A question of narcissism

Do you know a narcissist? Is there someone you know who says their favourite Christmas carol is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing…about Me”? Maybe that person’s definition of rubbish is “something that belongs to someone else”? Perhaps they can’t walk past a mirror, or even a reflective window, without stopping for a preen and moment of self appreciation? These things could be clear signs of narcissism but what if you are unsure? Could there be a question that by their answer would tell you whether someone is a narcissist? According to a new study there is one question that will give you a pretty good idea.

Before we get into what that question may be however, although we have made light of narcissism thus far, it does need to be said that genuine narcissism is not a healthy psychological state. By definition a narcissist is someone who is egotistical, self-focused, and vain. This is not a productive state for an individual because they generally are so pleased with who they are that they don’t have the motivation to make productive change. On the wider level we also know that narcissists lack empathy and so are less likely to help others, meaning narcissists aren’t great for the broader society either.

We might fling around the term narcissist to describe people engaged in the sorts of behaviours we mentioned before but not everyone who enjoys seeing themselves in a mirror is a narcissist. Psychology of course is built around being able to design questionnaires that will definitely assess a person’s psychological state. Detailed questionnaires to assess narcissism, like the 40 question Narcissim Personality Inventory (NPI), have been developed to accurately measure narcissism. Now however, researchers from Ohio State University say they have found a single question that yields quite accurate results as well.

That single question is, “To what extent do you agree with this statement; ‘I am a narcissist’?”

In the research more than 2,200 people were assessed and were given both the NPI and the single question (dubbed the Single Item Narcissism Scale – SINS). For the SINS question subjects rated themselves on a scale of 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).

The results of the single question aligned very closely with the results from the more detailed questionnaires. The single question probably works because people who are narcissists don’t see it as a negative thing but are proud of it and are therefore more likely to declare it than other more negatively perceived conditions. You can directly ask a narcissist if they are narcissistic because they believe they are superior to other people and are comfortable saying so. In psychological terms this does not mean that you can throw away the detailed questionnaires but the single question is certainly a useful indicator.

So if you think you know a narcissist but aren’t quite sure…just be brave and ask them, they’ll be happy to tell you. The only other question is, are you brave enough to ask yourself the same question?

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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