Journal of Personality Assessment, 90(4), 382–391, 2008
Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0022-3891 print / 1532-7752 online
Development and Validation of the Childhood Narcissism Scale
BRAD J. BUSHMAN,
AND JAAP DENISSEN
Department of Psychology, VU University, The Netherlands
Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan
Department of Communication Sciences, VU University, The Netherlands
In this article, we describe the development and validation of a short (10 item) but comprehensive self-report measure of childhood narcissism.
The Childhood Narcissism Scale (CNS) is a 1-dimensional measure of stable individual differences in childhood narcissism with strong internal
consistency reliability (Studies 1–4). The CNS is virtually unrelated to conventional measures of self-esteem but is positively related to self-appraised
superiority, social evaluative concern and self-esteem contingency, agentic interpersonal goals, and emotional extremity (Study 5). Furthermore,
the CNS is negatively related to empathic concern and positively related to aggression following ego threat (Study 6). These results suggest that
childhood narcissism has similar psychological and interpersonal correlates as adult narcissism. The CNS provides researchers a convenient tool
for measuring narcissism in children and young adolescents with strong preliminary psychometric characteristics.
“So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves!”
According to the Greek myth, it was this prayer by a nymph
that destined handsome Narcissus to fall in love with his own
reﬂection in the water. In modern times, the trait of narcissism
involves grandiose yet ultimately vulnerable views of self. More
often than not, these inﬂated self-views are associated with an
adversarial orientation toward others. Narcissism should not be
confused with self-esteem (e.g., Brown & Zeigler-Hill, 2004).
Self-esteem (or high self-esteem) involves a positive appraisal
of worth as a person, the feeling that one can be satisﬁed with
the person one is. In current adult literature, much interest has
revolved around the trait of narcissism and its distinctness from
self-esteem. Unfortunately, the child literature still lags behind
because a tool to assess narcissism in children is lacking. The
purpose of this article is to develop and provide preliminary
validity data on a short self-report measure of childhood narcis-
sism. In doing so, we hope to provide researchers a tool to study
an important dimension of children’s self-views that has largely
Having high self-esteem feels good, and having low self-
esteem feels bad. Perhaps spurred by this experiential fact of life,
generations of psychologists have studied the beneﬁts of high
self-esteem. Unfortunately, the data have shown that these ben-
eﬁts are much less powerful and straightforward than once as-
sumed (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003; DuBois
& Tevendale, 1999). Based on the conviction that the self should
somehow play a central role in psychological and interpersonal
functioning, researchers have argued that one should stray be-
yond the narrow focus on level of self-esteem. They have shown
Received July 18, 2006; Revised July 25, 2007.
Address correspondence to Sander Thomaes, Utrecht University, Depart-
ment of Developmental Psychology, P.O. Box 80.140, 3584 CS, Utrecht, The
Netherlands; Email: email@example.com
that favorable views of self can take qualitatively different forms,
varying from secure and genuine to vulnerable and defensive
(Crocker & Wolfe, 2001; Deci & Ryan, 1995; Jordan, Spencer,
Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003; Kernis, 2003). With
regard to vulnerable and defensive self-views, much research
has focused on the trait of narcissism (e.g., Campbell, Foster,
& Finkel, 2002; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Sedikides, Rudich,
Gregg, Kumashiro, & Rusbult, 2004; Wallace & Baumeister,
2002). In its extreme form, narcissism is a personality disorder
characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and
uniqueness, an unreasonable sense of entitlement, a craving for
admiration, exploitative tendencies toward others, and arrogance
(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,4th
ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Whereas early
research focused on narcissism as a personality disorder, con-
temporary research has focused on narcissism as a trait on which
people in the general population vary (e.g., Raskin & Terry,
An inﬂuential model of “normal narcissism” is the dynamic
self-regulatory processing model, which deﬁnes narcissism in
terms of motivated self-construction (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).
In this model, the narcissistic self is grandiose but simultane-
ously vulnerable and highly contingent on the opinions of others.
Whereas the classical Narcissus was so wrapped up in himself
that he was indifferent to the admiration of others, modern nar-
are preoccupied if not obsessed with the admiration of
others. Narcissists constantly protect and promote their esteem
using self-regulatory strategies. These self-regulatory strategies
are manifest in internal cognitive-affective processes (e.g., over-
estimating own attributes and accomplishments, viewing the self
as entitled to privileges) and in interpersonal behaviors (e.g.,
trying to impress others and garner admiration). In addition,
narcissists disregard and lack concern for others. Many of the
narcissistic characteristics are simultaneous manifestations of
In this article, we focus on narcissism as a personality trait. When referring
to narcissists, we do not (or not necessarily) refer to individuals who have a
diagnosed personality disorder.
CHILDHOOD NARCISSISM SCALE 383
grandiose views of self on one hand and an adversarial interper-
sonal orientation on the other hand (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001;
By incorporating narcissism in their work, researchers have
signiﬁcantly furthered the understanding of how the self is in-
volved in adults’ social behavior. A good example is aggression.
For decades, researchers had been unable to ﬁnd evidence for
the traditional and intuitive belief that aggression and violence
are caused by low self-esteem (for a review, see Baumeister,
Smart, & Boden, 1996). By shifting the focus away from the
simple level of self-esteem, they have been able to show that
aggression and violence instead are related to the inﬂated feel-
ings of superiority that characterize narcissism (e.g., Bushman
& Baumeister, 1998; Twenge & Campbell, 2003).
In contrast to the adult literature, the child (self-) literature has
still focused almost exclusively on level of self-esteem. Other
dimensions of children’s self-views, such as the extent to which
they are secure and genuine versus vulnerable and defensive,
are largely overlooked. Thus, psychologists may have an in-
complete picture of children’s sense of self and its impact on
psychological and interpersonal functioning. For example, the
literature on the relation between self-esteem and aggression in
children has been plagued by weak and inconsistent results as
in the adult literature (e.g., East & Rook, 1992; Hymel, Rubin,
Rowden, & LeMare, 1990; Zakriski & Coie, 1996). Incorpo-
rating the construct of childhood narcissism in developmental
research on aggression may clarify many of these inconsistent
There is also an incomplete picture of how vulnerable and
defensive self-views develop. Thus far, empirical data on the
developmental roots of narcissism have been lacking. What is
known is that the grandiose and inﬂated self-views that char-
acterize narcissism are part of normative self-development in
young children. Young children typically are unable to differ-
entiate their actual self-views from their ideal self-views (Har-
ter, 1999, 2006), which causes their self-views to be unreal-
istically positive (e.g., Marsh, Craven, & Debus, 1998). After
children are about 7 or 8 years old, they start to develop self-
views in which both positive and negative attributes coexist.
Because during this same age period children start to base their
self-views on social comparisons, their self-views typically be-
come more realistic (Harter, 1999, 2006). Theory suggests that
meaningful individual differences in narcissism emerge from
What factors inﬂuence the development of narcissism? Clin-
ical theorists have long noted that narcissism can be rooted in
dysfunctional interactions with parents. In particular, narcissism
may emerge in response to either lack of parental attention and
guidance (Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971) or excessive parental
admiration (Millon, 1981). Recent empirical work found some
support for both notions (Otway & Vignoles, 2006). Perhaps
narcissistic individuals learned in early life to put themselves
on a pedestal either to live up to parental expectations or to com-
pensate for a lack of parental warmth. Longitudinal research is
needed, however, to identify the developmental pathways of
narcissism and the factors that promote or protect against it. A
measure of childhood narcissism is a prerequisite to conducting
There are at least two reasons to believe that narcissism can be
reliably measured in childhood. First, its central components of
grandiose self-regard (e.g., Brendgen, Vitaro, Turgeon, Poulin,
& Wanner, 2004; Hughes, Cavell, & Grossman, 1997) and ad-
versarial interpersonal orientation (e.g., D. Cohen & Strayer,
1996; Hawley, 2003; Salmivalli, Ojanen, Haanp
a, & Peets,
2005; Woodall & Matthews, 1993) are commonly identiﬁed in
children. Second, narcissism is a key component of psychopathy,
which has received considerable attention in the developmental
literature (e.g., Frick, O’Brien, Wootton, & McBurnett, 1994;
Salekin & Frick, 2005).
Thus far, research on childhood narcissism has been very
rare. One cause of this dearth of research is the absence of
a childhood measure of narcissism. Two studies on narcis-
sism in children (Barry, Frick, & Killian, 2003; Washburn,
McMahon, King, Reinecke, & Silver, 2004) have used the Nar-
cissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Terry, 1988),
which was developed to measure narcissistic traits in adults.
Unfortunately, psychometric complications arose in both stud-
ies. Due to poor internal consistencies, items and even entire
subscales had to be dropped from ﬁnal analyses. Furthermore,
hard to interpret factor structures emerged that were different
from those obtained with adults. Apparently, the NPI does not
measure the same construct in children as it does in adults. The
underlying problem is that the age appropriateness of the NPI
for children is limited. Items such as “People always seem to
recognize my authority,” “I rarely depend on anyone else to get
things done,” and “If I ruled the world, it would be a better
place” are insufﬁciently geared toward children’s social reality.
Simplifying the wording of the items (as Barry et al., 2003, did)
does not solve that problem either. Another undesirable feature
of the NPI is that it contains 40 items, which can make comple-
tion of the scale time consuming and tedious for children. Given
these empirical, conceptual, and practical concerns, we deemed
it desirable to develop an age-appropriate instrument to assess
narcissism in children and young adolescents.
CHILDHOOD NARCISSISM SCALE
In line with the research literature (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001), we believe that at the core of the narcissistic personality
is a grandiose yet vulnerable view of self and an adversarial
interpersonal orientation. Importantly, these core components
are often simultaneously manifest in narcissistic characteristics.
For example, narcissists do not simply have positive self-views,
but they view themselves as “superior to others” (Brown &
Zeigler-Hill, 2004). Accordingly, we approach narcissism as a
constellation of characteristics that are reﬂective of a single un-
derlying personality dimension. Our objective was to develop a
short and comprehensive self-report measure of childhood nar-
cissism: The Childhood Narcissism Scale (CNS). Many items
of the CNS reﬂect the dynamics between a grandiose or entitled
self versus inferior or undeserving others. The CNS assesses
childhood narcissism as a personality trait (not as a personality
disorder) in the general population. Extreme scores are not nec-
essarily reﬂective of a pathological personality. The CNS can
be used in a broad developmental range from middle childhood
through adolescence. Items are positively worded so children
do not feel they are rating negative or socially undesirable traits.
384 THOMAES ET AL.
VERVIEW OF STUDIES
We conducted six studies to develop and provide validity
data on the CNS. Participants were 8 to 14 years old. Study 1
involved selection of items. In Studies 2 (Dutch participants)
and 3 (American participants), we cross-validated the scale. In
Study 4, we examined the test–retest reliability over 2- and 6-
month time intervals. In Study 5, we focused on the relationship
between childhood narcissism and self-esteem and how both
traits relate to important indexes of children’s psychological
and interpersonal functioning. In Study 6, we examined the link
between childhood narcissism and empathy as well as the link
between childhood narcissism and aggression in response to ego
STUDY 1: SCALE DEVELOPMENT
The purpose of Study 1 was to select items for the ﬁnal version
of the CNS from a pool of possible items. In addition, we wanted
to empirically explore the possible factor structure of the ﬁnal
version of the CNS.
Participants were 300 children (51% boys)
10 to 13 years old (M = 11.3, SD = 0.6). We recruited them
from six randomly selected public schools in the Netherlands
(parental consent rate = 92%). Most children (91%) were White;
9% had other (e.g., North African, Turkish) or mixed ethni-
Initial item pool. The initial item-pool contained 48 items
that (a) describe age-appropriate cognitions, affects, and behav-
iors and (b) tap a comprehensive range of characteristics central
to narcissism. We wrote the items based on the narcissistic char-
acteristics cited in the literature (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001)
or used in existing measures of narcissism or related constructs
(i.e., the NPI: Raskin & Terry, 1988; Psychological Entitlement
Scale: Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, & Bushman, 2004;
and the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory: Andershed, Kerr,
Stattin, & Levander, 2002). Consistent with the literature, many
items tapped both grandiose self-views and an adversarial inter-
personal orientation. Consistent with other self-view measures
(e.g., Self-Esteem Scale; Rosenberg, 1965), items were scored
on a 4-point Likert-type response scale with 0 = not at all true,
1 = not really true, 2 = sort of true, and 3 = completely true.
Procedure. Children completed the scale in their class-
rooms during school hours. A research assistant introduced the
study, emphasized conﬁdentiality of responses, and encouraged
children to ask questions if they had difﬁculty understanding
Results and Discussion
We selected items from the initial item pool to create a short
measure of childhood narcissism covering a comprehensive
range of narcissistic characteristics. As a ﬁrst step, we selected
items on empirical grounds. We selected items that had high
(>.50) item-total correlations but that did not correlate more
than .60 with any of the other selected items. The last crite-
rion was used to ensure nonredundancy among the selected
items. After this ﬁrst step in the selection procedure, we re-
tained 20 items. As a second step, we selected items on concep-
tual grounds. S. Thomaes, H. Stegge, B. Bushman, and T. Olthof
individually indicated what remaining items they considered es-
sential to the content domain of narcissism. We excluded items
not mentioned by at least two authors. The ﬁnal scale consisted
of 10 items (see Appendix). Careful examination of the retained
and the deleted items suggested that no aspects of narcissism
were lost in the selection process. Indeed, the unit-weighted sum
of the 10 items in the ﬁnal scale correlated almost perfectly with
the unit-weighted sum of the 48 items in the initial item pool,
r(298) = .91, p<.0001.
To empirically explore the factor structure of the CNS, we
conducted principal components analysis. Results revealed a
single-factor solution (based on a criterion eigenvalue of 1.0
and an inspection of the scree plot). Factor 1 had an eigenvalue
of 4.12 and explained 41% of the total variance in the set of 10
items. Results from a parallel analysis (Glorfeld, 1995; Zwick &
Velicer, 1986) with 100 random data sets containing 300 partic-
ipants and 10 variables indicated that the eigenvalue of Factor 1
was signiﬁcantly higher than expected by chance (1.39), which
was not the case for any additional factors. The item loadings on
the single factor ranged from .53 to .74. Cronbach’s alpha for the
scale was .84. Skewness (.76) and kurtosis (.10) estimates indi-
cated adequate normality for the scale. The mean score was 0.63
(SD = 0.49). In summary, the results from Study 1 suggest that
the ﬁnal version of the CNS is an internally consistent, normally
distributed, single-factor measure of childhood narcissism.
STUDY 2: DUTCH CROSS-VALIDATION
The purpose of Study 2 was to conﬁrm in a separate sam-
ple that a one-dimensional factor structure best represents the
variability in the CNS items.
Participants were 1,020 children (51% boys)
8 to 13 years old (M = 11.5, SD = 0.8). We recruited them from
24 randomly selected public schools throughout the Netherlands
(parental consent rate = 86%). The level of urbanization and
socioeconomic status of the regions where the schools were
located are representative of the Netherlands. Most children
were White (81%); 19% had other (e.g., North African, Turkish,
Surinam, Dutch Antillean) or mixed ethnical/cultural origins.
Procedure. Children completed the CNS in their class-
rooms during school hours.
Results and Discussion
Descriptive statistics for the items are presented in Table 1
(Panel A). Cronbach’s alpha was .82. CNS scores were normally
distributed (skewness = 0.48; kurtosis = –0.12). The mean score
was 0.81 (SD = 0.51).
Based on the results from Study 1, we tested a single-factor
model for the CNS by means of conﬁrmatory factor analy-
sis using M-Plus (Muth
en & Muth
en, 1998–2004). We freely
estimated all factor loadings, and we did not allow residual cor-
relations between items. We set the metric of the latent variable
at 1 for the loading of the ﬁrst item. The observed correlations
between the item scores of the 10 CNS items constituted the ma-
trix of analysis. Although the chi-square statistic was signiﬁcant,
(35, N = 1,020) = 140.40, p<.001, signiﬁcant chi-square
values are often found in large samples (Bollen, 1989; Kline,
1998). Better measures of model ﬁt in large samples are the
CHILDHOOD NARCISSISM SCALE 385
TABLE 1.—Descriptive statistics of CNS items in Study 2 and Study 3.
CNS1 CNS2 CNS3 CNS4 CNS5 CNS6 CNS7 CNS8 CNS9 CNS10
Panel A: Study 2
M 0.76 0.49 0.65 0.67 1.39 1.08 0.69 0.71 0.90 0.76
SD 0.82 0.76 0.79 0.77 0.98 0.91 0.82 0.77 0.82 0.81
.45 .43 .54 .44 .57 .48 .52 .52 .56 .52
Panel B: Study 3
M 1.73 0.72 0.99 1.06 1.68 1.07 1.88 1.80 1.49 1.29
SD 1.00 0.87 0.96 0.85 0.96 0.92 0.92 0.82 0.80 0.80
.37 .48 .46 .43 .50 .38 .47 .28 .54 .32
Note. CNS = Childhood Narcissism Scale.
Correlation between the item of interest and the remaining nine items.
root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), the com-
parative ﬁt index (CFI), and the non-normed ﬁt index (NFI).
For the RMSEA, lower values indicate better ﬁt; the reverse is
true for the CFI and NFI (Hu & Bentler, 1999). These indexes
indicated that a single-factor model provided adequate ﬁt to the
data, RMSEA = .05 (90% conﬁdence interval = .05–.06); CFI
= .95; NFI = .94. Standardized factor loadings ranged from
.47 to .64 and were signiﬁcant at the .05 level in all cases.
In summary, consistent with the results of Study 1, Study 2
shows that a one-dimensional factor structure underlies the CNS.
The single-factor model for the CNS is presented in Figure 1
STUDY 3: ENGLISH CROSS-VALIDATION
The purpose of Study 3 was to test the psychometric proper-
ties of the English version of the CNS.
Participants were 249 American children
(53% boys) 10 to 14 years old (M = 12.5, SD = 0.9). They were
recruited from two public middle schools in Michigan (parental
consent rate = 28%). Most children were White (96%); 4% had
other (e.g., Hispanic, Asian) or mixed ethnical/cultural origins.
Procedure. The original Dutch version of the CNS was
translated into English by a bilingual professional translator. A
bilingual psychologist translated the English version back into
Dutch to verify that all items had retained their original meaning.
The Flesch Kinkaid score was 4.6, suggesting a fourth to ﬁfth
grade reading level for the scale. Children completed the CNS
at their schools.
Results and Discussion
Descriptive statistics for the items are presented in Table 1
(Panel B). The mean CNS score in the U.S. sample (M = 1.37;
SD = 0.50) was signiﬁcantly higher than the mean CNS score in
the combined Dutch samples in Studies 1 and 2, F (1, 1567) =
296.76, p<.001, d = 1.21. Although it is difﬁcult to directly
compare narcissism scores from Dutch and American children,
this result is consistent with the ﬁnding that adult narcissism is
highest in societies that place more emphasis on individualism,
independence, and standing out (Foster, Campbell, & Twenge,
2003). Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was .76. CNS scores
were normally distributed (skewness = –0.02; kurtosis = –0.45).
Conﬁrmatory factor analysis revealed that again, a single-factor
model provided adequate ﬁt to the data, χ
(35, N = 248) =
FIGURE 1.—Standardized factor loadings and standardized unique error vari-
ances for the Dutch version (Panel A; Study 2) and the English version (Panel
B; Study 3) of the Childhood Narcissism Scale (CNS). All loadings were
386 THOMAES ET AL.
54.60, p = .02; RMSEA = .05 (90% conﬁdence interval = .02–
.07); CFI = .95; NFI = .93. Standardized factor loadings ranged
from .34 to .60 and were signiﬁcant in all cases. In summary,
the English CNS is a normally distributed, one-dimensional
measure of childhood narcissism with good internal consistency.
The single-factor model for the English CNS is presented in
Figure 1 (Panel B).
STUDY 4: TEST–RETEST RELIABILITY
The purpose of Study 4 was to examine the test–retest relia-
bility of the CNS over short-term (2-month) and medium-term
(6-month) time intervals.
We computed test–retest reliability estimates
in two samples of Dutch children. Sample 1 (2-month interval)
consisted of 142 children (57% boys; M age at Time 1 = 11.7,
SD = 1.0; parental consent = 88%). Sample 2 (6-month interval)
consisted of 160 children (54% boys; M age at Time 1 = 10.8,
SD = 1.0; parental consent = 85%).
Results and Discussion
Sample 1: Two-month interval.
At Time 1, the mean CNS
score was 0.79 (SD = 0.53). Cronbach’s alpha was .85. At Time
2 (2 months later), the mean CNS score was 0.77 (SD = 0.55).
Cronbach’s alpha was .87. Most important, the 2-month test–
retest correlation was r(140) = .76, p<.0001.
Sample 2: Six-month interval. At Time 1, the mean CNS
score was 0.85 (SD = 0.63). Cronbach’s alpha was .87. At Time
2 (6 months later), the mean CNS score was 0.68 (SD = 0.57).
Cronbach’s alpha was .87. Most important, the 6-month test–
retest correlation was r(158) = .69, p<.0001.
The results from both samples indicate that the CNS has good
STUDY 5: SELF-ESTEEM AND CHILDREN’S
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND INTERPERSONAL FUNCTIONING
Study 5 had two purposes. First, we examined the relationship
between the CNS and other measures of children’s self-views
including self-esteem and self-appraised superiority. Second,
we examined the possible differential relationships of the CNS
and self-esteem to some important indexes of children’s psy-
chological and interpersonal functioning (i.e., social evaluative
concern and self-esteem contingency, interpersonal goals, and
Because narcissists are self-aggrandizing and feel superior to
others, it is often thought that narcissism is simply excessively
high self-esteem. Contrary to this idea, the link between narcis-
sism and self-esteem in adults is moderate at best (correlations
In addition to our main purpose of examining the psychometric properties
of the English CNS, we also tested the extent to which the factor structure of the
CNS is invariant across language versions. We ﬁrst estimated language-speciﬁc
models and then constrained factor loadings to be equal across languages. The
resulting difference was signiﬁcant, χ
(9, N = 1269) = 23.54, p< .01.
Closer inspection indicated that this was due to higher factor loadings for Items
8 and 10 in the Dutch solution; when these loadings were freed, the difference
in ﬁt was no longer signiﬁcant, χ
(7, N = 1269) = 8.92, p = .26.
< .30). Adult narcissism is only strongly correlated with self-
view measures that capture the extent to which one sees the self
as superior to others or as interpersonally dominant (Brown &
More evidence for the distinctiveness of narcissism and self-
esteem is that both constructs have different psychological and
interpersonal correlates. Three critical differences have been
identiﬁed in the empirical literature. First, narcissistic self-views
are highly contingent on external evaluations. Narcissists gain
and lose self-worth quickly according to how others view them.
This might explain the apparent paradox that narcissists are self-
obsessed but at the same time greatly concerned about external
evaluations (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). In contrast, normal,
healthy forms of self-esteem are stable and relatively indepen-
dent of the appraisals of others (e.g., Rudolph, Caldwell, &
Conley, 2005). Second, narcissistic self-views reﬂect agentic but
not communal concerns (Campbell, Bosson, Goheen, Lakey, &
Kernis, 2007; Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002; Paulhus,
2001). Narcissists attach importance to gaining admiration and
establishing dominance over others (i.e., agentic concerns); they
care less about establishing close relationships with others (i.e.,
communal concerns). In contrast, individuals with high self-
esteem have a more communal orientation (Salmivalli et al.,
2005). Third, narcissistic individuals tend to experience high
levels of both positive (e.g., euphoria, pride) and negative (e.g.,
anger, shame) affect, particularly in response to self-relevant
feedback (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). In contrast, individuals
with high self-esteem are prone to experience positive but not
negative affect. Indeed, emotional well-being probably is the
greatest asset of self-esteem (Baumeister et al., 2003).
Because a basic assumption underlying our research was that
narcissism is a similar construct in children and adults (Barry
et al., 2003; Frick, Bodin, & Barry, 2000; Washburn et al., 2004),
we predicted that CNS-measured childhood narcissism and self-
esteem would be relatively independent. We also predicted that
childhood narcissism and self-esteem would be differentially
associated with self-esteem contingency and social evaluative
concerns, interpersonal goals, and emotionality.
Participants were 238 children (47% boys)
8 to 13 years old (M = 11.5, SD = 0.9). We recruited them
from six randomly selected public schools in the Netherlands
(parental consent rate = 82%). Most children were White (81%);
19% had other (e.g., North African, Surinam) or mixed ethni-
Measurement instruments. Children completed self-report
and peer-report measures in their classrooms. We assessed nar-
cissism using the CNS. We assessed self-esteem using the 10-
item Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). A sample item in-
cludes “On the whole, I am satisﬁed with myself.” Items are
rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (strongly disagree)to3
(strongly agree). Responses are summed, with higher scores in-
dicating higher levels of self-esteem. Conbach’s alpha was .84.
Self-esteem was also assessed using the 6-item Global Self-
Worth subscale of the Self-Perception Proﬁle for Children
(Harter, 1985). A sample item includes “Some kids like the
kind of person they are. How much are you like these kids?”
Following others (e.g., Brendgen et al., 2004), we used a 4-point
scale response format ranging from 0 (I am not like these kids at
CHILDHOOD NARCISSISM SCALE 387
all)to3(I am exactly like these kids). Responses are summed.
Cronbach’s alpha was .87. Because neither Rosenberg’s Self-
Esteem Scale and Harter’s Global Self-Worth subscale allows
for claims of superiority, we expected childhood narcissism to
be only weakly associated with self-esteem.
We assessed self-appraised superiority with the Me Versus
Other Scale (Campbell et al., 2004), which measures how one
sees the self relative to others. It consists of seven images, each
containing a “me” circle and several “other” circles. The other
circles are the same size in all 7 images. The me circle varies
in size from about one ﬁfth of the size of the other circles in
Image 1 to about three times the size of the other circles in
Image 7. Children select the image that reﬂects best how they
see themselves compared to others. Thus, this scale explicitly
allows for claims of superiority (i.e., me bigger than other). We
expected childhood narcissism to be positively associated with
the size of the me image selected.
We assessed social evaluative concerns with the eight-item
Fear of Negative Evaluation subscale of the Social Anxiety
Scale–Revised (LaGreca & Stone, 1993). A sample item in-
cludes “I worry what other kids say about me.” Items are rated
along a 5-point scale ranging from 0 (not at all)to4(all the
time), and responses are summed. Cronbach’s alpha was .90.
The extent to which children’s self-views are contingent on oth-
ers’ appraisals was assessed with the 8-item Need for Approval
Questionnaire (Rudolph et al., 2005). This questionnaire in-
cludes a subscale for positive self-esteem contingency (sample
item: “When other kids like me, I feel happier about myself”)
and a subscale for negative self-esteem contingency (sample
item: “When other kids don’t like me, I feel down on myself”).
Items are rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 0 (not at all)to4
(very much), and responses are summed to create total scale as
well as subscale scores. Cronbach’s alpha was .89 for the total
scale, .87 for the Positive Self-Esteem Contingency subscale,
and .89 for the Negative Self-Esteem Contingency subscale. We
expected childhood narcissism to be positively associated with
both social evaluative concerns and self-esteem contingency.
We assessed social goals with the 33-item Interpersonal Goals
Inventory for Children (Ojanen, Gronroos, & Salmivalli, 2005),
which is based on the interpersonal circumplex model (Gurt-
man, 1992; Locke, 2000). The measure comprises eight goal
subscales representing different blends of agentic goals (sample
item: “When with your age-mates, how important is it for you
that the others respect and admire you?”) and communal goals
(sample item: “When with your age-mates, how important is
it for you that real friendship develops between you?”). Items
are rated along a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (not important
to me)to3(very important to me), and responses are summed.
Cronbach’s alphas for the individual goal scales ranged from
.58 to .72. We computed vector scores for the dimensions of
agency (i.e., striving for power and getting admiration vs. sub-
missively going along with others expectations) and communion
(i.e., striving for closeness and afﬁliation with peers vs. conceal-
ing one’s thoughts and feelings) from the individual goal scales
(Ojanen et al., 2005). We expected childhood narcissism to be
positively associated with agentic goals and to be negatively
associated with communal goals.
We assessed children’s emotionality with the 30-item Positive
and Negative Affect Schedule for Children (Laurent et al., 1999).
This measure assesses the extent to which children experience
positive affect (Cronbach’s α = .83; sample items: “happy,” “ac-
tive,” “proud”) and negative affect (Cronbach’s α = .91; sample
items: “sad,” “lonely,” “ashamed”) in their day-to-day lives as
emotional traits rather than as emotional states. Items are rated
along a 5-point scale ranging from 0 (very slightly or not at all )
to 4 (extremely), and responses are summed. Because narcissists
tend to experience emotional extremes, we expected childhood
narcissism to be positively associated with both positive and
We assessed social desirability with the 9-item Lie scale of
the Revised Child Manifest Anxiety Scale (Reynolds & Rich-
mond, 1978; Cronbach’s α = .73; sample item: “I never lie”).
Responses are given using a dichotomous (yes–no) response
format and summed. We expected childhood narcissism to be
uncorrelated with social desirability (e.g., Watson, Grisham,
Trotter, & Biderman, 1984).
Results and Discussion
The mean CNS score was 0.82 (SD = 0.47). Cronbach’s
alpha was .80. Importantly, we found no signiﬁcant correlation
between childhood narcissism and social desirability, r(236)
= –.07, p< .26, suggesting that children’s CNS scores are
little inﬂuenced by their tendencies toward socially desirable
Self-esteem and self-appraised superiority. As expected,
childhood narcissism was only weakly correlated with the
measures of self-esteem [Harter’s Global Self-Worth subscale:
r(236) = .08, p<.24; Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale: r(236)
= .14, p<.04]. A positive correlation was found between child-
hood narcissism and the size of the me circle children choose on
the Me Versus Other Scale, r(236) = .34, p<.001, suggesting
that narcissistic children tend to view themselves as superior to
Vulnerability to external evaluations. Because the two
self-esteem measures (i.e., Harter’s Global Self-Worth subscale
and Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale) were highly correlated (r =
.69) and had highly similar correlates, we created an aggregate
self-esteem score by summing the 16 self-esteem items (Cron-
bach’s α = .90). The self-esteem ﬁndings we report follow-
ing are based on this aggregate score. Results are presented in
As expected, childhood narcissism was positively correlated
with children’s concern with being negatively evaluated by
peers. Childhood narcissism was also positively correlated with
self-esteem contingency. Children high in narcissism tended to
TABLE 2.—Zero-order correlations between childhood narcissism, self-esteem,
and the other variables.
Measure CNS Self-Esteem Aggregate
Fear of negative evaluation .21*** –.43***
Self-esteem contingency .37*** –.29***
Positive self-esteem contingency .37*** –.09
Negative self-esteem contingency .24*** –.41***
Agentic goals .33*** .05
Communal goals –.16* .25***
Positive affect .23*** .42***
Negative affect .18** –.46***
Note. CNS = Childhood Narcissism Scale.
*p<.05, two-tailed. **p<.01, two-tailed. ***p<.001, two-tailed.
388 THOMAES ET AL.
report greater increase in self-feelings when receiving positive
peer evaluations and greater decrease in self-feelings when re-
ceiving negative peer evaluations. In contrast, individuals with
high self-esteem reported less social evaluative concern and less
self-esteem contingency. These results are consistent with the
view that narcissistic self-views are relatively vulnerable to ex-
ternal evaluations, whereas normal, healthy forms of self-esteem
Interpersonal goals. As expected, childhood narcissism
was positively correlated to agentic interpersonal goals and
tended to be negatively associated with communal interper-
sonal goals, although the magnitude of the last correlation was
small. These results suggest that childhood narcissism reﬂects
children’s investments in getting respect and establishing domi-
nance over others rather than in establishing close relationships
with others. Self-esteem was positively associated with commu-
nal goals but not with agentic goals.
Emotionality. Small but signiﬁcant positive correlations
were found between childhood narcissism and both positive and
negative affect, which suggests that narcissistic children tend to
experience more “emotional highs” and “emotional lows” than
others. Narcissism therefore appears to be a mixed blessing in
terms of emotional well-being. In contrast, self-esteem was pos-
itively associated with positive affect and negatively associated
with negative affect.
CNS-measured childhood narcissism and self-esteem are
largely independent constructs that are differentially related to
social evaluative concern and self-esteem contingency, interper-
sonal goals, and emotionality. Together, these results suggest
that the CNS may be a valuable tool for researchers interested
in the functioning of children’s self.
STUDY 6: EMPATHY AND AGGRESSION
The purpose of Study 6 was to examine two core elements
of narcissists’ adversarial interpersonal orientation: (a) lack of
empathic concern for others and (b) the propensity to respond
to ego threat by aggressing against others. Narcissists’ lack of
empathy is particularly evident in that their preoccupation with
self-promotion often comes at the expense of others. For exam-
ple, narcissists tend to downgrade others to place themselves
in a more favorable light and are instrumentally exploitative in
social relationships (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). In adults,
several studies have shown that narcissism is negatively linked
with empathy (e.g., Bushman, Bonacci, Van Dijk, & Baumeis-
ter, 2003; Watson et al., 1984). In addition, there is converging
evidence that narcissists are prone to engage in violent and ag-
gressive behavior when their egos are threatened (e.g., Bushman
& Baumeister, 1998; Twenge & Campbell, 2003). Aggression
is thought to enable narcissists to uphold their inﬂated public
image and to protect their fragile self-esteem. We therefore pre-
dicted that childhood narcissism would be negatively related to
self-reported and peer-reported empathy and positively related
to self-reported and peer-reported aggression.
Participants were 280 children (55% boys) 9
to 14 years old (M = 11.7, SD = 1.0). We recruited them from
six randomly selected public schools throughout The Nether-
lands (parental consent rate = 84%). Most children were White
(76%); 23% had other (e.g., Turkish, Surinam) or mixed ethni-
Procedure. Children completed the CNS and self-report
and peer-report measures of empathy and aggression in their
classrooms. The self-report measure of empathy was the well-
established 22-item Index of Empathy for Children and Ado-
lescents (Bryant, 1982; Cronbach’s α = .72; sample item: “It
makes me sad to see a girl who can’t ﬁnd anyone to play
with”). We adapted our peer-nomination measure of empathy
from the 6-item, best-friend-rated, empathy procedure (Strayer
& Roberts, 2004; Cronbach’s α = .93; sample item: “These kids
feel bad if they see another kid without a friend to play with”).
Children nominated up to four classmates who best ﬁt each item.
We summed the number of nominations children received and
standardized them separately for each classroom to correct for
differences in classroom size.
To measure the speciﬁc type of aggression that narcissists
typically engage in (i.e., aggression in response to ego threat),
we developed an 8-item self-report aggression measure (Cron-
bach’s α = .71; sample item: “Some kids take revenge when
they are ridiculed by others. How much are you like these
kids?”) and a peer-nomination aggression measure consisting
of the same items (Cronbach’s α = .96; sample item: “These
kids take revenge when they are ridiculed by others”).
Results and Discussion
The mean CNS score was 0.78 (SD = 0.53). Cronbach’s alpha
was .84. As predicted, small but signiﬁcant negative associations
were found between narcissism and empathic concern for others
[self-report r(278) = –.15,p<.02; peer-report r(278) = –.23,
p<.001]. In contrast, narcissism was positively correlated with
aggression against others in ego-threatening situations [self-
report r(278) = .26, p<.001; peer-report r(278) = .21, p<
.001]. Importantly, the association between narcissism and self-
reported and peer-reported aggression remained signiﬁcant after
controlling for empathy [self-report semipartial r(278) = .22,
p<.001; peer-report semipartial r(278) = .13, p<.03].
In summary, in this study, we provided initial evidence that
narcissistic children tend to have an adversarial interpersonal
orientation. They show reduced empathic concern for others
and tend to behave aggressively against others in response to
ego-threatening situations. Furthermore, the results suggest that
narcissists’ aggressive tendencies are not fully explained by
their lack of empathy, leaving room for the notion that narcis-
sistic aggression is at least partly motivated by self-protective
The purpose of this article was to develop and provide validity
data on a short and comprehensive self-report measure of child-
hood narcissism, the CNS. In a series of six studies, the CNS
was shown to have good reliability and validity. We hope that
the CNS provides researchers a tool for measuring narcissism in
children and young adolescents. By jointly considering the op-
eration of narcissism and self-esteem, psychologists are likely
to gain a more comprehensive picture of children’s self-views
and their impact on well-being and adaptation.
CHILDHOOD NARCISSISM SCALE 389
In Studies 1 through 4, we provided information regarding the
psychometric properties of the CNS. The CNS appeared to be
a one-dimensional measure of stable individual differences in
childhood narcissism with good internal consistency. In Studies
5 and 6, we revealed some of the psychological and interpersonal
correlates of childhood narcissism. In these studies, we provided
initial evidence that childhood narcissism ﬁts in the same nomo-
logical network as adult narcissism. Speciﬁcally, in Study 5, we
focused on the distinctions between childhood narcissism and
normal, healthy self-esteem. As predicted, childhood narcis-
sism was positively associated with self-appraised superiority
but largely independent of self-esteem. The self-views of chil-
dren high in narcissism tended to be vulnerable, and contingent
on external appraisals, whereas the self-views of children high
in self-esteem tended to be relatively impervious to external
appraisals. Narcissistic children appeared to have agentic so-
cial goals, whereas children with high self-esteem appeared to
have communal social goals. Also, childhood narcissism was
associated with emotional extremity, whereas self-esteem was
associated with emotional well-being. In addition to these ﬁnd-
ings, in Study 6, we provided initial evidence for the notion that
narcissistic children tend to have an adversarial interpersonal
orientation. Childhood narcissism was negatively related to em-
pathic concern and positively related to aggression following
Obviously, much more research is needed before we are able
to draw a full picture of children holding narcissistic traits.
The studies reported here suggest a picture of children who
are not necessarily satisﬁed with who they are but do believe
they are better than others. Narcissistic children seek to domi-
nate social interactions, to impress others, and to gain admira-
tion, whereas they seem to care less about establishing genuine
friendships or close relationships. They tend to have deﬁcien-
cies in sharing emotions and placing the self in the position
of others. Finally, narcissistic children seem ego involved and
emotionally invested in interpersonal and evaluative situations.
When they receive criticism, or when they are ridiculed or
rejected by their peers, they tend to lash out aggressively in
A remaining issue concerns the gender differences associated
with the CNS. Because gender differences were not a central is-
sue of our research, we did not report them for the independent
studies. We conducted a meta-analysis on the seven indepen-
dent studies (N = 2,389 children) reported in this article. Boys
tended to be somewhat more narcissistic than girls. The aver-
age standardized mean difference was d
= 0.24, with a 95%
conﬁdence interval ranging from 0.16 to 0.32. This effect is
similar in magnitude to J. Cohen’s (1988) conventional value
for a small effect (i.e., d = 0.20). This small gender differ-
ence is consistent with ﬁndings from adult studies (Foster et al.,
2003). Also, it is consistent with past research that has shown
that boys tend to view themselves more favorably (e.g., Harter,
2006), are more socially dominant (e.g., Maccoby, 1990), and
are less empathic (e.g., Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006) than
Limitations and Future Research
We hope that the availability of the CNS will stimulate more
researchers to study childhood narcissism. One limitation of
this study is that we focused rather narrowly on how the key
manifestations of childhood narcissism can be distinguished
from children’s level of self-esteem. Future research is needed
to show how childhood narcissism can be distinguished from
other dimensions of children’s self-views (e.g., stability of self-
esteem), from other personality dimensions (e.g., childhood psy-
chopathy), and from overlapping child characteristics that reﬂect
normative development (e.g., normative self-overestimation in
young children; David & Kistner, 2000; Harter, 2006).
A second limitation is that we did not establish the age when
narcissism can be meaningfully assessed in children. The sam-
ples we used in this research included Dutch children 8 to 14
years old and American children 10 to 14 years old. The CNS
may well be administered in children older than 14. A more
complicated issue is whether the CNS may be administered
in children younger than 8. Until middle childhood, children
typically have unrealistically positive self-views and lack the
capacity to base their self-views on social comparisons (Harter,
2006; Marsh et al., 1998). Research is needed to establish to
what extent these features of normative self-development limit
the meaningful assessment of individual differences in narcis-
sism among young children.
A third limitation is that inevitably, the CNS was not grounded
in a thorough knowledge base of the development of narcissism.
We do not know, for example, to what extent childhood narcis-
sism is stable over longer periods of time. The availability of the
CNS allows researchers to start studying how narcissistic traits
develop from their early origins into adulthood. Theory (Kern-
berg, 1975; Kohut, 1971; Millon, 1981) and some empirical re-
search (Otway & Vignoles, 2006) has suggested that narcissistic
individuals have developed a strong need to get attention and
admiration due to disturbed attachment relationships in early
life. Further empirical research should identify the constellation
of factors that promote and protect against the development of
We have examined how childhood narcissism relates to
some important psychological and interpersonal indexes such
as children’s emotional well-being, social goals, and aggres-
sive behavior. Other promising areas to explore in relation to
narcissism include children’s prosocial behavior (e.g., helping
others, empathy- and sympathy-related responding), emotional
development (e.g., emotion regulation, emotion understanding,
emotion expression), peer relations (e.g., sociometric status,
friendship formation and maintenance, the impact of peer re-
jection), and risk status for psychopathology (to what extent
does narcissism promote—or protect against—the development
of psychological symptoms). Further, normative data for differ-
ent populations will be necessary for the CNS transition from a
research tool to an instrument with clinical applicability.
From the 1980s, the notion that we should teach children
to feel good about themselves has deeply entrenched Western
conceptions of childrearing and education. However, numer-
ous researchers and theorists have come to question the value
of bolstering self-views as a primary goal for raising and ed-
ucating children (e.g., Damon, 1995; DuBois & Tevendale,
1999; Seligman, 1998; Stout, 2001). A major concern is that
childrearing and educational practices aimed at bolstering chil-
dren’s self-views may actually cultivate an excessive focus on
the self and an inﬂated sense of entitlement and of being special,
390 THOMAES ET AL.
self-characteristics that are strongly associated with narcissism.
In support of that notion, research on generational differences
shows that narcissism is much more common among children in
today’s young generations than in previous ones (Twenge, 2006;
Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell, & Bushman, in press). Re-
search on cultural differences and socialization practices pre-
dicts that childhood narcissism levels will remain high as long as
socialization practices emphasize individualism, independence,
and the primary importance of the self (Foster et al., 2003;
Otway & Vignoles, 2006). The CNS provides researchers a tool
to assess narcissistic self-views in children, which have become
more prevalent in modern Western society.
We are grateful to the students, teachers, and principals of
the participating schools for their kind cooperation. We thank
Zoreh Aazam, Yoast van Baardewijk, Lotte Brinkman, Gulistan
Chalabi, Leonore Daalderop, Evelien Gooren, Chris Howard,
Alissa Hull, Hilde Noordam, Martine Schoonenberg, Marieke
Stilma, Gea de Vries, and Ali Yalcin for their help with data
collection. Thanks are also due to Marjolijn Vermande who
generously provided us CNS data that she collected for her
own research projects. This research was supported in part by a
Fulbright scholarship to S. Thomaes.
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The Childhood Narcissism Scale
Please circle the answer that ﬁts your opinion best.
1. I think it’s important to stand out.
2. Kids like me deserve something extra.
3. Without me, our class would be much less fun.
4. It often happens that other kids get the compliments that I
5. I love showing all the things I can do.
6. I am very good at making other people believe what I want
them to believe.
7. I am a very special person.
8. I am a great example for other kids to follow.
9. I often succeed in getting admiration.
10. I like to think about how incredibly nice I am.
Note: Responses are scored using a 4-point scale ranging
from 0 (not at all true)to3(completely true). Responses are
summed, with higher scores indicating higher levels of narcis-
sism. The Dutch version of the Childhood Narcissism Scale can
be obtained from S. Thomaes.