Brain and Body

Psychologists Made an Official Test to Measure Your “Need for Drama”

April 11, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: Carl Nenzén Lovén/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

The scientific way to measure how dramatic you really are.

On a scale of 1 to Regina George, how dramatic are you? Couples who change their relationship status on Facebook to “It’s complicated” every few days — we’re looking at you. (Kidding… kind of.)

We all know someone who seems to get joy out of creating drama, and unfortunately, thriving on drama isn’t a personality trait that everybody grows out of post-high school.

Now, a team of psychologists from the University of Texas have come up with a scientific way to measure an individual’s “Need for Drama” (NFD). The researchers define NFD as a "compound personality trait in which individuals manipulate others from a position of perceived victimization.”

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While drama itself can seem trivial at times, it’s actually an important personality trait to study since particularly dramatic individuals tend to experience serious problems in their lives — and also create them for those around them.

"People with drama-prone personalities generally live chaotic lives and inflict contrived crises on family, friends, and co-workers," the researchers explain in the new study, which is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

According to the scientists, “high drama” individuals tend to have a history of failed relationships, and not only do they engage in gossip about others, they complain about being the center of gossip themselves. The researchers say they “seem to see the world as happening to them.”

They also seek out conflict in the workplace and on social media.

The new NFD scale is measured on three main factors:

  • Interpersonal manipulation: "Characterized by a person’s willingness to influence other people to behave in a manner serving of the manipulator’s goals."

  • Impulsive outspokenness: "Characterized by a person’s compulsion to speak out and share opinions, even when inappropriate and without regard to social consequences."

  • Persistent perceived victimhood: "The propensity to constantly perceive oneself as a victim of everyday life circumstances that many people would dismiss as benign."

Then, as University of Pennsylvania psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman (who was not involved in the research) explains, the researchers came up with the following 12-point survey, which tests an individual’s characteristics like paranoia, self-absorption, and outspokenness.

The finalized Need for Drama scale

The finalized Need for Drama Scale. Credit: Image has been cropped.

Interestingly, after analyzing the results of nearly 500 volunteers who took the personality test, the researchers found that those who scored highly on the NFD scale were also more likely to display the “dark triad” personality traitspsychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism — than their non-dramatic counterparts.

Further, the scale was negatively related to conscientiousness, agreeableness, and self-esteem, according to Kaufman. In psychology research, a negative correlation means that when one variable increases, the other decreases, and vice versa.

Although drama can seem extremely petty at times, understanding the NFD personality trait is important since it enables researchers to distinguish it from other serious personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder (BPD) and histrionic personality disorder (HPD), which are characterized by a pattern of attention-seeking emotions and an excessive need for approval.

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According to Melissa Dahl at Science of Us, “People with both BPD and HPD tend to be at risk for self-harming, but people with a high need for drama do not.” Understanding NFD as a less severe version of these disorders can help doctors and psychologists tease apart any overlapping confusions and better treat their patients.

The research is also important as it provides scientific evidence to end the “drama queen” stereotype — women in the study were no more likely than men to test positive for the NFD trait.

Dahl interviewed the lead of the new study, psychologist Scott Frankowski, and he told her, "Clinicians have always labelled women with these traits but my thought was I know a lot of men who are also exhibit these very dramatic personality traits.”

Curious how you’d fare on the NFD test? Science of Us published a shortened version of it.

Or you can access the full research article here.

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