How to spot a narcissist … with a simple question

You may have wondered at some point in your life if this friend, family member, acquaintance or colleague is a narcissistic. It’s understandable: there are many behaviors that can be associated with this personality category, although it’s hard to know how much of a problem these are. In a previous article, I talked about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and its characteristics.

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

Narcissistic Personality: Easy or Hard 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 on his personality. The second option is to learn to manage the 40-item diagnostic tool of the narcissistic personality inventory and convince that person to take the test.

A study gives the key

Obviously, these two mentioned options are a bit tricky for most mortals to achieve. Fortunately, there is a third option, which also has the backing of several freshly baked scientific studies.

Sara Konrath and her team from Indiana University in the United States, they successfully developed a one-question narcissism diagnostic scale. This is not common, as scales are usually made up of a large number of items. The scale developed by these researchers is the so-called Single Object Narcissism Scale (SINS).

reasonable skepticism

When news that Konrath and his associates had achieved a single element scale hit the press, most academic and scientific circles were very skeptical that the question at hand was “Are you a narcissist?” could distinguish between subjects with a clinically relevant propensity for narcissism and those who do not. Above all, this seemed unlikely given that narcissism is a complex, multidimensional personality profile. Personally, my reaction to reading the headline of Psychology Today was to think, “Another Yellowing Article.”

This widespread skepticism about the Indiana University study was used to conduct various experiments that sought to refute or verify the results. Sander van der Linden therefore decided to conduct another similar study, this time with a sample of 2,000 people, to try to shed some light on this subject.

The new study released very similar data and findings

To the surprise of van der Linden himself, his study (recently published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences) reproduce the results of the original study. The conclusions of the same were as follows:

1. The single-item scale was positively correlated with the 40-item LNI, which is much more complex in structure. In short, both scales have been shown to measure narcissism correctly.

2. An important point to note is that while the scale based on the NPI model seems to confuse some instances of narcissism with normalcy or healthy self-esteem, the single question scale reported no correlation with high self-esteem. In other words, the measure does not appear to fail, in that it does not capture people who might have subclinical traits associated with narcissism, i.e. mild cases. This is good news because with a simple question one can reasonably well discriminate against people with pronounced and unequivocal narcissism.

What is the typical response of a narcissist?

At this point, in what we know how the research was conducted and its reliability proven, I bet you want to know exactly what the expected response is from a person with narcissistic traits..

As we have seen, the question is much simpler than one might imagine: “Are you a narcissist?”. This is the question you should be asking yourself. This might sound counterintuitive, as it’s certainly not very common for you to directly ask someone about their personality traits (like someone can’t 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 don’t view narcissism as bad or wrong. In fact, they tend to be quite proud of being one. A good number of investigations have revealed that narcissists tend to admit without objection that they behave in a narcissistic manner, And they feel no embarrassment in describing themselves as pretentious, arrogant, etc. They even seem to strive to be more narcissistic!

It also seems that narcissists are aware that others perceive them less positively about how they see themselves, but that just doesn’t matter to them.

The quintessential narcissistic response

As you can deduce from all of the above, narcissists generally tend to answer “yes” to the question. In this way, they pretend to be narcissistic people and to pump up their egos at the same time.


Obviously, the answers do not always match the personality of the respondent. Participants can lie, for any reason. Moreover, a simple answer tells us neither the degree of narcissism nor the “type”. In other words, an affirmative answer can be a clear statistical indication that we are dealing with a case of narcissism, but it does not give us any other information in this regard.

You can’t have it all: with a simple question, you almost never get a true, complete, and nuanced answer.


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

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

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