Young People Today Are Less Narcissistic than Previous Generations

College-aged young adult with long hair sits next to short-haired grandparent. The two smile while looking at smartphone togetherDespite blog articles, media reports, and concerns from older generations, a new study suggests there is no narcissism epidemic among today’s college students. The study, which was published in Psychological Science, found that young people are slightly less narcissistic today than they were in the 1990s. Researchers also found that narcissism has consistently declined among college students.

Less Narcissism, Entitlement Among Today’s Students

The study compared data from the Narcissism Personal Inventory (NPI) across generations. The NPI is one of the oldest measures of narcissism, and this tool has been well validated in scientific studies.

The study included three cohorts of students: 1,166 students who attended the University of California, Berkeley during the 1990s; 33,647 students who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or the University of California, Davis during the 2000s; and 25,412 students who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or the University of California, Davis during the 2010s.

The NPI pairs 40 pairs two statements, one of which correlates with more narcissistic tendencies. Higher scores correlate with higher levels of narcissism. The highest possible score is 40. The test also measures specific manifestations of  narcissism, such as vanity and entitlement.

Between the 1990s and 2010s, student narcissism levels declined. Entitlement showed the greatest decline, followed by leadership and vanity.

The average college student now scores between 15-16 on the NPI. This score is slightly lower than in earlier generations.

Why Older Generations Might Perceive a ‘Narcissism Epidemic’

The average grandparent, according to the study, scores about a 12 on the NPI. This is not because younger generations are more narcissistic than their predecessors. Rather, it is believed to be due to the tendency of narcissism to decline with age.

This suggests older people see young people as more narcissistic than they are and mistakenly remember themselves as being less narcissistic at the same age. The researchers believe not only that there is no current narcissism epidemic, but that there never was.

This has important implications for mental health professionals, who might use this information to avoid making the assumption young people seeking treatment are more entitled or vain than they were in previous generations. Numerous studies have, however, found soaring rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety among young people. A 2016 Pediatrics study found between 8.8% and 9.6% of young adults experience major depression each year.

References:

  1. Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, 138(6). Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/6/e20161878
  2. Wetzel, E., Brown, A., Hill, P., Chung, J. M., Robins, R. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2017). The narcissism epidemic is dead; long live the narcissism epidemic. Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://kar.kent.ac.uk/62391/1/Wetzel_et_al_%28in_press%29_The_narcissism_epidemic_is_dead_long_live_the_narcissism_epidemic_final_accepted_version.pdf
  3. Yates, D. (2017, October 9). No ‘narcissism epidemic’ among college students, study finds. Retrieved from https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/564691

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  • bill

    bill

    October 18th, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    wait you ARE joking right??

  • Isabella

    Isabella

    October 20th, 2017 at 7:51 AM

    I find that the younger generations are indeed a little more intuitive to the needs of others around them, even if they are self concerned as well.
    I don’t think that it is always fair to issue a blanket statement but I do find that they can relate more to others and feel more empathy toward others than perhaps some in previous generations have been able to do.

  • Connor

    Connor

    October 23rd, 2017 at 10:40 AM

    They also have a lot more worries than what young people in the past have had to encounter.

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