Study: College Students Get an A in Narcissism


Study: College Students Get an A in Narcissism

February 27, 2007


NEW YORK — Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society. “We need to stop endlessly repeating ’You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop Tuesday in San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements as “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I can live my life any way I want to.” The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students’ NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30% more than in 1982.

Narcissism can have benefits, said study coauthor W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people “or auditioning on ’American Idol.’ ” “Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others,” he said. 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.” Twenge, the author of “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others. The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the “self-esteem movement” that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far. As an example, Twenge cited a song commonly sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques” in preschool: “I am special, I am special. Look at me.” “Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism,” Twenge said. “By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube.” Some analysts have commended today’s young people for increased commitment to volunteer work. But Twenge viewed even this phenomenon skeptically, noting that many high schools require community service and many youths feel pressure to list such endeavors on college applications. Campbell said the narcissism upsurge seemed so pronounced that he was unsure if there were obvious remedies. “Permissiveness seems to be a component,” he said. “A potential antidote would be more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for.”

The new report follows a study released by UCLA last month which found that nearly three-quarters of the freshmen it surveyed thought it was important to be “very well-off financially.” That compared with 62.5% who said the same in 1980 and 42% in 1966. Yet students, while acknowledging some legitimacy to such findings, don’t necessarily accept negative generalizations about their generation. Hanady Kader, a University of Washington senior, said she worked unpaid last summer helping resettle refugees and considers many of her peers to be civic-minded. But she is dismayed by the competitiveness of some students who seem prematurely focused on career status. “We’re encouraged a lot to be individuals and go out there and do what you want, and nobody should stand in your way,” Kader said. “I can see goals and ambitions getting in the way of other things like relationships.” Kari Dalane, a University of Vermont sophomore, says most of her contemporaries are politically active and not overly self-centered. “People are worried about themselves — but in the sense of where are they’re going to find a place in the world,” she said. “People want to look their best, have a good time, but it doesn’t mean they’re not concerned about the rest of the world.” Besides, some of the responses on the narcissism test might not be worrisome, Dalane said. “It would be more depressing if people answered, ’No, I’m not special.’ ”

I think these are interesting results, and I definitely recognise these attitudes from my own experiences. On the other hand, self-depreciation can be tedious too. I guess this development is, at least tangentially, related to the phenomena described in Century of the Self.


Yeah, I notice my peers with good degrees seem more sure of themselves and their opinions, it's like having your intellect given a bureaucratic stamp of approval: you are officially INTELLIGENT.

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
As if you have to be some kind of academic hotshot to have a 'degree' these days...


I mean the people with firsts and PHDs from redbricks, there's definitely an air of superiority about them. Not always entirely unjustified. I was planning on uni, but could never decide what to study, seemed to cost a lot and I don't think I could hack being that broke for a long period of time, I'm too used to a steady, half decent wage.


But the participants in the study’s being college students is beside the point, I think. They are hinting at a general trend for people, not just swots, to overestimate their own importance, to ‘big up themselves’ instead of having a grounded sense of their own littleness. I am not sure of their usage of ‘narcissism’ (excessive self-love), though, it seems to me that they are describing plain old-fashioned egotism. Maybe this phenomena is not as prevalent in Britain as in other countries (you seem to have a knack for self-effacement), I couldn’t tell, but I sure recognise it from where I live.


Olli Oliver Steichelsmein
Isn't this something that goes in cycles? So the next generation needs a more authoritarian upbringing. They, or a later generation, have a flower power revolution and the cycle starts again. She looks at the developments from her own generation perspective, which is far from an objective starting point. The next/last generation should be more, should be less.... those are eternal truths.


entered apprentice
Yeah egotism and narcissism (MALIGNANT self-love) are quite distinct, although obviously in some senses interrelated at the extreme edges...

The century of the self thing is spot on, obviously these people (high scoring university graduates) are largely speaking massively invested in the society within which we live, and the twin drives of compliant consumerism/rampant "individual"ism (combined, no doubt, with the egotistical pseudo-empathic sentimentalism required under the society of the spectacle). The over-estimating of importance thing is an obvious effect of the paradoxical need to be individual by being exactly the same, and the high social status afforded by the easy monetization of their educations merely confirms this.

But then again lots of people with completely different values are massively egotistical, it doesn't necessarily entail apolitical consumerism. (subtext: look at all the c*nts around here, haha...)


this is super!
i found the full lyrics to the song cited in the c&p

All About Me
Everybody do this, do this, do this,
(leader demonstrates a body movement)
Everybody do this, just like me (everyone copies it)
Everybody do this, do this, do this,
Everybody do this, just like me.
Higgledy, piggeldy, bumblebee, who can say their name for me?
(child says name)
Let's all say it (name)
Let's clap and say it (name)
Let's whisper it (name)
I have ten little fingers and they all belong to me.
I can make them do things, would you like to see?
I can shut them up tight, or open them wide,
I can put them together, or make them all hide,
I can make them jump high, I can make them jump low,
I can fold them up quietly, and hold them just so.
Wiggle your fingers, waggle your fingers,
Shake your fingers so,
Stretch right out to touch a friend,
And they’ll be glad to know –
A wiggly jiggly loose tooth
I have a loose tooth
A-hanging by a thread.
So I pulled my loose tooth
My wiggly jiggly loose tooth
Put it beneath my pillow
And then I went to bed.
The fairy took my loose tooth
My wiggly jiggly loose tooth
And now I have a nickel
And a hole inside my head.
I am special, I am special, look at me and you’ll see
Someone very special, very very special,
That is me. YES IT”S ME!!

I wiggle my fingers I wiggle my toes
I wiggle my shoulders, I wiggle my nose.
Now the wiggles are out of me,
And I’m just as still as I can be.
Here are my fingers and here are my toes
Here are my ears and here is my nose.
Here are my eyes that open wide,
Here is my mouth with my white teeth inside.
Here is my tongue that helps me speak,
Here are my shoulders and here are my cheeks
Here are my hands that help me to play,
And here are my feet that go walking each day.
(Tune: 3 Blind Mice)
All by myself, all by myself.
See what I can do, see what I can do.
I can brush my teeth and my hair so neat
I can put my socks and shoes on my feet,
I can get my napkin and my snack to eat,
All by myself.

the full reproduction is contextually justified


there are no accidents
what do you think John meant by this song tho? (it is one of John's right?)

All thru' the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
All thru' the night I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Now they're frightened of leaving it
Ev'ryone's weaving it,
Coming on strong all the time,
All thru' the day I me mine.

I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine.

All I can hear I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
Even those tears I me mine, I me mine, I me mine.
No-one's frightened of playing it
Ev'ryone's saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All thru' your life I me mine.

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
this makes very little sense.

If you read the article, it says two-thirds of the students taking part in the study had above-average grades, which makes perfect sense.

More generally, it's a common misconception that exactly half of a population must be above (or below) average; this only holds if the quantity in question has a symmetric distribution. This is a good assumption for many things like intelligence, which generally follow a Gaussian (bell-shaped) distribution, but it's perfectly possible for, say, 2/3 of a sample of students to score above average, if most of them score just a bit above average while a hard core of real dunces scores well below average.

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
David Crary said:
a study released by UCLA last month which found that nearly three-quarters of the freshmen it surveyed thought it was important to be “very well-off financially.” That compared with 62.5% who said the same in 1980 and 42% in 1966.

That's an absolutely rational response to the development of American society over the last 40 years. I wouldn't have expected anything less. It sounds like the kids they interviewed have a remarkably practical and unjaundiced view of the real nature of American life (and British life too, I'm not yank-bashing. I'd expect similar results from a survey of young people in the UK).

This looks like a stereotypically wacky, scattergun research sociology project - roping in references to Myspace and Youtube to give it a veneer of topicality. Is the prospect of research students working full time to assess the narcassism of thier fellow students not in itself a little narcassistic? :rolleyes:

Narcassism is a common element in the personalities of young adults and it always has been - it was less obvious in the past because most young adults were prevented from giving full reign to it by the constraints of society and a lack of personal resources. If you look at those whose lifestyles were more comparable to the young people of today, like the children of aristocrats and the upper middle class, there's no shortage of narcassism on offer. Anyone taking an objective look at the 60s can see a undercurrent of narcassism in much of the counterculture and the student politics of that decade. Which is not to say that no good came out of those movements: in fact, groups like the freedom riders are testament to the positive effects of narcassism (just as, in an earlier era, writers like Nietzsche and Tolstoy would not have achieved what they did without the narcassistic elements in thier personalities). In fact, you could convincingly argue that 'positive narcassism' is one of the great driving forces behind human and social development.

If anything, I think kids today are less narcassistic. They seem more willing to accept the world on it's own terms, and less likely to feel able to transend those conditions and shape thier own destinies. Self interest is a rational response to the way the world is run in the consumerist age.

@ zhao: George Harrison wrote I Me Mine - it's a product of his very personal, peculiar brand of sarcastic buddism. But Lennon is maybe the greatest positive narcassist of the 20th century, so he's plenty relevent to this discussion!

simon silverdollar

this makes very little sense.

it does make sense if by 'average' is meant 'mean', doesn't it ?

imagine scores are 0.5, 0.5, 4, 4, 5, 5

then the mean score is 3.8, and 2/3s of the sample have above the mean score.

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
it does make sense if by 'average' is meant 'mean', doesn't it ?

imagine scores are 0.5, 0.5, 4, 4, 5, 5

then the mean score is 3.8, and 2/3s of the sample have above the mean score.

Or to put it another way, almost everyone has an 'above average' number of fingers, legs, kidneys etc....
Thanks for the statistics lessons :)
yes I understand that a distribution doesn't have to be symmetrical. (sp?)

Perhaps rather than saying it "makes very little sense", I should've said it is misleading. I meant it makes very little sense to quote that particular statistic if they are trying to bolster their case that students are narcissistic.

It appears to me that this clause:
two-thirds of the students had above-average scores
is used to imply that most students are narcissistic, when what it really tells you is that the distribution most likely involved a majority of cases slightly above average and a minority of cases well below average, ie it tells you something fairly esoteric about a statistical distribution that is quite tangential to the matter being dscussed.

All this is assuming they are referring to the mean average and not the mode.

It is not that the statistic is nonsensical but that it is used in a misleading way, or at best fairly irrelevant.

I didn't want to go into all that really which is why i just said it made little sense.

It's nice to see some people on here understand statistics anyway, I see so many meaningless or misleading statistics in the newspapers all the time it makes me think most people don't understand them at all.


After having googled a bit, it seems to me that it is not an average based on the results of this specific study, but a fixed average constructed by the developers of the test (the Narcissistic Personality Inventory [NPI]): those whom end up above it are more or less narcissistic, those whom end up below it are not. The test is made up of 223 questions with two answers each: one that, if chosen, indicates narcissistic tendencies; and one that does not. I leave for the scientific community to decide whether these premises are sensible or not. :) Anyway, so what two-thirds mean in this context, then, is that two-thirds of the participants chose such answers as to indicate that they, by the test’s own standards, are more or less narcissistic.

Here is a PDF-file where the creators themself describe the test.

This looks like a stereotypically wacky, scattergun research sociology project - roping in references to Myspace and Youtube to give it a veneer of topicality.
Yes, invoking MySpace et al. sounds reasonable, but there is nothing in the study to back her claims up, as far as I can see (on the other hand, she might have information that is not in the article).

Is the prospect of research students working full time to assess the narcassism of thier fellow students not in itself a little narcassistic? :rolleyes:
No, it is not, unless you want to dilute the meaning of the word.

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
*** 'whom' alert! 'whom' alert! ***


Edit: that was meant to come out in block caps. Anyone know how to turn autocorrect off? Can't seem to do it in profile options.
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Did I use it wrongly? :D I still find parsing clause elements a nightmare, so every trial balloon is a gamble.