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Abstract

Individuals scoring high on trait narcissism are characterised by grandiosity, self-centredness, and lack of empathy, resulting in troubled interpersonal relationships (e.g., with acquaintances and relationship partners). Do these troubled relationships extend to their own children? In this online study of 368 parents, we examined whether grandiose narcissists are less likely to adopt optimal parenting styles (authoritative) and more likely to adopt non-optimal parenting styles (authoritarian and permissive) and began to explore underlying mechanisms in terms of low empathy and unresponsive-caregiving. Narcissism was negatively associated with optimal parenting, and positively associated with non-optimal parenting, controlling for Big Five personality and attachment dimensions. Sequential mediation revealed that narcissists’ low empathy predicts unresponsive-caregiving towards their child(ren), which in turn predicts low optimal and high non-optimal parenting practices. These effects are driven by narcissists’ maladaptive traits. Exploring links between parental personality and parenting allows researchers to identify individuals at risk of poor parenting. Understanding the mechanisms that explain this relationship will assist in the development of effective interventions.
Running head: NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 1
The Children of Narcissus: Insights into Narcissists' Parenting Styles
Claire M. Hart
University of Southampton
Reece D. Bush-Evans
University of Southampton
Erica G. Hepper
University of Surrey
Hannah M. Hickman
University of Southampton
Corresponding author: Claire M. Hart, Centre for Research on Self and Identity, Psychology
Department, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom. Email:
c.m.hart@soton.ac.uk. Telephone: 44 (0)2380 592638.
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Abstract
Individuals scoring high on trait narcissism are characterised by grandiosity, self-
centredness, and lack of empathy, resulting in troubled interpersonal relationships (e.g., with
acquaintances and relationship partners). Do these troubled relationships extend to their own
children? In this online study of 368 parents, we examined whether grandiose narcissists are
less likely to adopt optimal parenting styles (authoritative) and more likely to adopt non-
optimal parenting styles (authoritarian and permissive) and began to explore underlying
mechanisms in terms of low empathy and unresponsive-caregiving. Narcissism was negatively
associated with optimal parenting, and positively associated with non-optimal parenting,
controlling for Big Five personality and attachment dimensions. Sequential mediation revealed
that narcissists’ low empathy predicts unresponsive-caregiving towards their child(ren), which
in turn predicts low optimal and high non-optimal parenting practices. These effects are driven
by narcissists’ maladaptive traits. Exploring links between parental personality and parenting
allows researchers to identify individuals at risk of poor parenting. Understanding the
mechanisms that explain this relationship will assist in the development of effective
interventions.
Keywords: narcissism, empathy, caregiving, parenting
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Parents play a critical role in a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social
development (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). Much work has focused on
delineating parenting styles and their consequences (Baumrind, 1971). There is surprisingly
less understanding of the individual differences that lead a parent to develop these styles, and
the underlying motivations. This article examines the contribution of subclinical narcissism—a
personality trait that is known to undermine interpersonal relationships (Campbell & Foster,
2002). In so doing, it aims to inform ways to support optimal parenting.
Parenting has been conceived in terms of three primary styles (Baumrind, 1971).
Authoritative parents exude warmth and encourage their children to freely express themselves.
They impose rules as a means to meet their children’s needs and explain reasons for these rules.
Authoritarian parents value obedience and respect for authority. They are directive, verbally
hostile, use physical punishment, and expect children to accept parental authority
unquestioningly. Permissive parents fail to monitor, or ignore, their children’s activities and
lack follow-through behaviours. These parenting dimensions are typically portrayed as trait-
like and stable across time (Baumrind, 1989).
Research has consistently shown that parenting styles differentially influence child
outcomes. Authoritative parenting emerges as the most optimal form (Baumrind, 1971), with
children of authoritative parents reporting higher self-confidence, self-reliance, better socio-
emotional and academic outcomes, and fewer externalising problems (Lamborn et al., 1991).
Authoritarian and permissive parenting (hereafter “non-optimal” parenting) have been
identified as risk factors for antisocial behaviour, low social competence, and poor academic
performance (Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991). Long-term maladaptive
consequences of exposure to non-optimal parenting underscore the need for improved
understanding of predictors of such parenting. Identifying individuals likely to experience
parenting difficulties, and understanding their motivations for adopting differing parenting
styles, allows researchers to develop more effective preventative measures or interventions.
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Although widely acknowledged that parenting is multiply determined, parental
personality has been at the forefront of this research: Extensive correlational evidence links
personality to parenting styles (Prinzie, Stams, Deković, Reijntjes, & Belsky, 2009). In the
literature on the Big Five, parents high in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness,
emotional stability, and openness display more optimal and less non-optimal parenting (Prinzie
et al., 2009). In the attachment literature, a secure attachment style has been related to optimal
parenting, and insecure attachment to non-optimal parenting (Jones, Cassidy, & Shaver, 2015).
These literatures support the value of considering personality in parenting research.
Despite the volume of research examining parent personality on parenting practices,
little has explored the underlying mechanisms, which are crucial to informing effective
interventions (for an exception; Millings, Walsh, Hepper, & O’Brien, 2013). A key personality
variable that shapes interpersonal motivation and warrants exploration in the parenting context
is narcissism. Subclinical grandiose narcissism is a normally-distributed personality trait
associated with high agency (reflecting dominance and superiority) and low communion
(reflecting lack of caring for others; Campbell & Foster, 2007). Narcissism entails inflated self-
views and diverse self-enhancement and self-protection efforts, including attention-seeking,
and taking credit for success but blaming others for failure (Hepper, Gramzow, & Sedikides,
2010). Narcissists react aggressively to criticism, game-play in romantic relationships, and lack
empathy for others (Baumeister, Bushman, & Campbell, 2000; Campbell & Foster, 2002;
Hepper, Hart, & Sedikides, 2014a). Thus, the costs of their poor interpersonal functioning are
borne by those around them, including friends and romantic partners. Empirical research
examining subclinical narcissism in a family context is scant, with only one article exploring
effects of narcissistic parenting on their own children (Dentale et al., 2015).
Understanding narcissism in relation to parenting is a timely venture. Grandiose
narcissism is on the rise in Western cultures (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell, & Bushman,
2008). These narcissistic millennials are the parents of the future. Extant literature has
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examined only whether certain parenting practices (i.e., being neglectful vs. overly attentive)
creates narcissism in offspring (Brummelman et al., 2015). Little research has been devoted to
how narcissistic parents rear their children. This is the focus of the present study.
Are narcissistic parents more likely to engage in non-optimal than optimal parenting?
Because of narcissists’ lack of warmth towards others (Campbell & Foster, 2002) we predicted
a negative relationship between narcissism and authoritative parenting. Based on narcissists’
ego-involvement and defensiveness (Baumeister et al., 2000) we predicted a positive
relationship between narcissism and authoritarian parenting. Finally, given that narcissists
admit to not caring about others (Sedikides, Campbell, Reeder, Elliot, & Gregg, 2002) we
predicted a positive relationship between narcissism and permissive parenting.
In the only existing study to have examined parental narcissism and parenting (Dentale
et al., 2015), parental narcissism positively predicted child’s depression and anxiety, which was
mediated by reduced parental care, elevated parental shaming, overprotection, and favouritism.
This study provided initial evidence that narcissists may adopt non-optimal parenting which
may have damaging consequences for their children. However, rearing style was reported
retrospectively by the child and not the parent. This introduces potential recall bias; Mechanic
and Barry (2015) have shown that adolescents’ retrospective reports of parenting behaviours do
not match parent-reports because they are based on perceptions and not necessarily on what the
parents actually do. The use of child-reports also prevents the exploration of underlying
mechanisms or motivations.
The current study builds on prior evidence in four ways. First, we used parental self-
report measures that directly assess (non-) optimal parenting (Baumrind, 1971). Second, we
examined the influence of different aspects of narcissism. It is well-established that grandiose
narcissism entails both relatively adaptive (i.e., authority, self-sufficiency) and more
maladaptive (i.e., entitlement, exploitativeness, exhibitionism) aspects. Different subscales of
the commonly-used Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin & Terry, 1988) can capture each
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 6
dimension (Barry, Frick, Adler, & Grafeman, 2007). Theoretically, the most maladaptive
ingredients of narcissism should relate most closely to non-optimal parenting. Third, we
controlled for established personality predictors of parenting (i.e., Big Five, attachment) to test
the unique contribution of narcissism. Fourth, we examined two psychological mechanisms that
underlie these parenting styles: empathy and caregiving-responsiveness.
Empathy comprises a cognitive (i.e., understanding others’ perspectives) and emotional
(i.e., sharing others’ emotions, feeling compassion) component (Davis, 1983). It has a profound
impact on interpersonal relationships. In a parenting context, absence of empathy is associated
with abusive parental behaviours (Wiehe, 2003). Research consistently shows that narcissists
lack empathy (Hepper et al., 2014a). Thus, we examined whether low empathy underscores
narcissists’ non-optimal parenting practices. Caregiving quality impacts parenting: Millings et
al. (2013) showed that responsive-caregiving towards a partner predicted increased use of
authoritative parenting styles, and unresponsive-caregiving towards a partner increased use of
authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. Although research has not directly explored
narcissists’ caregiving quality, Feeney and Collins (2001) showed that egoistic motivation
correlated negatively, albeit non-significantly, with responsive-caregiving. Moreover, empathy
might be a critical precursor to caregiving quality. Theoretically, the caregiving system is
activated by an empathic situation, such as an individual in distress (Mikulincer & Shaver,
2007). Although direct tests are scant, Feeney and Collins (2001) reported positive correlations
between prosocial orientations and responsive-caregiving. We thus tested the mediating
pathways between narcissism and parenting styles via (a) empathy, (b) caregiving-
responsiveness, and (c) a sequential pattern from empathy to caregiving-responsiveness (Figure
1).
Method
Participants
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Participants (N = 408) were recruited online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Data were
excluded from participants who were not parents (n = 10), did not complete the narcissism
measure (n = 6), or failed instructional manipulation checks (n = 24). The remaining 368
participants (235 female, 131 male, 2 undisclosed) were aged 18-75 years (M = 37.99, SD =
10.84), and were predominantly (75%) White Americans (6% Mixed race, 7% Other White, 7%
Black, 4% Other, 1% undisclosed). Most (98.9%) resided in America.
Procedure
After providing consent, participants completed measures of personality in a
randomised order, followed by caregiving, and finally parenting. Each participant received
$1.50 upon study completion and written debriefing.
Materials
Narcissism. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin & Terry, 1988) contains 40
forced-choice items. Participants choose between pairs of statements, one indicating high
narcissism (e.g., “I find it easy to manipulate people”), the other low (e.g., “I don't like it when
I find myself manipulating people”). The number of narcissistic choices is summed (α = .90, M
= 11.82, SD = 7.92, range = 0-35). Following Barry et al. (2007), we computed mean scores
for adaptive narcissism (i.e., authority and self-sufficiency items; α = .82, M = .41, SD = 0.26)
and maladaptive narcissism (i.e., entitlement, exploitativeness, and exhibitionism items; α = .
79, M = .21, SD = 0.19). Adaptive and maladaptive narcissism correlated positively, r(366) = .
66, p < .001.
Empathy. We used two 7-item subscales from The Interpersonal Reactivity Index
(Davis, 1983): Perspective-taking (e.g., “Before criticising somebody, I try to imagine how I
would feel if I were in their place”; α = .85), and Empathic-Concern (e.g., “I often have tender,
concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me”; α = .90) from 1 = not at all to 8 =
extremely. As narcissists lack both aspects of empathy (Hepper et al., 2014a; Hepper, Hart,
Meek, Cisek, & Sedikides, 2014b), and the subscales correlated moderately, r(128) = .50, p < .
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 8
001, we combined them into an empathy index (α = .91, M = 5.97, SD = 1.19).
Caregiving. We used an adapted version of the Caregiving Questionnaire (Kunce &
Shaver, 1994). We assessed three 8-item dimensions of caregiving: proximity, sensitivity, and
cooperation (e.g., “When, my child is troubled or upset, I move closer to provide support and
comfort”) from 1 = strongly disagree to 8 = strongly agree. We computed a responsive-
caregiving index (α = .92, M = 6.40, SD = 1.03) based on a composite mean of proximity (α = .
86), sensitivity (α = .90), and cooperation (α = .85).
Parenting. The Parenting Styles and Dimensions Questionnaire (Robinson, Mandleco,
Olsen, & Hart, 1995) measures authoritative (27 items, α = .89, M = 4.04, SD = 0.61),
authoritarian (20 items, α = .85, M = 1.95, SD = 0.51), and permissive styles (15 items, α =.75,
M = 1.99, SD = 0.56). Parents rated the frequency of behaviours (e.g., “I encourage my child to
talk about his/her troubles”) from 1 = never to 5 = always.
Covariates. Due to the sensitive nature of some measures, we assessed social-
desirability using the impression-management subscale of The Balanced Inventory of Desirable
Responding Short-Form (BIDR-16; Hart, Ritchie, Hepper, & Gebauer, 2015; α = .78).
Participants rated 8 statements (e.g., “I never cover up my mistakes”) from 1 = strongly
disagree to 8 = strongly agree. We also assessed the Big Five and attachment (1 = strongly
disagree, 8 = strongly agree). The Ten-Item Personality Inventory (Gosling, Rentfrow, &
Swann, 2003) contains 2 items measuring each of the Big Five domains; Extraversion (M =
4.32, SD = 2.07, r[362] = .61), Neuroticism (M = 3.19, SD = 1.77, r[362] = .68), Agreeableness
(M = 6.40, SD = 1.37, r[362] = .39), Openness (M = 5.69, SD = 1.54, r[362] = .36), and
Conscientiousness (M = 6.40, SD = 1.46, r[362] = .55). The Experiences in Close Relationships
scale-Revised (Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000) contains 18-items assessing each of
attachment-avoidance (e.g., “I am nervous when people get too close to me”, M = 2.79, SD =
1.49, α = .96) and attachment-anxiety (e.g., “I need a lot of reassurance that I am loved by my
partner, M = 2.82, SD = 1.63, α = .96).
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Results
To examine whether narcissism can explain variation in parenting practices above
established personality predictors, we regressed each parenting style on impression-
management, sex, Big Five, and attachment (Step 1), and narcissism (Step 2). Adding total
narcissism to the model explained significant additional variance in authoritative parenting, ∆R2
= .02, F(1, 346) = 6.86, p = .009; and authoritarian parenting, ∆R2 = .05, F(1, 346) = 22.56, p
< .001; but not permissive ∆R2 = .00, F(1, 346) = .43, p = .51 (Table 1). This was also true
when examining the adaptive and maladaptive narcissism components: authoritative ∆R2 = .02,
F(1, 345) = 4.91, p = .008; authoritarian ∆R2 = .04, F(1, 345) = 9.97, p < .001; permissive ∆R2
= .00, F(1, 345) = 1.85, p = .16.
We next tested direct and indirect effects of narcissism on parenting styles via empathy
and caregiving using Hayes’ (2013) PROCESS. We did so using three narcissism indices: (a)
total narcissism, (b) adaptive narcissism (controlling for maladaptive narcissism), and (c)
maladaptive narcissism (controlling for adaptive narcissism).
For each model we tested four possible paths from narcissism to parenting style,
controlling for impression-management, sex, Big Five, and attachment (see Figure 1): a direct
effect (path c), an indirect effect via empathy (path a*e), an indirect effect via caregiving (path
b*f), and a sequential indirect effect via empathy and then caregiving (path a*d*f). The latter
indirect effect corresponds to the theoretical proposal that narcissists’ low empathy predicts
deficits in caregiving, which in turn shapes parenting style.
The total effects of total and maladaptive narcissism on authoritative parenting were
negative and significant, with the total effect of adaptive narcissism positive and non-
significant. The total effects of all three narcissism indices on authoritarian parenting were
positive, albeit non-significant for adaptive narcissism. The total effects of all narcissism
indices on permissive parenting were positive but non-significant (Table 2). Note that the
absence of significant total effects does not preclude the presence of an indirect effect (Hayes,
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 10
2013); for example, narcissism may predict permissive parenting indirectly via low empathy,
unresponsive-caregiving, or both.
The direct effects showed patterns consistent with past research. Total and maladaptive
narcissism were negatively associated with lower empathy. All narcissism indices were
negatively associated with unresponsive-caregiving, albeit non-significantly. Empathy
positively predicted caregiving-responsiveness. Empathy was positively and significantly
related to authoritative parenting, but unrelated to non-optimal parenting strategies.
Responsive-caregiving was positively associated with authoritative parenting and negatively
associated with authoritarian and permissive parenting. Thus, empathy and/or caregiving-
responsiveness could be acting as mediators between narcissism and parenting.
We next tested indirect effects from narcissism to each parenting style via empathy
(path a*e), caregiving-responsiveness (path b*f) and sequentially via empathy and caregiving
(path a*d*f). In the case of optimal parenting, the path from total, adaptive, and maladaptive
narcissism to authoritative parenting via empathy alone was significant. Those scoring higher
in total and maladaptive narcissism had lower empathy, which predicted less authoritative
parenting; interestingly, those higher in adaptive narcissism had higher empathy, which
predicted more authoritative parenting. None of the indices predicted authoritative parenting
via caregiving-responsiveness alone. However, the sequential indirect effects were significant
for all three narcissism indices: Those higher on total and maladaptive narcissism scored lower
on empathy, which predicted unresponsive-caregiving, which reduced the propensity to engage
in authoritative parenting. In contrast, those high on adaptive narcissism reported higher
empathy, which in turn predicted higher caregiving-responsiveness and authoritative parenting.
The direct effects of all narcissism indices on authoritative parenting were non-significant, thus
empathy and caregiving-responsiveness fully explained these associations.
In the case of non-optimal parenting, the indirect effects via empathy or caregiving-
responsiveness alone were non-significant for all three narcissism indices. However, the
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sequential indirect effects for both non-optimal parenting styles were significant for all
narcissism indices. That is, the low empathy of those high on total and maladaptive narcissism
predicted unresponsive-caregiving, which increased the propensity to engage in authoritarian
and permissive parenting. Conversely, the higher empathy of those high in adaptive narcissism
predicted responsive-caregiving and subsequently lower authoritarian and permissive parenting
tendencies. The direct effects of total and maladaptive narcissism on authoritarian parenting
were positive and significant, although reduced in strength compared to the total effect. Thus,
low empathy and unresponsive-caregiving cannot account completely for narcissists’
propensity to engage in authoritarian parenting.
Testing an Alternative Model
We tested an alternative model to confirm the sequential direction of effects. We
reversed the order of the empathy and responsive-caregiving variables and examined the
indirect effects (Table 3). For optimal parenting, total and maladaptive narcissism negatively
predicted authoritative parenting via caregiving alone. All three narcissism indices predicted
authoritative parenting via empathy alone. The only significant sequential indirect effect (via
caregiving and then empathy) was for total narcissism. For non-optimal parenting, total
narcissism predicted authoritarian and permissive parenting via caregiving alone. These were
the only mediating effects. Thus, reversing the order of mediators revealed only one sequential
indirect effect compared to nine obtained using the more theoretically-expected order in the
main models.
Discussion
This study provides further support that variation in how people function in the
parenting role can be influenced by their personality, and shines a spotlight on subclinical
grandiose narcissism as a trait that uniquely shapes parenting practices. Specifically, we
showed that narcissism is associated with an increased propensity to use non-optimal parenting
and decreased propensity to use optimal parenting. Furthermore, these effects are driven by
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 12
narcissists’ maladaptive traits (i.e., entitlement, exploitativeness, exhibitionism). Those
individuals scoring higher in adaptive traits (i.e., authority, self-sufficiency) actually display
more optimal and less non-optimal parenting via their higher empathy. Moreover, all narcissism
indices explained variance in authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles above that
explained by the Big Five and attachment, while controlling for sex and socially-desirable
responding. These findings replicate and extend recent evidence (Dentale et al., 2015) using a
more fine-grained analysis of narcissism, using a different parenting measure, and controlling
for important covariates. This research adds to the narcissism literature by pinpointing another
group of people who suffer because of narcissists’ lack of communal orientation; their own
children.
For the first time, we explored the mechanisms underlying the narcissism-parenting
link. We added support to the existing literature that narcissism, particularly maladaptive
narcissism, is negatively associated with empathy, and provided the first direct evidence that
narcissism is associated with unresponsive-caregiving, via empathy. Across all three parenting
styles we showed that the low empathy of those with high total and maladaptive narcissism
predicted unresponsive-caregiving toward their child(ren), which was associated with an
increased use of non-optimal and decreased use of optimal parenting. For those scoring high on
adaptive narcissism, higher empathy predicted caregiving-responsiveness, which predicted
increased use of optimal and decreased use of non-optimal parenting. Given that a substantial
body of evidence points to the detrimental effects of exposure to non-optimal parenting
(Lamborn et al., 1991), understanding why narcissists parent the way that they do is essential in
being able to intervene through parenting skills programs and reduce negative influences on
their child’s development. Our research highlights the need to tackle narcissists’ low empathy
to improve their parenting practices. Such an intervention should focus on promoting the more
adaptive elements of narcissism and reducing the maladaptive elements specifically. In this
vein, it is encouraging that it is possible to prime communal motives, at least temporarily, in
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narcissists (Finkel, Campbell, Buffardi, Kumashiro, & Rusbult, 2009) and that affective
empathy can be induced by inviting narcissists to take another’s perspective (Hepper et al.,
2014a). To be successful in encouraging narcissists to use optimal parenting styles in the long-
term, it will be necessary to tailor an intervention to their unique motivational needs, for
example, by making empathy appealing to their agentic motives. Doing so should result in
narcissistic parents (i) being more likely to engage and remain in parenting programs, (ii) being
more empathic towards their children, leading to more responsive-caregiving, and (iii)
improving their overall use of optimal compared to non-optimal parenting strategies.
Whilst empathy and responsive-caregiving in this study fully mediated the relationships
between all narcissism indices and authoritative parenting, they only partially mediated the
relationship between total and maladaptive narcissism and authoritarian parenting. Future
research should examine other potential mediators that could explain this link. One possibility
is narcissists’ need for power, which plays a role in their bullying behaviour (Hart, Hepper, &
Sargeant, 2014). That is, narcissists’ use of non-optimal parenting strategies may be driven by
their high need-for-power (i.e., high agentic motivation) as well as their low empathy (i.e., low
communal motivation).
This research further adds to the growing empirical literature on the consequences of
narcissists’ low empathy. Recent research has shown that their low empathy is a reason for their
criminal activity (Hepper et al, 2014b) and bullying in schools and the workplace (Hart &
Hepper, 2017; Hart et al., 2014). In this study we showed that their low empathy also impacts
their parenting practices. Together, this body of evidence suggests that empathy may represent
a key point for intervention for high-narcissists, especially those high in maladaptive traits, in a
range of contexts. If we can find ways to increase narcissists’ empathy, this has the potential to
ameliorate many of their interpersonal difficulties and enrich their relationships. Future
research should continue to focus on finding ways to do so.
Several limitations of the present study should be noted. First, we used self-report
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 14
measures in order to assess potential underlying mechanisms. Interestingly, our results
replicated those of Dentale et al. (2015) whose participants retrospectively recalled their
parents’ behaviours. We acknowledge that self-report methods are prone to biases and tried to
minimise such effects by controlling for socially-desirable responding and using anonymous
participation. However, we were unable to control for the possibility that parental personality
may affect the parents’ assessment of their child’s behaviour or interactive effects of parental
personality and child temperament (Belsky, 1984). For example, narcissistic parents, being
relatively more self-absorbed, may evoke more disobedience from their child as a way of
getting noticed and thereby indirectly lead the parent to report more authoritarian behaviours.
Future studies might combat these issues by using direct observations of parenting methods,
partner- and/or child-reports of parenting, and within-dyad actor-and partner-reports of multiple
parent-child interactions. Second, we assessed caregiving-responsiveness by adapting Kunce
and Shaver’s (1994) Caregiving Questionnaire, originally designed for romantic relationships,
to focus on caregiving towards child(ren). Although this measure showed high reliability, it has
has not been validated with this target and should be interpreted with this caveat in mind.
Finally, the cross-sectional nature of the data limits the extent to which causation can be
inferred. The considerable continuity of personality measures over time (McCrae & Costa,
1994) lends confidence that narcissism, empathy, and caregiving influence parenting. Although
it seems unlikely that parenting behaviours influenced narcissism, empathy, or caregiving-
responsiveness, longitudinal research should verify the causal direction of effects.
Conclusion
The present study makes a novel contribution by demonstrating that narcissism predicts
increased use of non-optimal parenting strategies and decreased use of optimal parenting
strategies above known personality predictors. We begin to provide an understanding of this
relationship showing that narcissists’ low empathy predicts unresponsive-caregiving, which
predicts non-optimal parenting strategies. Assisting parents high in narcissism to adjust their
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parenting towards a more responsive style might be an effective way to prevent persistent
emotional and behavioural problems in their offspring. We hope that these findings provide a
starting-point for further research and can inform preventative educational and intervention
parenting programs in the long-term.
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Table 1
Step 2 Regression Analyses Parameters: Impression-management, Sex, Big Five, Attachment,
and Narcissism on Parenting Styles
Effect Authoritative Authoritarian Permissive
β t β t β t
Total Narcissism:
IM .08 1.60 -.13* -2.51 -.10 -1.93
Sex .15** 3.11 -.11* -2.33 -.07 -1.41
Anxiety -.04 -0.64 .09 1.47 .17** 2.99
Avoidance -.20*** -3.65 .13* 2.48 .14* 2.57
Neuroticism .04 0.62 .00 0.00 .06 1.02
Extraversion .02 0.34 -.07 -1.36 -.01 -0.17
Agreeableness .12* 2.02 -.08 -1.44 -.06 -0.98
Conscientiousness .13* 2.29 -.13* -2.43 -.21*** -3.84
Openness .17** 3.35 -.16** -3.18 -.09 -1.71
Narcissism -.14* -2.62 .25*** 4.75 .05 0.66
Adaptive and Maladaptive Narcissism:
IM .07 1.30 -.12* -2.33 -.08 -1.66
Sex .14** 2.96 -.11* -2.21 -.06 -1.29
Anxiety -.03 -0.46 .08 1.38 .16** 2.82
Avoidance -.20*** -3.61 .13* 2.43 .14* 2.53
Neuroticism .05 1.07 -.02 -0.23 .04 0.68
Extraversion .01 0.26 -.07 -1.34 -.01 -0.18
Agreeableness .13* 2.24 -.09 -1.51 -.06 -1.13
Conscientiousness .11* 2.07 -.13* -2.37 -.20*** -3.66
Openness .16** 3.22 -.15** -2.99 -.08 -1.67
Adaptive
narcissism
.08 1.22 .06 0.89 -.10 -1.47
Maladaptive
narcissism
-.21** -3.04 .20** 2.96 .12 1.88
Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001. IM = Impression-management. Sex: male = 1, female
= 2.
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 22
Table 2
Tests of Direct and Indirect Effects of Narcissism on Parenting Styles via Empathy and
Caregiving
Effect Authoritative Authoritarian Permissive
β SE 95% CI β SE 95% CI β SE 95% CI
Total effects:
Total
narcissism →
Parenting
-.14 .06 -.26, -.03 .24 .06 .12, .36 .03 .05 -.07, .13
Adaptive
narcissism →
Parenting
.08 .08 -.07, .24 .07 .06 -.05, .20 -.09 .06 -.22, .04
Maladaptive
narcissism →
Parenting
-.21 .08 9-.39, -.04 .18 .07 .04, .32 .06 .06 -.05, .17
Direct
effects:
Total
narcissism →
Parenting
-.04 .05 -.14, .06 .21 .06 .10, .32 -.02 .05 -.12, .08
Adaptive
narcissism →
Parenting
.06 .06 -.06, .17 .07 .06 -.05, .20 -.08 .06 -.20, .04
Maladaptive
narcissism →
Parenting
-.09 .06 -.22, .03 .15 .07 .01, .30 .01 .05 -.09, .11
Total
narcissism →
Empathy
-.19 .06 -.31, -.07 -.19 .06 -.31, -.07 -.19 .06 -.31, -.07
Adaptive
narcissism →
Empathy
.12 .07 -.01, .26 .12 .07 -.01, .26 .12 .07 -.01, .26
Maladaptive
narcissism →
Empathy
-.32 .09 -.49, -.14 -.32 .09 -.49, -.14 -.32 .09 -.49, -.14
Total
narcissism →
Caregiving
-.06 .05 -.16, .04 -.06 .05 -.16, .04 -.06 .05 -.16, .04
Adaptive
narcissism →
Caregiving
-.01 .07 -.14, .11 -.01 .07 -.14, .11 -.01 .07 -.14, .11
Maladaptive
narcissism →
Caregiving
-.04 .08 -.19, .12 -.04 .08 -.19, .12 -.04 .08 -.19, .12
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 23
Empathy →
Caregiving
.20 .06 .07, .33 .20 .06 .07, .33 .20 .06 .07, .33
Empathy →
Parenting
.18 .06 .07, .29 .07 .06 -.05, .18 -.03 .06 -.15, .08
Caregiving →
Parenting
.62 .07 .47, .77 -.48 .07 -.62, -.34 -.43 .08 -.59, -.27
Indirect effects:
Total narcissism → Parenting
Via Empathy -.04 .01 -.07, -.01 -.01 .01 -.04, .01 .01 .01 -.01, .03
Via
Caregiving
-.04 .03 -.10, .02 .03 .03 -.02, .08 .03 .02 -.02, .08
Via Empathy
→ Caregiving
-.02 .01 -.05, -.01 .02 .01 .01, .04 .02 .01 .01, .04
R2 = .54
F(12, 340) = 29.38, p < .001
R2 = .43
F(12, 340) = 17.76, p < .001
R2 = .41
F(12, 340) = 16.33, p < .001
Adaptive narcissism → Parenting
Via Empathy .02 .01 .00, .06 .01 .01 -.00, .03 -.00 .01 -.03, .01
Via
Caregiving
-.01 .04 -.09, .07 .01 .03 -.05, .07 .03 .02 -.02, .08
Via Empathy
→ Caregiving
.02 .01 .00, .04 -.01 .01 -.03, -.00 -.01 .01 -.03, -.00
R2 = .54
F(13, 339) = 27.14, p < .001
R2 = .43
F(13, 339) = 16.58, p < .001
R2 = .30
F(13, 339) = 13.06, p < .001
Maladaptive narcissism → Parenting
Via Empathy -.06 .02 -.11, -.02 -.02 .02 -.06, .01 .01 .02 -.03, .05
Via
Caregiving
-.02 .05 -.12, .06 .02 .04 -.05, .10 .02 .03 -.04, .08
Via Empathy
→ Caregiving
-.04 .01 -.08, -.02 .03 .01 .01, .06 .03 .01 .01, .05
R2 = .54
F(13, 339) = 27.14, p < .001
R2 = .43
F(13, 339) = 16.58, p < .001
R2 = .41
F(13, 399) = 16.24, p < .001
Note. Analyses conducted using PROCESS model 6 (10,000 bootstrap samples; Hayes, 2013)
on n = 353 due to missing data. All standard errors for continuous outcome models are based
on the HC3 estimator. Reported results are controlling for Impression-management, Sex, Big
Five, and Attachment. Confidence intervals are bias-corrected. Significant direct and indirect
effects are evidenced by confidence intervals that do not include zero and are presented in bold
type.
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 24
Table 3
Tests of Indirect Effects of Narcissism on Parenting Styles via Caregiving and Empathy
Effect Authoritative Authoritarian Permissive
β SE 95% CI β SE 95% CI β SE 95% CI
Indirect effects:
Total narcissism → Parenting
Via
Caregiving
-.10 .04 -.17, -.03 .05 .03 .00, .10 .05 .03 .01, .11
Via Empathy -.03 .01 -.07, -.00 -.01 .01 -.04, .00 .01 .01 -.00, .01
Via
Caregiving →
Empathy
-.00 .00 -.01, -.00 .00 .00 -.01, .00 .00 .00 .01, .04
Adaptive narcissism → Parenting
Via
Caregiving
.01 .04 -.07, .08 -.00 .03 -.06, .05 -.00 .03 -.06, .05
Via Empathy .02 .01 .00, .06 .01 .01 -.00, .03 -.00 .01 -.03, .01
Via
Caregiving →
Empathy
.00 .00 -.00, .01 .00 .00 -.00, .00 .00 .00 -.00, .00
Maladaptive narcissism → Parenting
Via
Caregiving
-.06 .05 -.22, -.02 .05 .04 -.02, .14 .04 .03 -.02, .12
Via Empathy -.04 .02 -.11, -.02 -.02 .02 -.06, .01 .01 .02 -.03, .05
Via
Caregiving →
Empathy
-.00 .00 -.01, .00 -.00 .00 -.01, .00 .00 .00 -.00, .01
Note. Analyses conducted using PROCESS model 6 (10,000 bootstrap samples; Hayes, 2013)
on n = 353 due to missing data. All standard errors for continuous outcome models are based
on the HC3 estimator. Reported results are controlling for Impression-management, Sex, Big
Five, and Attachment. Confidence intervals are bias-corrected. Significant direct and indirect
effects are evidenced by confidence intervals that do not include zero and are presented in bold
type.
NARCISSISTIC PARENTING 25
Figure 1. Theoretical model of relationship between narcissism and parenting.
Narcissism
CaregivingEmpathy
Parenting
a
b
c
d
e
f
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