Study shows growing narcissism in students

Some attribute the findings to outlets like MySpace, which promote the “self.”

Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than in previous generations, according to a nationwide study conducted by five psychologists from different universities.

The breakdown comes after researchers analyzed the responses of more than 16,000 American college students who completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

They found that almost two-thirds of recent college students showed elevated narcissism when compared to their 1982 counterparts.

“People say college is a time to focus on yourself,” said Jean Twenge, associate professor

of psychology at San Diego State University and lead author of the study, “but it was not as much a time to focus on yourself in previous generations.”

Narcissism is characterized by a positive and inflated view of the self, especially on such traits as importance, power and physical attractiveness, according to the study.

Although narcissism can benefit the individual by inspiring happiness and high self-confidence, these benefits are often short lived.

The study linked narcissism to poor social skills, higher levels of infidelity and game playing, violent behavior, and relationships that are less warm and intimate. Narcissists also tend to lack empathy and show greedy and competitive behavior, the study said.

The authors suggested the increase in narcissism might stem from the “self-esteem” movement of the 1980s, in which parents and school programs worked to improve the self-esteem of children.

For example, Twenge said, there is a preschool song in which children sing “I am special. I am special. Look at me.”

“For one thing, we should just take a step back and look at some of the phrases we’ve been brought up with,” said Twenge, who also is author of the book “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before.”

Phrases like “you can be anything you want to be,” which Twenge said practically everyone in this generation has heard, can encourage unrealistic or inflated expectations – a characteristic of narcissism.

The study also pointed to media outlets like MySpace and YouTube as a possible contributor to narcissism because they promote “broadcasting yourself.”

Music sophomore Lisa McGuire said the results of the study make sense. She said television shows like MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” are focused on the self and not outside issues.

“We get entertainment out of narcissism,” she said.

McGuire said she doesn’t completely agree with the results because she knows many people who are involved with programs like Habitat for Humanity.

“People are a lot more complicated than thinking about it black-and-white like that,” she said.

Finance and nonprofit management junior Eric Larsen said he disagrees with the study’s findings, citing his experience with Students Today Leaders Forever, an organization that puts on the annual Pay It Forward Tour, in which students complete community service projects in a different city during spring break.

“I would describe (our generation) as more willing to give up their time Ö more socially aware and more capable of making a positive impact,” he said.

Twenge said she is skeptical of the common practice of volunteering, particularly among high school students. She said some students might participate in “involuntary volunteering” because many high schools require community service and it can help their college admittance.

-Freelance Editor Yelena Kibasova welcomes comments at [email protected]