A 2007 study from five psychologists reported that today’s college students are increasingly narcissistic and self-centered. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, narcissism is defined as having excessive love for ones self. Terms often used in conjunction with narcissism include, conceit, egotism, and selfishness. In psychology, excessive narcissism is revered to as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The heart of the study rests upon the results of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), between 1982 and 2006. The 2006 NPI results provided evidence of a 30% increase in above-average scores since 1982.
In the Associated Press article that reported on the findings, study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia spoke of the dangerous impact narcissism has on both individuals and society.
“Narcissism can have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others.”
The study asserts that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.”
In his essay “The Kinderarchy”, writer and retired Northwestern University professor Joseph Epstein provides an example of narcissism in college.
“So often in my literature classes students told me what they ‘felt’ about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to–but did not–write: ‘D-, Too much love in the home.’ I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement.”
Popular blogger and college student Ben Casnocha also shares a personal encounter with a narcissistic college student.
“The other week I had lunch with a college student. I raised the topic of education. I said that I’m not sure formal schooling is for everybody. She responded, ‘Well, see, I love school, and I’m thinking about graduate schools in these areas…’ Off she went. Again. It was totally self-involved.”
Casnocha suggests how technology contributes to today’s increase in narcissism.
“Some argue technology is a culprit in the sense that new technology can help a person enact an echo chamber around them that magnifies their own views. Or that technology facilitates, for example, twice or thrice daily phone calls between teens and parents, a frequency which — when aided by the over-parenting instincts of today’s boomers — nurtures self-obsession on the part of the teen. Or that blogs, such as the one I’m writing on right now (a noted irony!), enable a level of public disclosure that’s unhealthy because it can create a micro-celebrity effect. And when was the last time you met a celebrity (micro or macro) who wasn’t an egomaniac?”
The study’s lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University also ties technology to narcissism.
“Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism. By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube.”
Many Facebook users seem to seek validation of their life’s significance by posting endless pictures of every social activity and to create a shrine of themselves for others to see and hopefully worship, or at least acknowledge.
Finally, writer Charles Krauthammer wrote an article highlighting one of today’s most prominent and popular narcissists, Barack Obama.
“Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated opinion of himself. There’s nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?
Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted “present” nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.”
Narcissism is a disease that can be hard to diagnose and even harder to treat. The answer boggles even myself. Focusing on others through selfless service seems, to me, to be one of narcissism’s greatest combatants. Also, learning to embrace and accept constructive criticism and humbling experiences instead of instinctively fighting or refusing to heed such correction. Other ideas and suggestion on how to fight narcissism?