Narcissim: social learing theory vs psychoanaltic theory

From “Origins of narcissism in children,” in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences.

There’s an interesting theoretcal challenge here to the idea that problematic behavior is due to unconscious desires to make up for early wounds. Equally, we get some insight into how pretty rotten people can have quite nice parents.

Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence. The origins of narcissism, however, are not well understood. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first prospective longitudinal evidence on the origins of narcissism in children. We compared two perspectives: social learning theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation) and psychoanalytic theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by lack of parental warmth). … Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”). Attesting to the specificity of this finding, self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, not by parental overvaluation. These findings uncover early socialization experiences that cultivate narcissism, and may inform interventions to curtail narcissistic development at an early age.

Would you have expected this?

I was surprised by an incident – involving me – on my campus. I would not have expected this, and in fact I’ve embarrassingly agreed in print with Hume about our having a natural tendency to care about others, at least those in our community who are like us.

I had been at a large and fairly formal lunch. No alcohol, but I was in my best daytime attire. Shortly after I left the hotel on campus where the event was, I stumbled and fell. Fortunately, my left hand and arm got most of the damage; my head didn’t touch the ground and nothing was broken. But I was very shaken up. So I decided not to move for a while.

So picture this: definitely older woman, black silk trousers, quite nice red top, a rope of pearls, sitting on a campus sidewalk, her back against a wall, and her legs straight out onto the pavement. A few possessions scattered by her side. A university name tag still on her top.

I think something like 20-25 students passed me. No one stopped and asked if I needed help.

Of course, I could have asked for help, but decided not to when no one seemed the least bit concerned. But I hardly looked to be just enjoying myself; I hope I would have stopped if it were someone else.

Reassessing princess diana?

I’ve often thought Diana exhibited some genuine courage and caring during her life.** I was less than keen on the thorough drubbing she received at the hands of many in British learned society. So I was interested in a revision by a former editor of the Tatler.

Tina Brown, now editor-in-chief of Newsweek, has some interesting new things to say about Diana here.

Her overall assessment is that Diana managed to take an incredibly painful experience caused by others and to do some good with it. She has a number of reasons for this assessment, including the contrast betweeen how great effort has been made to bring Kate Middleton into the monarchy, while Diana was largely hung out to dry.

In addition, while Diana was labeled paranoid for extended sense she was spied on, we now can see she probably was a victim of the Murdoch Empire phone hacking.

What do you think?

**Added: She was one of the first – perhaps the very first – public figure to challenge by her behavior the idea that AIDS could be transferred through touch. Her campaign against land mines was very important and hardly typical royal stuff.

Intuitions and Ideology

Is it a common intuition among philosophers that human beings are naturally self-centered.?  We don’t, such a story could go, actually give a damn about others’ survival, but for various reasons – largely for our own good – we need to act otherwise.   My sense is that this is a wide-spread belief in the profession, and indeed when it surfaces, I end up feeling I should find another field, despite the empirical and transcental arguments I have heard for “the impossibility of altruism.”  Are such intuitions, if they do exist, the product of rational reflection or do they more often mirror deeply popular ways of regarding ourselves?  That is, are they more a matter of ideologies?

In any case, it now  seems that such intuitions  may well be quite wrong.  There has already been  interesting evidence that reciprocity is a deep seated need for the human psyche.  And theorists  such as Sarah Hrdy have argued that female groups formed to raise infants are not inherently selfish agents.  But  the NY Times reports empirical backing for an even more stunning idea.  What distinguished human beings from chimps in the earliest stages of our split from them is the difference in cooperating with and learning from others:

Anthropologists studying living hunter-gatherers have radically revised their view of how early human societies were structured, a shift that yields new insights into how humans evolved away from apes.

Early human groups, according to the new view, would have been more cooperative and willing to learn from one another than the chimpanzees from which human ancestors split about five million years ago. The advantages of cooperation and social learning then propelled the incipient human groups along a different evolutionary path. …  Group selection could possibly act at the level of the tribe, Dr. Hill said, meaning that tribes with highly cooperative members would prevail over those that were less cohesive, thus promoting genes for cooperation.

And what is part of all this?  Pair bonding:

The finding corroborates an influential new view of early human origins advanced by Bernard Chapais, a primatologist at the University of Montreal, in his book “Primeval Kinship” (2008). Dr. Chapais showed how a simple development, the emergence of a pair bond between male and female, would have allowed people to recognize their relatives, something chimps can do only to a limited extent. When family members dispersed to other bands, they would be recognized and neighboring bands would cooperate instead of fighting to the death as chimp groups do.

I’m left wondering about philosophical intuitions.  Is it right that many people have found “foundational selfishness” an intuitively attractive view?  If so, does that tell us that books such as The Selfish Gene are just internalized?  Are intuitions, despite many people’s claims for their source in reason, too often a reflection of wide-spread academic beliefs?

Women in Opera – misogynism?

A very interesting program caught my attention on BBC 3 today. It asks why opera seems to depend almost entirely on the suffering of dying women.

I was interested because when going to the Traviata earlier this year I was SO irritated by the (in my mind) misogynism (as well as the ridiculous plotline), that it stopped me from just being able to enjoy the music…

For those interested, the program is on again on the 26th of June.

(And I apologise to those outside the UK who can’t access this program!)