Validity aspects of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, narcissistic personality disorder construct

Compr Psychiatry. Sep-Oct 2011;52(5):517-26. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.11.001. Epub 2010 Dec 28.


Background: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Fourth Edition, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) construct has been criticized for being too narrowly defined, for example, by focusing on overt grandiosity at the expense of exhibitionism and narcissistic vulnerability and thus covering only parts of the domain of narcissism. The purpose of this study was to elucidate several validity aspects of the NPD construct.

Methods: The material consisted of data from 2277 patients (80% of whom had a personality disorder [PD]) who were admitted to units connected to The Norwegian Network of Psychotherapeutic Day Hospitals. The Axis II diagnoses were assessed by Structured Clinical Interview for DSM, Fourth Edition, Axis II Personality Disorders.

Results: The frequency of NPD was very low (0.8%). Male patients were overrepresented both on a diagnostic level and on criteria levels. The NPD category was positively associated with other cluster B disorders and negatively associated with avoidant PD. The criteria "demands excessive admiration" and "fantasies of unlimited success" correlated almost as highly with the histrionic PD category and loaded primarily on a histrionic factor. The dominant NPD factor also included the antisocial criterion of "showing no regret having injured others." The major part of the patients' personality pathology could be attributed to other PD criteria.

Conclusions: The results challenge the notion of NPD as a distinct diagnostic category. Rather, narcissism should be conceived as personality dimensions pertinent to the whole range of PDs. The results support the views put forward by Russ et al (Refining the construct of narcissistic personality disorder: diagnostic criteria and subtypes. Am J Psychiatry 2008;11:1473-1481) that what clinicians conceive as narcissism consists of several subtypes (dimensions). Our data support the existence of a grandiose/malignant type and an exhibitionistic type. Unfortunately, there was no measure of hypersensitivity. The proposal to delete NPD as a prototype category in the DSM, Fifth Edition, seems well justified. However, the proposed trait domain of antagonism in the DSM, Fifth Edition, seems to account better for the grandiose/malignant dimension than the exhibitionistic/histrionic dimension.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Personality Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results*
  • Severity of Illness Index