7 Ways To Tell If You're Talking To A Psychopath Or A Narcissist

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Shana Lebowitz

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Researchers and other experts have pinpointed some key behaviors of narcissists and psychopaths in conversation.

Those behaviors include repeating the same false stories and using offensive language.


Remember though: Even if you recognize some of these signs in a friend or coworker, you should leave the diagnosis to a mental-health professional.

Generally speaking, you shouldn't walk around looking to diagnose your friends and coworkers as psychopaths and narcissists.

If someone looks over your shoulder while you're talking or seems weirdly distant, there's a good chance they're just having an off day and don't have a pathological problem.

That said, if you notice a pattern of unusual behavior, it might very well warrant more attention.


We looked into the scientific literature and some expert insights to find out the most common conversational behaviors associated with psychopathy and narcissism.

Read on to see if you've noticed any of the following in people you know — or in yourself.

Psychopaths tend to speak slowly and quietly

A 2016 review of studies, published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior and highlighted on Inc., found that psychopaths tend to speak slowly and control their speech more so than non-psychopaths.


They also use fewer emotional words, keeping a relatively neutral tone.

Psychopaths tend to use more past-tense verbs

That's according to the 2016 review.

Researchers suspect this is because they're more psychologically and emotionally detached from the conversation topics.


Psychopaths tend to use emotional language without displaying much feeling

Flickr / Ian Sane

Psychopaths' language tends to lack what psychologists call an "emotional dimension," according to the 2016 review.

From the paper: "A psychopath can say, 'I love you,' without feeling anything else than asking for a cup of coffee."

Narcissists tend to use more offensive language


A 2014 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences suggests that's likely because narcissists see offensive language as attention-grabbing and because they're less sensitive to the offensiveness.

Narcissists tend to get impatient when someone else is speaking

One telltale behavior of narcissists in conversation is looking over the other person's shoulder when they're speaking, as if to seek out other interactions.

That's according to a 1990 paper on "conversational narcissism," published in the journal Communication Monographs and described in detail in a Psychology Today blog post.


Narcissists tend to display exaggerated body language and facial expressions

Tim Green/Flickr

The 1990 study on conversational narcissism also found that narcissists tend to be overly dramatic in their hand gestures and facial expressions.

They may also speak in a loud tone of voice.

Psychopaths and narcissists tend to tell the same fabricated stories over and over again


A blog post on Psychology Today suggests that narcissists and psychopaths both tend to repeat "confidential" information they've previously shared.

The editors who wrote the post say narcissists and psychopaths often use scripted lies: "Because people are interchangeable in the eyes of a psychopath or a narcissist—one-dimensional beings in whom they have no genuine interest—it can be hard for them to remember what they've said, and to whom."

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Read next on Business Insider: 9 subtle signs that you're talking to a psychopath