What exactly does it mean to be a narcissist?
The Mayo Clinic defines a narcissistic personality disorder as a mental condition in which one has an inflated sense of self, where they seek “attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” But at its core, a narcissist is fragile and cracks to the slightest attack on their ego.
While narcissism is often labeled as a bad thing in modern life, narcissists have been found to be happier and mentally tougher than others. They love to use tactics like gaslighting and going “gray rock.” Narcissists often have a penchant for their social media profiles and their excessive selfie-taking habits is even a form of narcissism, according to a recent study.
A new study published by the University of Western Ontario’s Matthew Brown and his colleagues, with help from the University of Notre Dame, went to test how we measure narcissism and help find a better understanding of its traits.
The most common way to get a narcissism reading is through the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a 40-item tool created in 1979 used to measure narcissism. While the test remains the most popular way to measure narcissism, it’s been criticized for its forced-choice response format as well as for being antiquated in the past.
Brown and his team decided to examine the NPI’s factor structure when it’s administered using a single-stimulus format, while also administering the NPI using a 5-point rating system ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) to see how it compared with the original method.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, used their testing methods on both undergraduates (527 participants) and an online survey to others (700 participants). Researchers administered the modernized NPI version, while also asking them to use the 5-point rating system to measure their personality. Participants were also asked for information about their drug use, anxiety and depression, and the “Short Dark Triad,” which accesses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism.
While past research has proposed narcissism fitting a three-dimensional framework via the NPI, Brown unearthed that the NPI actually has five dimensions which were the following, according to the study:
- Grandiose Fantasies
- Leadership/ Authority
While the study said it has limitations and called for additional research, they believe their study has “important implications” for how narcissism is accessed.
From the study: “Our findings have important implications for the most widely used assessment instrument of narcissism. They provide strong evidence that the NPI is defined by distinct sets of item content showing divergent patterns of personality and psychopathology relations when administered using a single-stimulus administration format and a Likert style response scale, consistent with prior research. Therefore, if researchers continue to use the NPI in place of other newer measures created to assess distinct narcissism dimensions (e.g., the PNI and FFNI), we advise considering the use of NPI subscales modeling specific narcissistic traits instead of focusing solely on total scores.”
As Psychology Today argued, it’s interesting to understand how these types of traits apply to people in the public light. Think of celebrities or politicians as they rise through the rankings, or maybe a friend who has a personal branded Instagram account.
“Instead of just calling someone a “narcissist,” you may be able to get a more nuanced way of understanding their narcissistic qualities,” wrote Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.
She also argued that some of these dimensions are more adaptive than others.
“People who wish to be leaders but don’t see themselves as having leadership qualities would seem doomed to a life of disappointment in themselves,” Whitbourne said. “Similarly, a healthy degree of self-confidence can also be adaptive, no matter which future you envision for yourself, even it involves a certain degree of superiority. People who are vain may be a bit annoying, particularly if they seem interested only in how they look and dress, but they don’t seem to have any ill intent or a desire to step on other people.”