Study: Gen Y Takes Prize For Narcissism
Has Self-Esteem Effort Backfired?
Combined Wire Services
February 27 2007
No wonder YouTube is so popular.
All the effort to boost children's self-esteem may have backfired and produced a generation of college students who are more narcissistic and self-centered than their Gen-X predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study.
And the Internet, with all its MySpace and YouTube braggadocio, is letting that self-regard blossom even more, said the analysis by five psychologists.
In the study being released today, the authors warn that a rising ego rush could bring personal and social problems for Gen Y. People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.
"That makes me very, very worried," said Jean Twenge, the San Diego State associate professor who is lead author of the report. "I'm concerned we are heading to a society where people are going to treat each other badly, either on the street or in relationships."
Twenge and her colleagues examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.
The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements as "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to."
The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students' NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.
Twenge stressed that she and her co-authors are not suggesting that more students today have a pathological narcissistic personality disorder that needs psychiatric treatment. Still, traits of narcissism have increased significantly, said Twenge, author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before."
Some of the rise in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It noted that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: "I am special, I am special. Look at me."
Those youngsters are now adolescents obsessed with websites, such as MySpace and YouTube that "permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media," the report said.
Other trends in American culture such as permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows may also heighten self-regard, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell, psychology professor at the University of Georgia. "It's part of a whole cultural system," he said.
Although some analysts say today's young people show an increased commitment to volunteer work, Twenge say that may simply reflect high school requirements and the pressure of college admissions.
The new report follows a study released by UCLA last month which found that nearly three-quarters of the freshmen it surveyed thought it was important to be "very well-off financially." That compared with 62.5 percent who said the same in 1980 and 42 percent in 1966.
Compiled from Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reports.
See also: Study: College Students More Narcissistic