Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vanity on the rise

I heard about this on the radio coming into work. Then I saw this article at CNN with more in-depth discussion of the study. I couldn't help be curious and think back to a posting where Anna May looked into this disorder.

I've always thought of narcissism as an extreme disorder. I'm sure everyone exhibits some elements of narcissism because it's natural to protect oneself over others. At the same time, I would agree that I think people are much more self-focused these days. We live alone longer which contributes to that. Being famous and having bling factor have (unfortunately) become an obsession for much of American society. Everyone seems to want their 15-minutes of fame be it through reality television or the Internet.

I was looking at some diagnosis guidelines for NPD. You are supposed to fit at least five of the descriptions to be diagnosed. Perhaps I act in some of these fashions once in awhile but never consistently.

Thinking about it, I wonder if my mix of Asian and American culture changes how I perceive things. I was probably subconsciously taught to be humble. My parents stressed good grades but never rewarded in a way that implied I was better than others. Maybe I'm suffering from low self-esteem and could have used a little "you're special" praise from time to time as a child.

Let's look at the three examples statements they gave from the inventory assessment were:

"If I ruled the world, it would be a better place."
I'd like to think I could offer more sensible and practical ways to live and treat each other, but I don't see myself as a ruler. However, my neighbor not blasting her surround sound after 12AM would be one public annoyance I'd like to enforce. x(

"I think I am a special person."
Yeah... no. I think I have unique talents, but that doesn't make me special in all cases. I hate people who think and act that way around others they don't know. Everyone deserves to feel special on occasion - that's why we pay money to go to the spa for a day or stay a night at a luxury hotel.

"I can live my life any way I want to."
This seems like a very dangerous attitude. To me, this reads I can do whatever I want regardless of how it may affect other people. You can't because you have to responsible and considerate of other people. If everyone had that attitude we'd have anarchy. Then again, maybe I'd live my life differently if I wasn't always considering what's expected of me.

I'd be curious to know how groups from other countries would score on this standardized inventory. How do they think in Europe and in Asia?

Study: Vanity on the rise among college students

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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 percent more than in 1982.

Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author 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 percent who said the same in 1980 and 42 percent 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."'

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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