October 29, 2008

Narcissism Up In College Students; The Goal Is To Keep Them In Puberty, Part 3

Hold on-- not in all college students, and not all in college students, and not in all college students in all times...

From the Journal of Personality, Egos Inflating Over Time: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory-- which the blogger from fashion-incubator sent to me a year ago, before it was even published:

Meta-analysis of studies in which college kids over the decades were given the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, it found that narcissism is on the rise.

narcissism college.gif

The authors offer a helpful analogy: if the average student in the 1980s scored in the 50th percentile for narcissism, then the average 2006 college student scored in the 65th percentile-- 2/3 of 2006 college kids are above the 1980 mean for narcissism.

Some interesting findings:

the college students scored the same level of narcissism as a study of 200 celebrities.  (more on that later.)

Women's scores rose more rapidly than men's.  In 1992 the SD between men and women was 0.45 (men higher); in 2006 it was 0.15.


But not everyone agrees.
Another group, disbelieving the above study (apparently, even before it had been published), investigates their own 25000+ gigantic sample of UC Davis and UC Berkeley students and found that scores on the NPI, and their own measures of narcissism, were relatively stable.   I should mention here that the NPI measures more of the extroverted, "self-enhancing" kind of narcissism, because that's important for understanding why this result is probably wrong:  40% of UC students are Asian, vs. 6% in the rest of American colleges.  I hope this doesn't require any explanation. 


What do Twenge et al say is the consequence of all this narcissism? 

  • "A trend among college students toward "hooking up" rather than...relationships;"
  • 81% of students thought " getting rich was among their generations most important goals" (rich is the new porn);
  • 51% said it was getting famous.

They have more trouble explaining the other... associations: crime is down; volunteerism is up.  But to me, these are hardly inconsistent with narcissism.  Narcissism doesn't mean you're bad, just that you think you're the main character in your own movie.  Maybe that movie is about a woman who works for a non-profit but manages to date the President.

But the authors can't explain why narcissism is on the rise, and they point to the usual suspects:

  • Schools and media: "Children in some preschools sing a song with the lyrics, "I am special/I am special/Look at me ...", and many television shows for children emphasize positive self-feelings and specialness."
  • Grade inflation: "In 1980, only 27% of college freshmen reported earning an A average in high school, but by 2004 almost half (48%) [did.] However, the amount of studying has actually declined, as has performance on tests like the SAT. "
  • Technology: "Devices such as iPods and Tivo allow people to listen to music and watch television in their own individual ways, and websites such as MySpace and YouTube (whose slogan is "Broadcast yourself") permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media. These trends motivated Time magazine to declare that the 2006 Person of the Year was "You," complete with a mirror on the cover."
But all that's just the consequence, not the cause.

Look at the above chart, and note the upswing after 1990.  I don't know what caused those kids to be more narcissistic than the 80s kids, but I do know what happened to those 90s kids after college: they became adults.  And they became the custodians of the world, and, they demanded entertainment that suited them.  Music, movies, internet, technology-- all that was aimed at them, not the next group of college kids.  Unfortunately for the next college kids, there was nothing else to watch.  The 30 year old in 2000 wanted to watch Survivor and The Bachelor, so everyone had to watch Survivor and The Bachelor, and it's changed cognition: even kids who have never watched those shows still uses the phrase "voted off" and "immunity." 

And the 35 year old in 2005 became a parent, and that parent wanted school vouchers and great healthcare, but also lower taxes and to be able to eat out at restaurants once a week.  ('The kids are with my mother.")  Those parents want easy credit and a bigger house. 

This trend is going to continue, frankly, until we either have a major recession, war, or my generation dies.

It's funny to me, and by funny I mean I dropped all my cyanide capsules, that Allan Bloom and all the other conservative culture war guys from the 80s never bothered to follow up on the kids they thought were such idiots, such-- narcissists.  Did they expect they would all die, sucked into their own skulls by the gravity as their brains went brown dwarf? Yet here they are, walking around like zombies, apathetically, pathetically, pathologically confident and cynical, ironic and happy, yet hungry and restless just the same.  It's like they never aged past 25.

You can't blame todays teens and college kids for being narcissists.  They're doing exactly what they were trained to do, are being told to do, what they saw done, by us.

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here. (You're reading it.)


Diggs and Reddits and donations appreciated.  Do you want a telethon?  Is that what you want?