The 1 Question to Ask to Identify a Narcissist

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If you suspect someone in your life is a narcissist, there may be an incredibly straightforward way to confirm your suspicions: Just ask them. New research published in PLOS ONE suggests that simply asking narcissists to out themselves can be surprisingly effective. 

Specifically, researchers asked this question over a series of 11 studies: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: I am a narcissist.’” The participants — and there were about 2,200 of them in total — were told to answer on a scale of one to seven. As it turned out, their self-scoring results closely matched scores on the traditional method of gauging narcissism, a 40-question survey called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. 

According to lead author Sara Konrath, an assistant professor at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the 40-question quiz is still the best way to measure the trait. But given its length, it’s just not a practical method in certain research contexts, such as studies conducted over the phone.

And while Konrath was hesitant to roll with my hopes for non-scientific applications of her work (“So, like, should this be a standard first-date question?”), she did say that if someone specifically tells her they’re a narcissist, she takes them at their word.

That’s actually how the idea for this paper came about — she was at a party, talking about her research, when a man interrupted her. “He just jumped in and said, ‘I’m a narcissist!’” said Konrath. “And he was, like, proud of it, and was trying to be a little provocative or maybe he was trying to be funny, but everyone was pretty uncomfortable." She says this was something most people secretly thought about this guy, anyway, but never would have said to his face. “But then I started thinking, 'Oh, wow, I thought he might be a narcissist,' even before he said it. So I wonder if we could just ask people."

Or, to quote Oprah quoting Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”