Are Self-Trackers Narcissists?


“Are self-trackers narcissists? Results from NPI-16″ at the QS Show&Tell; video by Paul Lundahl.

Are self-trackers narcissists? In the video above, from the recent QS Show&Tell, I report on trying to find an answer. Here I give a quick summary of that talk and a reference link. I decided to run this test because a few weeks ago Alexandra Carmichael made a detailed and helpful report on her self-tracking project. Sandy Lane made the following comment:
DoesItMeasure.pngIt was a fair question, and in the comments thread I proposed answering this question in our own way: with numbers. So in a survey of QS readers I included all the questions from the NPI-16, an instrument to measure narcissism that has been used and tested in psychological assessment research for many years. I go through the details in the talk, but the short answer is no; in our small sample of 37 self-trackers, the mean narcissism scores were almost at the center of the range of mean scores in a set of five large surveys used to validate the NPI-16 against a longer and well-validated measure of narcissism, the NPI-40.

There is a caveat, however. I took the question to mean: do self-trackers have the overweening sense of self typical of narcissists? There are other definitions of narcissism. Many people mean “narcissism” more loosely; more or less as a synonym for “annoying.” If narcissism means annoying, then this test doesn’t resolve the issue.

Reference: The NPI-16 as a short measure of narcissism, Daniel R. Ames, Paul Rose, Cameron P. Anderson, Journal of Research in Personality 40 (2006) 440-450 (PDF)

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11 Responses to Are Self-Trackers Narcissists?

  1. Alexandra Carmichael says:

    Thanks for posting this, Gary! Interesting to see your results.
    I would add that it depends a great deal on WHY you self-track. Some people are driven to tracking by pain, health conditions, or the illness of a loved one (I hope Karen Herzog of Sophia’s Garden Foundation will come to the next QS meetup to present some of the extensive data she collected on her daughter Sophia before she passed away).
    That would be an interesting follow-up survey – why do you track?
    Also, here’s the slideshow I was planning to present at the last QS meetup before my family got sick:
    The Personal Side of Tracking – http://tr.im/gyxz

  2. Gary Wolf says:

    Great slide show.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ive always self tracked…
    However the break up of a 13 year relationship with 3 kids…and having discovered i have been married to a genuine narcissist, took me to your presentation.
    I dont agree that real narcissism and “being annoying” have any relationship whatsoever.

  4. Gary Wolf says:

    Yes – I agree. I was only pointing out that narcissism is used as a rather general insult, and that this tool doesn’t really measure many of the things that people think they mean when they say narcissism.

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  11. Will Simpson says:

    I think there is a “middle ground” between the medical use of the word narcissist and the vague “annoying”; culturally people use it to mean those that are self-obsessed, vain, or with an inflated sense of self-importance.

    However, people who take the time to reflect on themselves, and seek to make positive change in their lives, can often come up against resistance from some quarters, who often level similar charges as the poster which sparked this post. I would argue that this is more about the feelings evoked in the critic than the actual nature of the person receiving the criticism.

    When people make changes, it raises the question in those around them: “If they’re making an effort to improve themselves, why can’t I?”. Different people react in different ways, and some people respond to the threat this question poses to their notion of self by attacking what they view as the source of this “cognitive dissonance”, the conflict between the assumed “I am fine as I am” and the idea “I could improve in some way if I made effort”.

    There are issues here around self-acceptance on both sides, and speaking as one who struggles with exactly that, I’m not intending to cast judgement from a high horse. Just making an observation, for all that’s worth. But it seems to me that if a person can use the tools and strategies promoted here to aid and empower them to make positive changes to their lives, then they have a place, for those that find them useful.

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