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Be still my heart: A short (one-item!) measure of narcissism? 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
posted by Rita Handrich

narcissism savage chickenWe are all about short measures of psychological constructs. You might say watching the development of various scales is a hobby here (just look at all these posts!). With rare exception, courts don’t permit lengthy questionnaires, or questions that sound like a psychological screening test. So when the Neuroskeptic blogged about a new one-item scale for narcissism, it got our attention quickly. True to his name, the Neuroskeptic isn’t so sure this is a good measure of actual narcissism–although it is highly correlated with other self-report measures of narcissism.

We have different goals than the Neuroskeptic. To our way of thinking, it isn’t so important whether the single-item scale measures actual narcissism–but rather, how the individuals answer the question. That is, if someone describes themselves as either low or high in narcissism–does that make a difference in their ultimate verdict preference? Without further ado, here is the question:

To what extent do you agree with this statement: I am a narcissist? (Note: The word ‘narcissist’ means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.) Answer on a scale from 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).

The article itself is published on PLoSONE and thus accessible to everyone (for which we thank the lead author, Sara Konrath). According to the researchers, people who score high on this single-item measure (aptly named the Single Item Narcissism Scale–SINS) also report both negative and positive traits.

“For example, they report more positive affect, more extraversion, and marginally less depression. Yet the SINS is also associated with less desirable intrapersonal outcomes, for example, less agreeableness, more anger, shame, guilt and fear, delayed/reactive aggression, having less committed relationships with others, and showing less prosocial behavior when ego threatened.”

In other words, say the researchers,

“…this scale may capture the more fragile, pathological and unhealthy aspects of narcissism. Not only do these people think they are great, but they also suffer from feelings of shame, guilt and fear”.

This single-item measure, while suspect to the Neuroskeptic, is of interest to us. It is both very brief (you can’t get much briefer) but also has the element of stealth. Who would know whether this query would be good or bad for their case unless they completed some pretrial research? From a litigation advocacy perspective, we don’t care whether a potential juror meets diagnostic criteria for narcissism. We just care whether their self-report is a variable that ultimately matters.

Konrath S, Meier BP, & Bushman BJ (2014). Development and Validation of the Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS). PLoS ONE, 9 (8) PMID: 25093508


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