Study Reveals Rocketing Sense of Entitlement on U.S. Campuses
Books aside, if you asked a college freshman today who the Greatest Generation is, they might respond by pointing in a mirror.
Young people’s unprecedented level of self-infatuation was revealed in a new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has been asking students to rate themselves compared to their peers since 1966.
Roughly 9 million young people have taken the survey over the last 47 years.
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Pyschologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence.
But in appraising the traits that are considered less invidualistic – co-operativeness, understanding others, and spirituality – the numbers either stayed at slightly decreased over the same period.
Researchers also found a disconnect between the student’s opinions of themselves and actual ability.
While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.
Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s.
Important online: Trends like social media, celebrity culture, and easy credit contribute to students feeling as if they’re more successful than they really are
Though they may work less, the number that said they had a drive to succeed rose sharply.
These young egotists can grow up to be depressed adults.
A 2006 study found that students suffer from ‘ambition inflation’ as their increased ambitions accompany increasingly unrealistic expectations.
‘Since the 1960s and 1970s, when those expectations started to grow, there’s been an increase in anxiety and depression,’ Twenge said. ‘There’s going to be a lot more people who don’t reach their goals.’
Twenge is the author of a separate study showing a 30 per cent increase towards narcissism in students since 1979.
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‘Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself,’ Twenge told BBC News. ‘It was considered a bad thing to be seen as conceited or full of yourself.’
Just because someone has high self-esteem doesn’t mean they’re a narcissist. Positive self-assessments can not only be harmless but completely true.
However, one in four recent students responded to a questionnaire called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory with results pointing towards narcissistic self-assessments.
Narcissism is defined as excessive self-love or vanity; self-admiration, or being self-centered.
Twenge said that’s a trait that is often negative and destructive, and blames its boom on several trends – including parenting styles, celebrity culture, social media, and easy credit – for allowing people to seem more successful than they really are.
Obsessed: Despite legions of self-help books advising belief in yourself, there’s no evidence self-esteem causes success
‘What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success,’ Twenge said. ‘Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.’
Despite a library’s worth of self-help books promoting the idea we can achieve anything if we believe we can, there’s very little evidence that raising self-esteem produces positive, real-world outcomes.
‘If there is any effect at all, it is quite small,’ said Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, who authored a 2003 paper on self-esteem studies.
Baumeister found that while successful people did have high-self esteem in many cases, it was unclear what actual caused their success if the first place.
Both self-esteem and success were often influenced by another factor.
‘Coming from a good family might lead to both high self-esteem and personal success.’ Baumeister said. ‘Self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success. Despite my years invested in research on self-esteem, I reluctantly advise people to forget about it.’
Twenge compared it to a swimmer trying to learn a turn who needs to believe that learning the skill is possible but who won’t actually be aided in acquiring that skill by their belief.
1 in a million: Roughly 9 million freshman have rated themselves in the American Freshman Survey since 1966
‘You need to believe that you can go out and do something but that’s not the same as thinking that you’re great,’ Twenge said.
Studies suggest weaker students actually perform worse if given encouragement at boosting their self-esteem.
‘An intervention that encourages [students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may remove the reason to work hard,’ Baumeister found.
But if you found yourself bothered by a person always talking about how wonderful they are, remember that their future may not be bright.
‘In the long-term, what tends to happen is that narcissistic people mess up their relationships, at home and at work,’ Twenge said. Though narcissists may be charming at first, their selfish actions eventually damage relationships.
It’s not until middle-age they may realize their lives have had a number of failed relationships.
And even if they recognize something is wrong they may have a hard time changing.
‘It’s a personality trait,’ says Twenge. ‘It’s by definition very difficult to change. It’s rooted in genetics and early environment and culture and things that aren’t all that malleable.’
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