Gen Y college students are number one in narcissism, concludes a new study, “Egos Inflating Over Time.” Self-esteem has social costs, notes the Los Angeles Times.
People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.
Researchers analyzed psychological surveys taken by more than 16,000 college students across the country, starting in 1982.
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory asks students to react to such statements as: “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I like to be the center of attention.”
Two-thirds of recent college students outscored the 1982 average; 30 percent of those tested in 2006 showed high levels of narcissism, though few heads were sufficiently swollen to rate a psychiatric diagnosis.
Some of the increase in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It notes that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: “I am special, I am special. Look at me.”
Those youngsters are now adolescents obsessed with websites, such as MySpace and YouTube, that “permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media,” the report says.
Also blamed were “permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows.”
My daughter went through school at the height of the self-esteem frenzy. Every year, there were “I am Special” or “Student of the Week” or “Star Student” activities. She quickly figured out that being “special” wasn’t all that special. She does think that if she ruled the world it would be a better place. In her case, she’s right.
Update: Go to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s blog for a series of posts on self-esteem.