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A new study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has argued that while narcissists still have the tell-tale characteristics of being grandiose, greedy, insensitive, and morally indifferent, they often lack what is thought to be the defining characteristic – talking about themselves.

The study says that narcissists using the pronoun ‘I’ more frequently than the general population is a myth; narcissism research originally published in 1988 discovered this pattern, but has since been debunked because of its small sample size of just 48 subjects. Students applying for Experimental Psychology should consider how sample sizes impact upon the efficacy of an experiment.

Angela Carey, of the University of Arizona, sought to recreate the experiment to test the results and discovered that there was no statistically significant correlation between narcissism and the use of ‘I’ in general speech. She discovered a slightly higher tendency for men to use I than women, and no variation attributable to age.

Carey theorizes that this intuitive notion of narcissists using ‘I’ can be explained by an assumption that people who exude confidence and cockiness give the impression of using ‘I’ more than others, whether this is reflective of reality or not. President Obama, for example, was criticised in his first term for using ‘I’ too much, when in reality, he scored far lower than modern US presidents.

Linguistics and English students should consider how linguistic choices are often perceived to be reflections of the user, and in particular how linguistic choice or dialect is used to marginalise social groups.

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