Monday, August 23, 2010

Does B-School Create Narcissists?

Business Week reports on two interesting new studies presented at the Academy of Management Annual Conference in Montreal earlier this month. The first study examines the extent to which business school students are more or less narcissistic than other folks. Scholars Jim Westerman, Jacqueline Bergman, Shawn Bergman, and Joseph Daly used an instrument called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory to evaluate a group of business school students and to compare them to a group of psychology students. The business school students had an average score of 17.67 as compared to 15.19 for the psychology students. The scholars also found that the students today scored higher on the narcissism scale than students in the past (when studies were conducted in 1987 and 1992). Of course, the study does not determine whether business schools are simply attracting narcissists, creating narcissists, or perhaps doing a bit of both. Westerman and his colleagues worry about high levels of narcissism, as it may lead to riskier decision-making, among other dangers.

A second study, however, suggests that narcissism might not be all bad. Several Stanford faculty members confirm that a narcissist can undermine team performance. However, they find that a team with two narcissists may actually benefit from the fact that competition between these two individuals may lead to the uncovering of multiple new alternatives.

I'm quite intrigued by the studies. I'm particularly interested in the question of whether business schools are actually enhancing the narcissistic tendencies of their students. I actually think we might be, and that is worrisome. In what ways do you think business schools may be creating narcissists? Please share your views by leaving a comment!


The Housewife said...

Does the study provide any information on how they are defining narcissism vs. the healthy dose of self confidence that is needed for necessary risk taking? I agree with you that it would be interesting to know whether B-schools attract this personality type or create it.

David said...

Interesting point. I think it'd be more interesting to administer the test to b-school grads before and after completing their program.

Michael Roberto said...

They are using a proven instrument that attempts to distinguish between confidence and narcissism. I'm not an expert on this instrument, so I can't comment on how well it makes this distinction.

Brian said...

Are B-schools having an identity crisis? In addition to this posting a recent WSJ article (Promises aren't enough, R1, August 23, 2010) addresses the ethical values with which students leave business schools (or leave without). The authors (Canales, Massey, Wrzesniewski) say it's not the teaching that's the problem, it's the experience. Their assertion seems to relate back to theory vs. application in which learning what's ethically and morally right to do doesn't necessarily mean a future leader can execute a moral or ethical decision when it really matters. Even the most life-like simulations may not prove effective because the pressure felt in the classroom doesn't equate to the same pressure felt in the boardroom (read: on the job).

Either way, between narcissism and ethical standards, it seems business schools may be finding it harder to teach future managers/leaders how to navigate the fine line of how to think outside themselves and their own pressures and to think about the greater good, be it profit maximization or social/ethical responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Enhancing selfish tendencies? Maybe so.

In business school, we learned that asking questions is polite and that we should do it often. I started asking questions to 'appear' interested, polite or kind... and at some point or another I have 'exerted my authority' by asking too many questions.

With great power (or tools that we learn in biz school) comes great responsibility - do they teach us about that enough?