How To Spot A Narcissist… With A Simple Question

A seemingly harmless question that no narcissist manages to answer successfully.

It is possible that, at some point in your life, you have wondered if that friend, family member, acquaintance or coworker is a narcissist. It is understandable: many behaviors can be associated with this category of personality, although it is difficult to know to what extent these constitute a real problem. In a previous article I already talked about  Narcissistic Personality Disorder and its characteristic features. 

But today’s text goes further by starting with a question that, in the opinion of experts, manages to unmask any narcissistic person to whom the question is asked.

Narcissistic personality: easy or difficult to detect?

If you want to identify a person with narcissistic traits, you have three options. The first is to accompany this person to a  mental health professional who can make a diagnosis of their personality. The second option is to learn to manage diagnostic tool of 40 items from the inventory of Narcissistic Personality and convince that person to respond to the test.

A study finds the key

Obviously these two options mentioned are a bit complicated to carry out for most mortals. Fortunately, there is a third option, which also has the support of several scientific studies fresh from the oven.

Sara Konrath and her team at Indiana University in the United States have succeeded in developing a single-question narcissism diagnostic scale. This is not usual, since the scales are usually made up of large numbers of items. The scale that these scholars have developed is the so called Single-Item-Narcissism Scale (SINS).

Reasonable skepticism

When news that Konrath and his collaborators had achieved a one-item scale hit the press, most academic and scientific circles were highly skeptical that the question in question “Are you a narcissist?” could discriminate between those subjects with a clinically relevant propensity towards narcissism, and those who do not. Above all, this seemed unlikely considering that narcissism is a complex and multidimensional personality profile. Personally, my reaction to reading the headline in Psychology Today was to think: “Yet another tabloid article.”  

This generalized skepticism towards the Indiana University study served to promote several experiments that sought to deny or verify the results. Thus, Sander van der Linden decided to carry out another similar study, this time with a sample of 2,000 people, to try to shed some light on this issue.

The new study yielded very similar data and conclusions

To van der Linden’s own surprise, his study (recently published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differencesreplicated the original study’s findings. Its conclusions were as follows:

1. The single-question scale was positively correlated with the 40-item NPI, with a much more complex structure. In summary, both scales were shown to correctly measure narcissism.

2. An important point to note is that, while the scale based on the NPI model seems to confuse some cases of narcissism with normality or healthy self-esteem, the single-question scale did not report any correlation with high self-esteem. In other words, the measure does not seem to fail, in the sense that it does not capture people who may have some subclinical traits associated with narcissism, that is, mild cases. This is good news since a simple question can discriminate reasonably well against people with pronounced and unequivocal narcissism.

What is the typical response of a narcissistic person?

At this point where we know how the investigations were done and their proven reliability, I bet you want to know exactly what the response is that is expected from someone with narcissistic traits.

As we have seen, the question is much simpler than you might expect: “Are you a narcissist?” . This is the question you should ask. It may seem counter-intuitive, because it is certainly not very often that we ask someone directly about their personality traits (as if that someone could not lie or have an unrealistic view of themselves!), But the truth is that the case of narcissism is quite special.

Narcissists perceive narcissism as… positive

In reality, narcissists do not consider narcissism to be a bad or reprehensible thing. In fact, they tend to be quite proud of it. A good deal of research has found that narcissists tend to readily admit that they behave in a narcissistic way, and do not feel any discomfort describing themselves as cocky, arrogant, etc. They even seem to be striving to be more narcissistic!

It also appears that narcissists are aware that others perceive them less positively compared to how they see themselves, but this simply does not matter to them.

The quintessential narcissistic response

As you can deduce from all the above, narcissistic people mostly tend to answer ” yes” to the question. In this way, they claim to be narcissistic people and inflate their ego at the same time.

Discussion

Obviously, the answers do not always match the personality of the respondent. Participants can lie, for any reason. Furthermore, a simple answer tells us neither the degree of narcissism nor the “type”. That is, an affirmative answer can be a clear statistical indication that we are facing a case of narcissism, but it does not give us more information about it.

You can’t have it all – a simple question rarely yields a true, complete, and nuanced answer.

Conclusions

In short, these studies have made it possible to determine that the SINS scale question does not offer us detailed data on the respondent’s personality profile, but it does measure the presence or absence of narcissism reasonably well.

From now on, when you want to know if someone around you is a narcissist or not, you can try asking the question: “Are you a narcissist?”

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