Young people today are more narcissistic than their parentsdangerously so, a new study concludes. San Diego State psychology Prof. Jean Twenge first warned about the burst in self-loveand its likely side effects of depression, anxiety, and cynicismin her 2006 book, Generation Me. For the latest study, Twenge and her team analyzed over 16,000 college students' responses to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, finding a jump in narcissism scores between 1982 and 2006. The trend is personal; Twenge, born in 1971, and her daughter, born four months ago, both belong to "generation me."
Isn't narcissism just having a lot of self-esteem?
Someone who has high self-esteem has confidence in individualistic areas but also tends to value good relationships with other people. Someone who's narcissistic is missing that piece about other people and relationships.
One of your survey questions was, "I can live my life any way I want to." What's wrong with freedom to live how you want?
Think about a marriage of two people who both think that. If I lived my life any way that I wanted to, I would never do any housework, I would never change diapers, and I would never get up with my daughter in the middle of the night.
Other reports show young people doing more volunteer work than ever.
Volunteering among young people has gone up. However, over that same time, high schools began to require community service. And colleges started to either require, or like to see in applications, volunteer work. ... They're doing this because it's required, not necessarily of their own volition.
How are young people showing their narcissism?
I saw a MySpace page that had all these vaguely sexual, somewhat disturbing pictures, and then on the left side it had this little icon that says, "I Love Me." The slogan of YouTube is "Broadcast Yourself." The Pew Research Center asked young people, what are your generation's most important goals? Eight in 10 said getting rich, while only 4 percent said becoming more spiritual.
You also call this "Generation Crude." What does sex have to do with narcissism?
Narcissists favor short-term relationships. That may help explain why hookups have become so popular. I cannot say for sure that one causes the other. All I can say is these are two trends that go along with each other.
You say narcissism is related to rising depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Why?
Individualism may cause people to not value close relationships, and close relationships are one of the best inoculators against depression and anxiety. Narcissists [also] have unrealistically high expectations. So if they're disappointed, that could eventually end up leading to anxiety and depression.
Who's to blame for the narcissism?
What I really think brings all the generational changes together is the rise in individualism. So, the idea that "the greatest love of all is loving yourself."
You also blame schools for teaching kids self-esteem. Don't you want your daughter to feel good about herself?
My daughter is special to me, but when she's a kindergartener and there are 20 other kids in the class, if she was special in that context it would mean that the teacher wasn't paying as much attention to the other 19 kids. I'm not going to tell my daughter that she's special. I am not going to buy her a T-shirt that says "Little Princess" on it.