There was a fascinating little story in the Washington Post last week. Apparently researchers have found that a long diagnostic survey used to identify narcissists is no more effective than a simple, direct question: “Are you a narcissist?”
Narcissists just aren’t ashamed of their narcissism, and as the story points out, that shouldn’t be surprising. Narcissists see the world as revolving around them, feel superior to everyone else, and typically aren’t inclined to hide their light under a bushel basket. They also are smart enough to know they are self-absorbed, and if they thought that was a bad thing, they wouldn’t be true narcissists, who tend to believe that everything about themselves is peachy keen. Narcissists also lack empathy, so comprehending why people like them are often distrusted (because, in fact, they aren’t trustworthy) might be beyond them.
Professor Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, tells the Post that being able to identify narcissists easily is a boon for everyone, including the narcissists themselves, pointing out that if you already think you’re perfect, you’re not going to make an effort to improve yourself. “And it’s bad for society as well,” he says, “because if you’re selfish you’re less likely to be a cooperative and helpful member of your community.”
Fortunately for them and society, narcissists, despite all their unethical tendencies, are honest…at least about their malady.
Prof. Bushman’s previous research leads him to believe that narcissism is increasing in the U.S. population. “In today’s digital age, when anyone can broadcast themselves to the world, narcissism is becoming more of a problem,” Bushman said. “Social media is absolutely related to narcissistic behavior.” The more narcissism, the less ethical behavior—or at least that’s his theory.
“I’ve been studying aggression for about 30 years, and I’ve seen that the most harmful belief that a person can have is that they’re superior to others,” Bushman said. “Men are better than women, my race is better than your race, my religion is superior to your religion. When people believe they’re better than other people, they act accordingly.” Thus getting narcissists to self-identify and to understand how their state of mind undermines a healthy, cooperative, respectful, fair society can advance the cause of ethics. “If people could believe that everyone on the planet is part of the same human family, and deserves the same respect, so many problems would be solved,” he said.