Body Odd

How to spot a narcissist: Study reveals the only question you need to ask

Aug. 5, 2014 at 2:00 PM ET

Curious if that new guy you’re seeing is full of himself? Does your best friend only seem to care about "me, me, me"? Wondering if the rising star at work has a big, fat ego? All you need to do is ask. A new report finds when people are asked if they are narcissistic, they answer accurately.

“When it comes to self awareness, they tend to be in tune with knowing that they are not really agreeable or super nice,” says Sara Konrath, lead author of the paper published in PLOS ONE and an assistant professor at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Narcissistic people have inflated egos; they often feel entitled, unique, and misunderstood because of these traits and often they alienate themselves from others. They also experience less empathy toward others.

Video: A new study has simplified the task of figuring out whether someone is a narcissist: All you have to is ask them one simple question.

“I think the narcissism itself is negative,” says Robert Rowney, a staff physician in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved with this study. “It is really viewed as different than confidence.”

Surveys exist to determine whether someone suffers from narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder, but these questionnaires involve as many as 40 questions. During a party one evening, Konrath and some colleagues were talking to another coworker that they considered narcissistic. When someone asked what Konrath studied, she mentioned narcissism and the self-involved colleague boldly announced that he was a narcissist.

“I kind of thought to myself it would be a really interesting question to ask [people] if they know if they are a narcissist,” she says. What if a single question was enough to identify the personality disorder?

Kanye West attends the Cannes Lions 2014
Lionel Cironneau / AP
Would Kanye West call himself a narcissist? Consider a quote he told the New York Times in 2013: "I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things."

Konrath and colleagues identified a question that yielded the most accurate answer. The query—“To what extent do you agree with this statement: ‘I am a narcissist.’ (Note: The word ‘narcissist’ means egotistical, self-focused, and vain).” People rate how much they agree on a scale from one to seven, with one being “not very true of me” and seven being “very true of me.” 

Then the researchers asked people to answer the one question, what they call the Single Item Narcissism Scale or SINS, and also complete a longer narcissism questionnaire. The results matched; people identified as narcissistic in traditional measures ranked similarly in SINS.

While the single question survey shouldn’t replace traditional tests for diagnostic purposes, SINS can be valuable. If researchers are conducting online or phone surveys and don’t have enough time for a full narcissism assessment, SINS will provide a comparable result.

“If you are at 6 or 7, you are in the top 95 [percent]… [You] are the most narcissistic,” says Konrath.

As tempting as it might be to ask our dates, friends, coworkers, children, or neighbors if they are narcissistic, knowing that the answer is likely accurate, Konrath advises against it.

“It’s not necessarily meant to categorize people outside of research,” she says, adding that we won’t find narcissists around every corner.

“Someone who is saying that [he/she is narcissistic] is pretty rare and I think that is good news.” 

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