Being the boss

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

How highly do you rate yourself? Find out by answering the questions below on a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree).

  • I am a special person
  • I enjoy showing off
  • I love being the centre of attention
  • I like being the boss
  • I insist that other people respect me

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This test measures your narcissism: the tendency to think very highly of oneself. In classical mythology, Narcissus saw his reflection in a lake, fell in love with it, and – because this love was doomed to remain unrequited – either died of sorrow or killed himself (depending on whether you prefer the Greek or Roman version of the tale). The average total score on full versions of these tests is around 10 out of a possible maximum of 25, so if your score was closer to the top end of that range, then you have a tendency towards narcissism.

 

Psychologists have long known that narcissists sometimes act aggressively when others put them down. But why? One idea is that narcissists become uncomfortable, angry and aggressive when they detect a discrepancy between their own very positive view of themselves, and someone else’s less positive view. Support for this “discrepancy” view comes from a recent brain-scanning study which showed that narcissists react aggressively to a threatened ego only when brain systems responsible for detecting discrepancies are particularly active. The lesson is clear: If you want to challenge a narcissist – and live to tell the tale – make sure you do so in a way that doesn’t challenge his over-inflated ego.

 

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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