A One-Question Test for Narcissism

Do you know someone you think is a narcissist?

A narcissistic personality is characterized by inflated views of the self, extreme vanity, and obsessive self-importance. The term comes from the mythical Greek character, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Entranced by his own beauty, Narcissus stared at his reflection until he died. That’s a tough comparison.

In the extreme, narcissism can be a clinical disorder. However, studies have found narcissists are “high in creativity, happiness, and self-esteem, and low in anxiety and depression”. It’s not all bad.

You may think someone is a narcissist but, until recently, it was difficult to prove it. The standard narcissism personality test contains 40 questions. A sample question is “I can live my life in any way I want to.”

Recently researchers discovered that a single question is nearly as accurate as the traditional test. They asked more than 2,200 participants to what extent they agreed with the statement, “I am a narcissist” on a scale from 1–11. The researchers clarified that “the word narcissist means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.”

Surprisingly, this one question, dubbed the Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS), worked extremely well. The results were highly correlated with scores on the 40-question survey and “uncorrelated with social desirability, or lack of concern about what others think of them.” Apparently, narcissists are aware they are narcissists and are willing to admit it – at least to researchers.

This is an intriguing result but the experiment has some obvious limitations. It’s unlikely everyone has the same level of narcissistic qualities but the question doesn’t differentiate a mild case from a clinical disorder. I also wonder about the practicality of asking someone if they are narcissist outside the research setting. Narcissists might be proud of their behavior in an anonymous environment but I’m unsure they would go around publicly admitting this in a business setting.

Regardless of the practicality, the conclusions are clear. People are generally aware of their own narcissism. Narcissists understand that they are more “arrogant, condescending, argumentative, critical, and prone to bragging” than others.

Perhaps it’s like the old marketing cliché: Love me or hate me; just don’t ignore me.



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