In the paper this morning, there was an Associated Press story titled "Experts lament stuck-up students." Sounded like some good dirt, so I read on.
The gist of it is that a huge study, conducted by five psychologists and on 16,475 college students, concludes that more than two-thirds of these students scored "above average" on a test that evaluates narcissism. This is 30 percent more narcissists than the students surveyed in 1982, the year the test was introduced.
I'm no psychologist, but I did spend quite a bit of time, over the past two years, taking quizzes, questionnaires, tests. And if I may? I think questions themselves are the Achilles heel of a lot of studies. I took some quizzes that felt authentic to me--they had very specific questions--and many more that sort of stumped me. The questions were charged, hard to unpack, and really dependent on the situation.
In this study, the students were answering questions like "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."
I probably would have answered that I do think I'm a special person. I think you're a special person. I think all of us are unique and irreplaceable, and I think that makes me more empathetic, not less (as the study suggests). As a college student, I also might have pointed out that, historically, it's not been that long since women were granted the rights to live as they choose, and yes, damn straight I was going to live my life the way I wanted to. (Then I would have raised my fist and yelled, "Take Back the Night!")
I haven't read the actual study, so I don't know what sort of things the researchers controlled for. The lead author, Jean Twenge, wrote a book called Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before. From her quotes, I'd guess that she finds the source of the narcissism in parenting practices.
I'd be curious to see if she addresses any cultural factors though. This is the generation, after all, who watched their parents fret over whether their jobs were being outsourced and who are told that Social Security will be caput by the time they need it. That could contribute to some Looking Out for Number One.
Also: "Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism," Twenge told the AP. "By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube."
By posting this on my blog, did I inadvertantly let Jean Twenge Oh, snap! me? I believe I did.