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Is There an Epidemic of Narcissism Today?

Posted by addisethiopia on January 14, 2013

Is the United States facing an epidemic of narcissism?

Meet the most narcissistic ‘I’ & ‘ME’ generation ever

A psychologist who’s been researching how personality is changing across the generations has coined the term ‘Generation Me’ to reflect this trend. Professor Jean Twenge from San Diego State University in California captured the changing attitudes of students from data collected as far back as the 1960s. She says our culture used to encourage modesty and humility – but that now self-confidence is seen as the key to success

The evidence comes in two forms: Changes among individuals, and changes in the culture.

Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in American culture: the relentless rise of narcissism, a very positive and inflated view of self. Narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance. In The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, psychologists and professors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell draw from empirical research and cultural analysis to expose the destructive spread of narcissism. Perhaps most important, they also discuss treatment – what each of us can do to stop the epidemic of narcissism so corrosive to society.

The increase in narcissism was stronger for women than for men in both datasets. Men are still more narcissistic than women on average, but women are catching up fast. This makes some sense, as a lot of the cultural push toward narcissism (see below) has a bigger effect on girls and women.

Then there’s the shocking data recently released by researchers from the National Institutes of Health. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans about symptoms that can add up to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the more severe, clinical form of the trait. They asked if someone had ever experienced these symptoms in their lifetime, so you’d expect that older people would have a much higher rate than younger people since they’ve lived more years. However, the data go the opposite direction: Only 3% of people over 65 had ever experienced NPD, compared to nearly 10% of people in their twenties. It’s possible that older people forgot some symptoms from earlier in their lives, but that would have to be a large amount of forgetting to account for this big a discrepancy. With almost 1 out of 10 people in their twenties already experiencing NPD, it’s sobering to realize how high that number might go in the coming decades.

There have also been big changes in behavior – cultural changes that are often started by more narcissistic people and then draw in the less narcissistic. Plastic surgery and procedures are up by a factor of six in just ten years. Materialistic attitudes have increased, and people are more willing to go into debt to afford the best – right now. Celebrity gossip magazines are more popular while the circulation of other magazines and newspapers have plummeted. My favorite anecdotal example: It is now possible to hire fake paparazzi to follow you around when you go out at night so you can pretend you’re famous. This was unheard of just five years ago.

So the whole society has become more narcissistic – not just the people, but our entire value system.

Source

Re-posted with an update to the above, November 22, 2012 post:

We are raising a generation of deluded narcissists

A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.
This data is not unexpected.  I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.

On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”

Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth “following,” as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame.

Using computer games, our sons and daughters can pretend they are Olympians, Formula 1 drivers, rock stars or sharpshooters.  And while they can turn off their Wii and Xbox machines and remember they are really in dens and playrooms on side streets and in triple deckers around America, that is after their hearts have raced and heads have swelled with false pride for “being” something they are not.

Continue reading…

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