Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hey, Under-30s Crowd, Have You Overdosed on Narcissism?

A new study points to disturbing data about Generation Y's supposed lack of empathy, aggressive behavior and inability to form relationships.

By Clayton Collins

A little smug self-absorption might be a time-honored trait of at least some subsets of the under-30 crowd.

But over the past few decades the prevailing disposition among college students -- today labeled Generation Y or Millennials -- has slid into full-blown narcissism, according to a study released this week.

The "all about me" shift means much more than lots of traffic at self-revelatory Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook. It points, says the study's author, to a generation's lack of empathy, its inability to form relationships -- and worse.

"Research shows [narcissists] are aggressive when they have been insulted or threatened," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and lead author of the report, called "Egos Inflating Over Time." "They tend to have problems with impulse control, so that means they're more likely to, for example, be pathological gamblers [or] commit white-collar crimes."

For some, the study validates their suspicions of educational and parenting techniques that put undue emphasis on the positive: tot-level self-esteem boosterism, luxury-as-necessity entitlement, and what one calls "instant fame-ification."

"I can't imagine you can do a study on Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z and not have the takeaway be an inappropriate application of self-esteem," says James Twitchell, an English professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and an author of books on cultural shifts in the US. The trend is apparent even in student grading. "Grade inflation is just [another] adaptation of Lake Wobegon to everyday life. Everyone is 'above average,' " he says.

But others -- including proponents of the self-esteem movement, workforce experts, and students invited to assess the study's unflattering mirror -- take issue with the apparent lack of nuance in the study, still being reviewed for publication in a scholarly journal.

These young adults are "hard to define," says Jody Turner of the Los Angeles business-strategy consultancy "Most kids coming out of college are looking at ways of contributing but not giving up their material goals," she says, and finding ways to do that by marrying Gen-X creativity with the "community desire" of other generations.

"You do have to be careful. There's a lot of conflicting evidence," says Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who has studied youths and morality. "Millennials are also among the most hardworking and least inclined to self-destructive behavior," she says. "They've behaved better than the Gen-Xers or the baby boomers. ... They're closer to their parents than [were] previous generations."


Solgenique said...

Is this about me?

Brother Spotless said...

It's about your/my/our generation.

Brother Smartness said...

solgenique, you are hilarious...

Brother Spotless said...

Hmm...I missed the joke.

I'm lame

Solgenique said...

Sorry, Brother Spotless. I just couldn’t help myself. You know, “impulse control” problems. You know how we “Millennials” do!

I’m curious to read this study and see the questions that were posed to students and how the review for publishing process of this study is going because I’m confused.

One thing I’m confused about is their conclusion that “…current college students [are] more narcissistic than baby boomers and Gen-Xers.” Are Millennial college students more narcissistic than Xers or BBs when they themselves were college students? The study began in 1982, it couldn’t possibly include Baby Boomers responses when they were in college. Or is generally accepted that college Xers were more narcisitic than college BBs and therefore C = A? And one of the authors states that “data points between 1982 and 1990 are few,” can we define “few?” A “few” isn’t a few when it’s a third of your entire study.

I keep hearing that a bigger percentage of Americans are going to college these days. So, 16 000 college students in 1982 isn’t the same percentage as 16 000 in 2006. Can you really compare the two? Who are these students that are representing us? What schools do they go to? Did the survey’s demographics change to accurately depict the current makeup of today’s college student?

I don’t agree with or dispute the findings, but before I start quoting it I’d like to get some clarifications.