In a world dominated by social media, reality TV and endless Kim Kardashian selfies, Kiwis can still call themselves a humble bunch.

That's according to the first study to take an in-depth look at the relationship between self-esteem and narcissism in New Zealand.

After crunching numbers drawn from a representative sample of more than 6500 people, Auckland University psychology researcher Samantha Stronge found that around one in 10 Kiwis hold traits that could be considered narcissistic.

However the bulk of us had healthy levels of self-esteem and low rates of entitlement, suggesting old-fashioned Kiwi humility is alive and well.


Ms Stronge said the topic had become increasingly relevant, with some researchers now claiming we live in a "narcissism epidemic".

"We were interested in seeing what the picture looked like in New Zealand, and how self-esteem and entitlement related to each other," she said.

Detailed questionnaires were sent out to adult participants in the ongoing New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), before Ms Stronge and her colleagues analysed the responses.

Of the five distinct groups that emerged from the data, the largest, making up 38 per cent of respondents, had an "optimal self-esteem" characterised by high self-worth but low levels of entitlement.

"These are people that do have a very good opinion about themselves, but not one that is damaging to other people. You like yourself, but you don't think you are better than people."

Around 9 per cent had high entitlement and high self-esteem, a rate Ms Stronge did not see as concerningly high.

"In this case, they feel like they deserve more in life and can treat other people badly."

The other groups showed low levels of entitlement, but differing levels of self-esteem.


However the data also suggested around 2.4 per cent of Kiwis had both low self-esteem and low entitlement, which warranted closer analysis.

Ms Stronge was also keen to find whether levels of narcissism were growing over time, as the study, just published in the international Journal of Research in Personality, presented only a one-off snapshot.

"I can't really say if it is growing, but then Facebook, social media and selfies have been around for a while now, and I wouldn't call 9 per cent a huge amount in terms of levels of narcissism."

Study co-author Dr Chris Sibley, who founded the NZAVS in 2009, didn't find the results surprising.

"I think they were reasonably consistent with what you might expect with a lot of Western nations," he said.

"But what's really nice is there are large sections of the population who are psychologically healthy: they're low on narcissism, but high on self-esteem."


This was important, he said, as psychology's widely-cited "sociometer" theory pointed to self-esteem as a gauge that told people how they were valued by others, and about how well they got along with peers.

"Whereas narcissism is a different beast - it's all about how much better than other people you think you are, rather than just whether you're doing okay and feel valued."

What's a narcissist?

• Narcissists are defined by their extremely positive self-image, grandiosity and sense of entitlement.

• But whether this is a reflection of genuine confidence and excessive self-esteem, or just a mechanism to bolster a sense of self that's actually quite fragile, is still an open question.

• Academics split narcissists into two categories: the grandiose or overt narcissist, characterised by an overall sense of superiority, arrogance and self-absorption, and the "vulnerable narcissist", who still has grandiose fantasies, a tendency towards being exploitative and high feelings of entitlement.

Ego check: Kiwis and narcissism

• Nine per cent of 6500 Kiwis surveyed showed traits of narcissism, with high levels of both entitlement and self-esteem.


• But 38.4 per cent of those surveyed were found to have healthy levels of self-esteem and low levels of entitlement.

• The remainder generally had low levels of entitlement but differing levels of self-esteem.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson