Did Narcissism Evolve?

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Handbook of Trait Narcissism






This chapter, like each chapter in the edited book, focuses on narcissism (arrogance, exploitativeness, self-admiration, etc.). My goal is to entertain and evaluate the possibility that narcissism evolved. It is important to point out that, by way of background, just because something is morally suspect does not mean that it didn’t evolve; indeed, bad things can evolve. But despite narcissism being heritable, there is no direct evidence that narcissism is caused by specific genes, indicating that the evolutionary mechanisms are unknown. Through which pathways—such as mating pathways—does narcissism get passed onto the next generation? Narcissism appears to be positively correlated with short-term mating (e.g., promiscuity), suggesting that narcissism gets pushed into subsequent generations via promiscuous activity. The idea that narcissism evolved via short-term mating, however, is currently questionable, mainly because narcissists are not physically attractive at the unadorned level; in theory, narcissists should be attractive at the unadorned level because short-term mating situations select for raw attractiveness. All told, the prospect of narcissism having evolved is in a precarious position as of this writing. Several gaps in the literature lead to a call for more molecular genetic research and collaborative, large-scale behavioral research.


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