Radio talk-show host Dennis Prager has a useful rule of thumb for judging studies: Either they confirm common sense or they’re wrong. The recently released study on narcissism, led by SDSU psychology professor Jean Twenge, falls in the first category.
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory used in this project solicits “agree more with” responses to statement pairs like following: “I am no better or no worse than most people. / I think I am a special person.” “I can live my life any way I want to. / People can't always live their lives in terms of what they want.” “I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve. / I will take my satisfactions as they come.”
After examining the answers of 16,000 college students who took the test from 1982 to 2006, Twenge and her colleagues concluded that “young people born after 1982 are the most narcissistic generation in recent history.” According to Twenge’s data, two-thirds of the students scored high on the narcissism index in 2006, 30% more than in 1982.
Such a result was predictable, given the self-esteem indoctrination that begins in preschool. There, the popular song “Frere Jacques” is now sung with the lyrics “I am special, I am special, Look at me….” This “loving yourself” motif continues throughout a child’s education. Even colleges frequently go out of their way to assure self-infatuated high school graduates that they deserve praise, and high marks, for work that suggests functional illiteracy.
Surprisingly, the NPI study also indicated to its sponsors (Brace yourself!) that being narcissistic is a bad thing that can even foster violence. A prime example of the latter connection, Twenge notes in a prior paper, is Columbine killer Eric Harris, who said on tape to his partner in crime, "Isn't it fun to get the respect that we're going to deserve?”
The critical terms in this convoluted, back-to-the-future confession are “deserve” and “respect.” The notion that kids “deserve respect” (and lots of it!) has been pounded into impressionable student and teacher skulls for the last three decades. Unfortunately, these entitlement lessons aren’t producing the promised results.
Instead of well-adjusted individuals who “love others because they love themselves,” we are getting maladjusted, loudmouth clones of those folks who set the standard for narcissism—celebrities. In the study’s own socio-jargon, 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."
As a result of these “findings,” Twenge says that “We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back. Kids are self-centered enough already.” Who would have thought it! Children endlessly encouraged to declare how special they are, become self-centered—and when artificially bolstered egos confront reality, violence often results.
Where would we be without experts and studies? Perhaps we’d be teaching kids to be modest, work hard, and think of others—like we did before “experts” devised the bogus doctrine of self-esteem that permeates our narcissistic society.