Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.
"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."
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.
Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people "or auditioning on 'American Idol.'"
"Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others," he said. The study asserts that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors."
Twenge, the author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.
If you want to understand the pros and cons of narcissism, I refer you to this series of posts.
Amazing, isn't it? Thinking you're hot stuff isn't the cure-all promised by the self-esteem gurus. Most psychiatrists could tell you this. Here are some findings from an earlier analysis of multiple studies on self-esteem:
A generation — and many millions of dollars — later, it turns out we may have been mistaken. Five years ago, the American Psychological Society commissioned me and several other experts to wade with an open mind through the enormous amount of published research on the subject and to assess the benefits of high self-esteem.
Here are some of our disappointing findings. High self- esteem in schoolchildren does not produce better grades. (Actually, kids with high self-esteem do have slightly better grades in most studies, but that's because getting good grades leads to higher self-esteem, not the other way around.) In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.Self-esteem doesn't make adults perform better at their jobs either. Sure, people with high self-esteem rate their own performance better — even declaring themselves smarter and more attractive than their low self-esteem peers — but neither objective tests nor impartial raters can detect any difference in the quality of work.
Likewise, people with high self-esteem think they make better impressions, have stronger friendships and have better romantic lives than other people, but the data don't support their self-flattering views. If anything, people who love themselves too much sometimes annoy other people by their defensive or know-it-all attitudes. Self-esteem doesn't predict who will make a good leader, and some work (including that of psychologist Robert Hogan writing in the Harvard Business Review) has found humility rather than self-esteem to be a key trait of successful leaders.
It was widely believed that low self-esteem could be a cause of violence, but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves. They turn violent toward others who fail to give them the inflated respect they think they deserve. Nor does high self-esteem deter people from becoming bullies, according to most of the studies that have been done; it is simply untrue that beneath the surface of every obnoxious bully is an unhappy, self-hating child in need of sympathy and praise.
High self-esteem doesn't prevent youngsters from cheating or stealing or experimenting with drugs and sex. (If anything, kids with high self-esteem may be more willing to try these things at a young age.)There were a few areas where higher self-esteem seemed to bring some benefits. For instance, people with high self- esteem are generally happier and less depressed than others, though we can't quite prove that high self-esteem prevents depression or causes happiness. Young women with high self- esteem seem less susceptible to eating disorders. In some studies (though not all), people with high self-esteem bounce back from misfortune and trauma faster than others.
High self-esteem also promotes initiative. People who have it are more likely to speak up in a group, persist in the face of failure, resist other people's advice or pressure and strike up conversations with strangers. Of course, initiative can cut both ways: One study on bullying found that self-esteem was high among the bullies and among the people who intervened to resist them. Low self-esteem marked the victims of bullying.
In short, despite the enthusiastic embrace of self-esteem, we found that it conferred only two benefits. It feels good and it supports initiative.
Most people confuse "self-esteem" with what I will refer to as a "sense of self". It is the latter--not the former, that is so often screwed up in the angry, violent, grandiose, and generally narcissistic people in the world. If you have a healthy "Self", you are likely to have a healthy self-esteem--which is not the same at all as a high self-esteem.
The psychological defect that leads to so many problems is a defective or distorted sense of one's SELF. The excessive self-esteem you see in a bully comes from a distortion of reality that person has with regard to their self. It was once widely believed that low self-esteem was a cause of violence--and you see that idea reflected today in the platitudes and rationalizations of terrorism-- but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves.
Do you really suppose that people like Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Bin Laden or Kim suffer from poor self-esteem? On the contrary. Exaggerated self-esteem is one of the hallmarks of a pathological narcissist or psychopath.
The pop-psychology that promulgated the widespread belief that if you nurture kid's self-esteem neglected to mention that if the sense of self was already damaged, all you managed to do was to create a narcissist; and it is simply a waste of time and money--as this article reports.
If the 19th century was the age of hysteria (and basically, Freud was responding to the excessive sexual repression present in that century); then the 20th was the age of narcissism. In this new century, that narcissism seems to be morphing into an even more malignant sociopathy that pervades society and impacts almost all our social, political, and educational institutions.
Our cultural focus on enhancing "self-esteem" has resulted in the near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought; on emphasizing "root causes" and victimhood, instead of demanding that behavior be civilized and that individuals exert self-discipline and self-control--no matter what they are "feeling".
For years now, pop psychology and its gurus have mesmerized the culture at large. All their self-help tenets have percolated through K-12 educational curricula; and been accepted wholeheartedly by the cultural elite of Hollywood and the intellectual elite of academia.
The triumvarate of contradictions that claims to be based on "scientific" psychology includes the hyping of (1) self-esteem (increasing your self-worth without having to achieve anything; (2) hope (achieving your goals without any real effort) and (3) victimhood (it's not your fault that you haven't achieved anything or made any effort). See here for more discussion.
Steve Salerno, writing in the LA Times tackles the third leg of this holy psychological quest --the hyping of hope in the "self-help" movement. It seems the intellectual impoverishment of all these pseudoscientific psychological deceptions are now becoming apparent:
Over a 20-year span beginning in the early 1970s, the average SAT score fell by 35 points. But in that same period, the contingent of college-bound seniors who boasted an A or B average jumped from 28% to an astonishing 83%, as teachers felt increasing pressure to adopt more "supportive" grading policies. Tellingly, in a 1989 study of comparative math skills among students in eight nations, Americans ranked lowest in overall competence, Koreans highest — but when researchers asked the students how good they thought they were at math, the results were exactly opposite: Americans highest, Koreans lowest. Meanwhile, data from 1999's omnibus Third International Mathematics and Science Study, ranking 12th-graders from 23 nations, put U.S. students in 20th place, besting only South Africa, Lithuania and Cyprus.
Still, the U.S. keeps dressing its young in their emperors' new egos, passing them on to the next set of empowering curricula. If you teach at the college level, as I do, at some point you will be confronted with a student seeking redress over the grade you gave him because "I'm pre-med!" Not until such students reach med school do they encounter truly inelastic standards: a comeuppance for them but a reprieve for those who otherwise might find ourselves anesthetized beneath their second-rate scalpel.
The larger point is that society has embraced such concepts as self-esteem and confidence despite scant evidence that they facilitate positive outcomes. The work of psychologists Roy Baumeister and Martin Seligman suggests that often, high self-worth is actually a marker for negative behavior, as found in sociopaths and drug kingpins.
We see the people who have inhaled this "psychology-lite" everywhere around us, and in all levels of society. Particularly we can notice it in the elites of Hollywood and Academia; who alternate between acting out their narcissistically empowered superiority -- demanding to be noticed, admired and loved (by you); and playing the narcissistically empowered victim -- demanding their inalienable rights and priveleges (at your expense).
But the real victims of all this hype are our children, because these foolish notions, without a scintilla of scientific evidence and only becaue it makes some people feel good about themselves, have become the pop psychology dogma of public policy in education.
In Narcissism and Society I wrote:
All over the world, on a daily basis we see the horrible results of Narcissistic behavior. Individuals and groups; religions and nations act out their Narcissistic rage at various insults--real and imagined-- and people suffer and die for the purpose of the grandiosity of the tyrant, or the glory of the religion. It has been said that the 20th century was the “century of the Narcissist”, but the 21st is well on its way to outdoing the horrors of the past as a seeming epidemic of malignant Narcissism caused by a crushing of human nature and the human spirit--all for the purpose of serving the self-aggrandizing vision of the few.
For many on the left side of the political spectrum, it is axiomatic that narcissism is inextricably linked to business, capitalism, individualism, and the pursuit of profit. The political left has idealized certain social and political systems because they suppressed the individual and elevated the state, insisting that individuals had no right to exist for their own selves, but only to serve others.
Executives, such as The Rigases of Adelphia Corp; Samuel D. Waksal, the socialite founder of ImClone Systems; Dennis Kozlowski, of Tyco International; Scott D. Sullivan of WorldCom; and Ken Lay of Enron, typify the ugly narcissist of the business world with his or her extreme grandiosity; selfishness of unbelievable proportions; and complete lack of empathy towards the people they cheated. While the majority of businessmen are ethical and honest individuals, only a few “bad apples” are needed to demonstrate the havoc that malignant narcissism in the business sector can wreak.
But what is not generally or readily seen (either on the left or right) is the flip side of "selfish" or "grandiose" narcissism-- and that is what I will call narcissism rooted in idealism, rather than selfishness, or "idealistic" narcissism (discussed at some length here if you are interested). This second kind of narcissism (the flip side of the coin, if you will) is less obvious to an observer, since it is disguised with a veneer of concern for others. But it is equally—if not more—destructive and causative of human suffering, death and misery. Both kinds of narcissism are a plague on the world; and both are well-traveled avenues for limiting freedom and imposing tyranny. The "grandiose" narcissism is the stimulus for individual tyrants, while the "idealistic" Narcissism leads to groups imposing their will on others.
One such group happens to be the "Self-Esteem Gurus" in education, whose nonsense continues to reinforce the inappropriate grandiosity of young children; just as the radical environmentalists and kumbayah types (among other groups) continue to reinforce the malignant selflessness.
Between the two influences unleashed on the vulnerable minds of our children, is it any surprise that by the time they get to college, kids are either dysfunctional self-absorbed narcissists, naively malignant do-gooders, or completely and irrevocably cynical about the pervasive indoctrination and anti-intellectualism they have been subjected to in their educational careers?
As a writer in the LA Times say somewhat understatedly, "Gen Y's ego trip is likely to take a nasty turn". Yes, it is --along with the society they will inherit.