d .056* .28** -.09 .041* -.20*
Reactive Aggression-Parent Report d .415*** .62*** .10 .001 -.03
Reactive Aggression-Teacher Report d .032†.19* -.01 .043** -.21**
Note. Narc = Narcissism; CU = Callous-Unemotional traits. Scores on Narcissism and Callous-Unemotional traits were centered for these analyses. Gender and race were controlled in these analyses (see Table 1 for effects). a Composite based on the greater of parent or teacher report on the Narcissism scale of the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (APSD); b Composite based on the greater of parent or teacher report on the Callous-Unemotional scale of the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (APSD); c From the Behavior Assessment System for Children (Parent Rating Scale and Teacher Rating Scale; BASC-PRS and BASC-TRS); d From the VIRA-R Measure of Proactive and Reactive Behaviors.
† Trend; p < .10; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
Participants were 160 children (99 boys and 61 girls) who were considered high-risk for aggressive behaviors based on a teacher screener (Teacher Report of Proactive and Reactive Behaviors; Dodge & Coie, 1987). Following informed consent from parents and assent from children, children were administered the Perceived Competence Scale for Children (Harter, 1982) to obtain a measure of their general self-esteem. Parents and teachers completed the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (Frick & Hare, 2001), which provided several subscales of psychopathy, including narcissism and callous-unemotional (CU) traits (scores based on a composite of both parent and teacher ratings). Parents and teachers also completed the Behavior Assessment System for Children (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992), which provided measures of aggression and conduct problems, and the VIRA-R Measure of Proactive and Reactive Behaviors (Hendrickx, Crombez, Roeyers, & DeCastro, 2003), which provided an assessment of both proactive and reactive aggression. Finally, parents completed a basic demographic form.
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Frick, P. J., Bodin, S. D., & Barry, C. T. (2000). Psychopathic traits and conduct problems in community and clinic-referred samples of children: Further development of the psychopathy screening device. Psychological Assessment 12, 382-393.
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Hendrickx, M., Crombez, G., Roeyers, H., & DeCastro, B. O. (2003). Psychometric evaluation of the Dutch version of the Aggression Rating Scale. Gedragstherapie 36, 33-43.
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Poster presented at the 2005 Convention of the Society for Research in Child Development, Atlanta, GA.
For further information, please contact Tammy D. Barry, Ph.D., The University of Southern Mississippi, Department of Psychology, 118 College Drive, #5025, Hattiesburg, MS, 39406; Email: email@example.com