Wondering if someone is egotistical, self-focused and vain? Ask them this.

By Laura Schocker
Updated August 07, 2014
SSPL via Getty Images

Trying to identify a narcissist? All you have to do is ask.

In a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers conducted 11 experiments involving more than 2,000 people, and found they could spot narcissistic people by simply asking them this: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: ‘I am a narcissist.’ (Note: The word ‘narcissist’ means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)”

The volunteers rated themselves on a scale from 1 (“not very true of me”) to 7 (“very true of me”), according to a release on the findings. And guess what? The answers closely mirrored how narcissistic (or not) the people really were, matching up to the results of more traditional tests measuring the personality trait.

Why are narcissists so quick to cop to such a seemingly unappealing quality? Probably because they don’t actually think it’s such a bad thing, according to the researchers.

“People who are narcissists are almost proud of the fact,” study co-author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, said in a statement. “You can ask them directly because they don't see narcissism as a negative quality—they believe they are superior to other people and are fine with saying that publicly.”

The word narcissism itself comes from the mythical Greek character Narcissus, who became besotted with the reflection of his own image. Today, it’s used both clinically, in the case of narcissistic personality disorder, which the Mayo Clinic describes as a personality disorder “in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration,” and casually to describe someone with a big ego.

The study authors believe that the trait can have serious implications for individuals, and for society.

“Those who think they are already great don't try to improve themselves,” Bushman said. “And narcissism is bad for society because people who are only thinking of themselves and their own interests are less helpful to others.”

Of course, it’s not always possible (not to mention polite) to directly ask a potential suitor or a new boss if he or she is a narcissist. Instead, check out our tips for how to spot one on the sly.