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Business Professors, Their Students, and Narcissism: What You Need to Know

Topics: Data & Research

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is no joke, and it’s not just about vanity and self-absorption, as a cursory understanding of its mythological namesake might suggest. Instead, it’s a serious pathology that manifests in about six percent of the general population. It is more common in men, and the most extreme symptoms tend to be exhibited during a person’s 40s and 50s.


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Interestingly, research has shown that a disproportionate number of CEOs are psychopaths, and narcissism isn’t too far removed from that disorder. Both are considered Cluster B Personality Disorders. (It should be noted, however, that the psychopath/sociopath label is not present as such in the DSM-5; instead Antisocial Personality Disorder characterizes many of the same ideas.) All Cluster B Disorders are characterized by problems with impulse control and emotional regulation.

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Now, new research is shinning some fresh light on how narcissists are impacting the business world, and the results are pretty fascinating. Let’s take a closer look.

The Study

The study was conducted by researchers from Appalachian State University and involved over 250 undergraduate business students at an unnamed state university in the Southeast. Twenty-one different classes taught by nine different instructors were used for the research. A survey was administered to participants in the middle of the semester and at the end of the term that assessed narcissism levels and also included questions about students’ perceptions of their professor and of the difficulty of the class. Professors were also assessed for their own narcissism levels. Additionally, students’ grades and attendance records were shared with researchers as a part of the study.

Researchers drew on prior research that suggests that college students are becoming more self-centered and that business students are especially narcissistic. This study was meant to examine the connection between faculty members and students in terms of narcissism and how it impacts perceptions of the class and student performance.

The Findings

  • Non-narcissistic students were given lower grades from narcissistic professors. Those students also thought their classes were harder and “held [the professors] in less esteem.”
  • Narcissistic students, on the other hand, were more likely to thrive under professors who shared their tendencies toward the traits that signify the disorder, and they held those professors in higher regard.
  • In summary, less narcissistic students earned lower grades in classes taught by narcissistic faculty members, whereas students who were more narcissistic tended to earn higher grades. These folks also regarded the class as less difficult, and they were more fond of their narcissistic-leaning professor than the other students.

It seems as though narcissism might be propagating itself in business schools, and this could have real implications down the road for companies and individuals.

“If narcissistic managers create toxic work environments, as other studies seem to indicate,” James Westerman, the study’s lead author, told Inside Higher Ed, “universities with more highly narcissistic business faculty run the risk of disproportionately and inadvertently recommending less functional students to potential employers.”

If you’re a business student currently, this information could help you navigate the landscape in your program. Similarly, it’s important research for everyone in the business world to consider when working with, or hiring, employees who’ve recently completed their education. Perhaps we should factor this knowledge in when thinking about students’ grades and overall performance in business school. Additionally, developing a better understanding of how narcissism impacts thinking and behavior could help us to cope with these folks professionally. This six percent of the population operates very differently than the rest of us.

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