New study shows narcissism on the rise among college kids
I was thinking about a way to start this entry about the rise in narcissism and I thought, why not start with a personal anecdote?
Once upon a time, I interviewed a college-aged kid for a rather high-profile article. There came a point where I had to ask a somewhat uncomfortable question — a follow-up by e-mail, at my editor’s request — and the kid completely flipped out. You know, the way college-aged kids today flip out: There were some ALL CAPS, some cursing, a total lack of punctuation, and at the end, the words, “Ugh. im annoyed now.”
Had I followed the impulse of my lesser angels, I would have rewritten a few graphs to be nasty. I didn’t, not because I’m such a great guy (though I am an all right guy), but because I, unlike him, was able to take a step behind my private / professional wall, analyze the situation from there, and proceed accordingly.
I explained to him that I wasn’t attacking him personally, that I was giving him a chance to set the record straight regarding the accusations of others that were already swirling around the blogosphere. We came to an understanding.
At 31, I would like to think I’m not so over the hill. But the lack of boundaries and decorum totally floored me. It occurred to me what a different place this kid and I were coming from — how much easier it tends to be for me to relate and communicate with someone, say, 20 to 30 years older than I, than with someone a decade or less younger.
I’m just old enough not to have had a cell phone most of college. I researched college papers at the library. At 20, a free Hotmail account felt like a big deal.
But technology moves so fast that a mere half-generation later, here was a kid who had grown up blogging and vlogging about his life since he was a child — someone for whom more traditional privacy walls had all but crumbled.
Concomitant with that erosion of privacy, it seems, is a heightened awareness of the self in relation to others. Like pretty much everyone his age, this guy had likely spent high school blogging about his life, tweeting and updating his Facebook status, renewing his profile photo. His was a world that centered upon constantly updating the world about what he was doing, what he was feeling.
A DSM-IV-certified narcissist? I’m not sure it matters any more — or, if it does, I’m not convinced the old boundaries are as meaningful, or as applicable as they were just a few years ago.
That said, according to a joint study from San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama, narcissism, as more traditionally defined, is on the rise among college aged Americans.
As reported by Josh Clark, at Discovery News:
The study, led by SDSU psychologist Jean Twenge, sought to settle a hot debate in psychology over mixed results of studies examining the prevalence of narcissistic personality traits among tens of thousands of American college students. These traits include an unfounded sense of entitlement and overly high self-regard.
[...]Some researchers believe that the current credit bubble plaguing the American economy and the global financial crisis are the result of the risky decision-making and sense of entitlement associated with narcissism. As the number of narcissists grows, the United States could experience even more social problems as a result.
“What this means is that we have generations of people entering the workforce that expect special treatment, are demanding of others and making risky decisions — ones that could be quite costly when you consider recent business fiascoes,” says Amy Brunell, an Ohio State researcher unaffiliated with the study.
Indeed, to dovetail to the second graph cited above, talk about narcissism seems to be everywhere today. Mark Jaffe, who owns a high-end headhunting firm, wrote recently that the biggest threat to our economy is our egos. We’re angry, not depressed about our misfortunes right now. Angry, because, as he puts it:
… we always want and feel that we deserve the absolute best of what anyone else has. Maybe what’s hurting most right now is the hangover resulting from an epidemic bender of self-esteem. Feeling warm and squishy about oneself may not be such a great destination after all. Somewhere along the way we adopted smugness as a symbol of affluence. Yet we know intuitively that misery and squalor have always been the springboards to real accomplishment.
Steven Johnson has famously — and convincingly — argued in his book, “Everything Bad is Good For You,” that popular culture and technology today are making us smarter. To that, I’ll add, completely empirically, that it also seems to be making us more tolerant, better-informed about the world, and, perhaps, better critically and politically engaged with our surroundings.
But I wonder what it’s costing us? Or, as I pen yet another first-person, news-ish story, what it’s costing me.