Narcissism and the accuracy of the NPI


As someone who was a camp counsellor for many years, I got to meet hundreds of campers, all with different personalities. From one camp to another, there are always certain types of people that one encounters: the extremely shy campers, the born-leader who loves to help the counsellors and the ones who were always keen to do activities, to name a few. But in between, there lies a special category of campers that I saw every year: it’s the kind of campers whose name is known to all, the kind who loved being the center of attention and who thought they were ‘all that’ — just like how Kanye West loves Kanye.

Whereas behavioral observation can help distinguish the potential narcissistic side of people, there is a test that also provides such information: the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). The NPI consist of 40 pairs of force-choice questions, and scored out of 40 with an average around 15. For example, participants would choose between ““I like to see myself in the mirror” versus “I am not particularly interested in looking at myself in the mirror”. However, is the questionnaire thorough and reliable enough to indicate if someone has narcissism? As Ackerman et al mentions in their paper, the NPI was developed based on the criteria from the DSM-III, which focused on the grandiose component more than the vulnerably expressions of the disorder. Now that the criteria have evolved through the different versions of DSM, the NPI, in contrast, did not see any updates. My main concern is how reliable can the score be for someone who takes the test. Narcissism has different facets, some more detrimental than others. For example, one component of the trait is the Leadership/Authority dimension, which in itself, it a quite adaptable trait for someone. However, a person high on Entitlement/exhibitionism dimension is less adaptable and more negative to the overall wellbeing. Interestingly, the score doesn’t take into account the facets of narcissism: a person who has good leadership skills and very prone to guiding others could score high. It comes to mind that the scoring of such a questionnaire should acknowledge those dimensions and divide scoring into categories, such that it becomes an indicator of where a person stands within the trait of narcissism. Considering that the NPI was developed to follow the criteria of the DSM-III, it should be reviewed in order to reflect the current views about Narcissism and thus, be a better measurement of the trait. Many debates are still ongoing concerning the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. To me, if the NPI should reflect the criteria of the latest DSM, it should require updates that follow the revised versions of the DSM.

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