Selfless or Selfish? Generativity and Narcissism as Components of Legacy

Nicky J. Newton, Jennifer M. Herr, Jessica I. Pollack, Dan P. McAdams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Erikson's concept of generativity, or caring for the next generation, acknowledges the presence of narcissism or any type of self-preoccupation as potentially negative. However, other theories articulate generativity as including features of self-involvement, such as a drive for symbolic immortality (McAdams and de St. Aubin J Pers Soc Psychol 62(6):1003-1015. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.62.6.1003, 1992). Recent empirical research also supports this view by identifying generativity and narcissism as both incorporating the beneficial components of agency and communion (Frimer et al. J Pers Soc Psychol 101(1):149-163. doi:10.1037/a0023780, 2011; Gebauer et al. J Pers Soc Psychol 103(3):854-878. doi:10.1037/a0029629, 2012). Moreover, creating a legacy-something left behind when one dies-entails levels of both generativity and narcissism; thus, in the presence of generativity, narcissism may be seen as positive rather than negative. The current study examined generativity and narcissism, and their association with legacy, which was coded from midlife adults' narratives concerning the future (age 55-58; N = 155). The findings indicated that a combination of high generativity and high narcissism was associated with the highest level of composite legacy, one in which both self and other are implicated. Results are discussed in light of the potentially positive outcomes of narcissism and its synergistic properties for legacy creation when combined with generativity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-68
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Adult Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Generativity
  • Legacy
  • Midlife
  • Narcissism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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