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Trumping Shame by Blasts of Noise: Narcissism, Self-Esteem, Shame, and Aggression in Young Adolescents


  • This research was supported by a Fulbright scholarship to S.T. We are grateful to the children and staff of the Brighton School District in Michigan for their kind cooperation. We also thank Marcel van Aken, Roy Baumeister, Keith Campbell, and Bram Orobio de Castro for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Sander Thomaes, Department of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80.140, 3584 CS, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Electronic mail may be sent to


This experiment tested how self-views influence shame-induced aggression. One hundred and sixty-three young adolescents (M = 12.2 years) completed measures of narcissism and self-esteem. They lost to an ostensible opponent on a competitive task. In the shame condition, they were told that their opponent was bad, and they saw their own name at the bottom of a ranking list. In the control condition, they were told nothing about their opponent and did not see a ranking list. Next, participants could blast their opponent with noise (aggression measure). As expected, narcissistic children were more aggressive than others, but only after they had been shamed. Low self-esteem did not lead to aggression. In fact, narcissism in combination with high self-esteem led to exceptionally high aggression.