One Sign of Narcissism That Turns Out to Be All Wrong
There are a lot of enduring truths about narcissists: they’re grandiose, insensitive, entitled, greedy, sexually exploitative and morally indifferent. And they love, love, love to use the pronoun I—except, as it turns out, they don’t. All the narcissist’s other dubious qualities are very real, but the one about language—perhaps the most straightforward of all—appears to be a myth.
That’s the conclusion of a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and while the use of a single pronoun ought to make a small difference when you’re reckoning with a personality disorder as destructive as narcissism, it actually matters a lot. Overuse of the self-referential I was seen as a quick and dirty way for even lay people to diagnose the condition; now that tool appears to be useless.
The I marker has a long history in narcissism research. The original study that made the link was published in 1988 and found that among a sample group of subjects who took the 40 question Narcissist Personality Inventory (NPI)—an all but universally accepted way of formally diagnosing the condition—people who scored higher indeed tended to utter I more. As I reported in my 2014 book The Narcissist Next Door, other studies in 2011 and 2012 tracked the use of first-person language in popular music from 1980 to 2007, and in literature from 1960 to 2008, and found both to be on the rise.