Examining the Neurological Mechanisms of Pathological Narcissism Through a Reward Paradigm

Open Access
Churney, Aleece Gabrielle
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Wilson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Aaron Lee Pincus, Faculty Reader
  • Jeff M Love, Honors Advisor
  • fMRI
  • neuroscience
  • personality
  • psychology
  • narcissism
  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • reward paradigm
  • PNI
The present study used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neurological mechanisms of Pathological Narcissism, namely, Narcissistic Grandiosity and Narcissistic Vulnerability through a reward paradigm. I predicted that individuals with higher PNI Narcissistic Grandiosity scores would have increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreased activation in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and posteromedial cortex (PMC) during High Reward conditions, and that individuals with higher PNI Narcissistic Vulnerability scores would have increased activation in the OFC, dACC, PMC, temporal lobe, cingulate cortex, parahippocampal gyrus, right inferior and medial frontal gyrus, as well as, decreased activation in the mPFC during High Punishment conditions. Data was gathered from 36 participants, ranging in age from 19 to 48 years old. Subjects first completed the Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI) to measure levels of Narcissistic Grandiosity and Narcissistic Vulnerability, followed by an fMRI in which a Card Guessing Task was administered with three conditions: High Reward, High Punishment, and Control. Results revealed an association between Narcissistic Grandiosity and decreased activation in the postcentral gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, superior occipital gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus, as well as, increased activation in the precuneus during High Reward. An association between Narcissistic Vulnerability and increased activation in the superior frontal gyrus during High Punishment was also found. While the results do not confirm my hypotheses, they provide new insights into the processing of reward and punishment for individuals with higher levels of Pathological Narcissism.