How to identify a narcissist with one simple question

How do you identify a narcissist? A new study says all you have to do is ask.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Researchers have discovered the quickest way to tell if someone is a narcissist: Simply ask them.

A new study describes a single question that appears to be nearly as accurate at identifying narcissists than a commonly used narcissist diagnostic test 40 items long.

And that single question is this: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: I am a narcissist. (Note: The word ‘narcissist’ means egotistical, self-focused and vain.)”


The parenthetical definition of narcissism is part of the carefully worded question, so the meaning of the word is clear and nothing is sugarcoated. Responders are asked to select a number between 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).

The upshot is, if you think you are a narcissist, you are probably right.

(If you’d like to try it for yourself, the researchers have set up a quick interactive quiz for the public to take.)

“Narcissists have no problem admitting they are narcissists,” said Brad Bushman, a coauthor on the paper and a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “They think they deserve special treatment and they don’t try to hide that from others.”

In 11 different studies with more than 2,000 participants, the research team found that people who scored high on what they call their Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) also tested for other traits associated with narcissism including low empathy, less committed relationships, a preference for non-social rewards, higher aggression, and even a belief that they should be paid more than their colleagues.

They were also more likely to be younger than people who scored lower on the self-reported narcissism scale.

Still, in the conclusion of the paper, they acknowledge that the results of their study may be hard to swallow at first.


“Are people really aware of their own levels of narcissism?” they write in the paper, published this week in PLOS One. “We would argue that, based on the evidence from the current studies, people who are willing to admit that they are relatively more narcissistic than others, actually are.”

Bushman added that there were even people who admitted to being a full fledged 7 on the narcissism scale.

“It was just 1 percent of the thousands of responses we got chose 7, but some people did,” he said.

The researchers admit that SINS is not perfect. While it does a good job of identifying narcissists, it does not distinguish between those who are loud and proud of their narcissism (grandiose narcissism) and those who are more shy and feel shame and concern that people will judge them negatively for their self-involvement (vulnerable narcissism).

The authors say SINS should not replace other narcissism diagnostic tests, but they say it can still be useful. After all, some of the longer tests can take as long as 13 minutes to read and complete. SINS takes just 20 seconds.

“I’d imagine people using it in very expensive studies, and exploratory studies,” said Bushman. “Or when you are concerned about fatigue. I think it is very useful if you just want a quick and dirty take. It corrleates so strongly with the 40-question test, and it is a lot better than nothing at all.”


He added that even non-research types might find the question useful when picking a potential mate, or making a hire.

“Narcissists are very bad relationship partners and they are bad team players,” he said. “It might be nice to find out how much of a narcissist someone is.”

And, as the study shows, all you have to do is ask.

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