This Week in Literalism

CNN: “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.”

Well, let’s examine this, shall we? I’m not sure if self-centered college kids are especially damaging to American society. After all, the minute they leave college, unless they’re sitting on a savings account, they’ll have to get jobs and the student loan collectors will be on their asses in about nine months demanding payment. Faced with these financial realities, egos have a tendency to plummet.

And here’s Professor Jean Twenge describing the culprit: “Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism. By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube.”

You know, by its very name, the United States of America proves to be a harmonious nation, devoid of racism, sexism, and classism. By its very name, American Idol encourages the worship of flags and apple pie among the populace. By its very name, an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory permits a garden variety warehouse stocker to dissect personalities from the more noxious members of American society, stacking them with the overpriced doodads and baubles happily sold in a Target Greatland outlet. By her very name, Professor Jean Twenge makes my DNA (or my pants) feel inexplicable pangs of bullshit.


  1. I’m the last person to give creedence to the dreaded trend story, particularly when it quotes a professor citing MySpace, and usually a trend story like this in a mainstream spot like CNN means the trend is over, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these findings.

    Number 1, the study it’s based on is a comparison with previous generations. The students are, according to these criteria, more narcissistic than their predecessors.

    The question of whether or not this is a problem is an open one, granted, but your, real-life will humble them theory is just as oversimplified.

    They don’t need a savings account to keep things going, they just need to tap in to the nearly unlimited supply of short term credit, or, in many cases of the upper middle to upper classes, the nearly unlimited supply from over-indulgent parents. Consumer debt among recent college graduates is growing exponentially, and all the studies of their behavior indicates that they don’t see trouble on the horizon. They’re much more likely to live beyond their means than ever before.

    Ultimately, things will come crashing down, but the trough will be much deeper before, more bankruptcies, more broken relationships, less ability to purchase homes, etc…

    I don’t really worry about this stuff because it’s totally cyclical. The next generation will see the profligacy of this one and revolt against it, but that doesn’t mean that this generation isn’t facing some problems.

  2. how is narcissism measured? is the same person that interviewed the previous generations interviewing these kids? if yes, what does that mean? if no?
    and, to begin with, isn’t gauging someone’s personality a subjective thing?

    narcissism isn’t new.
    and just because you peruse myspace or youtube doesn’t make you a narcissist. that’s like saying every time I sing, “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,” I’m automatically being a narcissist, you know, because it has a fucking ‘my’ in it. i’m sure if they had myspace during the 20s all the flappers would being tearing that shit to pieces. sorry, I agree with ed: complete and utter horseshit. if there are a lot of narcissists today it’s only because there are more people.

  3. If harold had bothered to read the article, he would have seen that the degree of narcissism is measured by using a standardized inventory (same kind of thing as Meyers-Briggs) that has been administered yearly since 1982. Given that the test is standardized it doesn’t need to be the “same person” who administers the test.

    “Personality” may be a subjective thing, but measuring personality traits can indeed be done using this kind of tool. It doesn’t necessarily explain or predict behavior, but it’s the exact kind of thing psychaiatrists use to diagnose something like depression. Of course narcissism isn’t new, but again, if you read the article, which summarizes the study, you’d find that what we would consider narcissistic attitudes in a much higher percentage of the population than in previous generations.

    Now, I imagine there’s benefits as well as problems with increasing narcissism and they quote some “experts” in the article discussing such. Personally, I see it as more of a negative than a positive, particularly when paired with other findings they cite which shows that today 75% of college freshmen say that it is “very important” to be very well off, as compared to 44% in 1966.

    One can debate the effects of these changes, but to deny that these are changes in attitudes seems to be a kind of willful ignorance.

    Ed seems to maintain that they’ll get theirs when confronted with reality. My feeling is that their desire to be “very well off” combined with increased narcissism is a recipe for serious problems, problems of a greater magnitude than faced in previous generations. At some point, attitudes will reset, parents will become less permissive, young people will rebel against the attitudes of the previous generation, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that there’s going to be a rocky ride.

  4. Consumer debt among recent college graduates is growing exponentially, and all the studies of their behavior indicates that they don’t see trouble on the horizon. They’re much more likely to live beyond their means than ever before.

    Those things are true of all American adults.

    Also, could the fact that today’s college freshmen think it is ‘very important’ to be well of have anything to do with the fact that it IS very important to be well off? We are a society of the rich, the poor, and the economically insecure, shrinking middle. If you fall off the boat, you drown. No health care, probably not another good-paying job in your life, bankruptcy protection harder to qualify for than ever before, etc., etc., etc. If that’s what today’s freshmen think, they’re right.

    Don’t blame the kids.

  5. Pretty soon, based on the findings of this study of narcissistic behavior, Pharmecutical companies will have a pill that will cure narcissism. I agree with Ed. RIDICULOUS!!!!! It is just going to turn into another marketing vehicle for corporate pill pushers.

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