Thousands of years ago a Greek hero named Narcissus fell in love.
As legend has it, Narcissus fell for his own reflection and as a punishment was bound to pine for his own image for eternity.
A recent study by a team of psychologists from San Diego State, and the University of Georgia presented the public with results from a recent study on narcissism, a personality trait that translates to vanity and self-absorption.
Armed with results from The Narcissistic Personality Inventory, NPI, researchers found that college students are highly narcissistic, surpassing generations before us in self-centeredness.
The NPI consists of 40 questions regarding self-image and was developed in 1979. It is currently one of the most widely used tools in providing a narcissism diagnosis.
Among the researchers was SDSU Associate Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge who released the study in accordance with the release of the paperback version of her most recent book, “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before.”
“People high in narcissism lack empathy for others, are aggressive when insulted, seek public glory and favor self-enhancement over helping others look good,” Twenge said. “Narcissists are also more likely to be materialistic and to seek attention and fame. Narcissists make very bad relationship partners and tend to take things for themselves rather than sharing with others.”
Chairperson for the psychology department, Ernie Chavez, disagreed with Twenge’s findings.
“The authors [of the study] make a very common mistake, they jump from results to very broad conclusions,” he said. “What they can say is that more students now feel special, whether or not this makes narcissistic is open to question.”
In a recent interview with the Collegian, Twenge not only noted the tendency of narcissists to request attention, but also engage in self-indulgence through technology.
“People who are narcissistic seek attention and status. A non-narcissistic person might use MySpace to keep in touch with a few real-life friends. A narcissistic person will rack up as many ‘friends’ as possible and will fill his/her page with lots of self-information and ‘hot’ looking pictures of themselves,” she said. “This might lead to even more narcissism as they get the attention they want.”
Director of University Counseling Services, Michael Daine, disagrees. He pointed out that MySpace and other online communities that Twenge referenced, actually promote a more important sense of community for most – rather than fueling attention-seeking habits.
“It is a way to create social connections which may difficult to do so in other ways. I think for many people, the Internet has become a great benefit for meeting and connecting,” he said. “Of course, there are some individuals who really enjoy the attention they receive and create very provocative sites to create more attention.”
Students seem to be less open-minded. Though junior mechanical engineering student Geoff Lodal is an avid MySpace user, he disagrees with the more ego-focused aspects of the site.
“Allowing people to rate your photos so that people can arbitrarily assign a number to you can do a number on your ego, either way,” the 20-year-old said. “And things like publicly displaying how many friends you have, just nutty.”
While Twenge is not insinuating that we’re all doomed to a lifetime of self-stalking, she and her colleagues are concerned. And with good reason.
According to the NPI, two thirds of the 16,475 students surveyed nationwide from 1982 to 2006 had above-average scores on the test.
“People generally grow less narcissistic as they grow older. However, this generation is more narcissistic than their parents were at the same age, so they are starting from a higher point,” Twenge said. “Many people might be disappointed when their overly high expectations are not met. It’s tough when you think you’re special but the world does not treat you that way.”
Though this could be cause for worry, it also seems to make for a good match for some, especially women. A Google search for “Why women are attracted to confidence in men” brought almost 1.2 million hits for everything from advice columns to dating sites.
One such site, Dating Fast, a relationship advice Web site, www.datingfast.com, the key to snagging that perfect lady is for a man to be secure in himself.
“Being pro-active in relationships means having confidence, charm, the ability to set goals and have fun. For every assertive man there’s a woman who will appreciate those qualities,” reads the site’s ‘Men’s Portal.’
“Confidence is definitely attractive. A woman who’s sure of herself is attractive because she’s not afraid to speak her mind; she doesn’t have to pretend to be someone she’s not,” junior environmental engineering student Andrew Jones said. “I think women find confident men attractive, too, but some women need to be reminded of one thing: Guys can sometimes appear confident when they’re actually not. Case in point, big truck equals small penis.”
As for the next generation, Lodal thinks there should be a balance between said narcissism and reality.
“I think today’s kids are babied way too much and should be taught to be a little tougher,” he said. “Yeah, it’s good to teach them to believe in themselves, but not every kid is god’s gift to humanity, and kids should know that they can’t do everything they’ll ever want to do.”
Whether today’s college students set the pace for a society of overly conceited loners is yet to be seen, but Daine says a little bit of self-assurance is not going to hurt anybody.
“Research suggests that moderate narcissism is actually healthy – if people view themselves as a bit smarter or better looking than others, it helps boost confidence,” he said. “Problems develop when individuals are highly narcissistic.”
Daine has been working with college students for several years, and says that today’s generation is no more or less complex than previous groups.
“My experience tells me that the current generation is full of paradoxes. There are some individuals who are focused on materialism and appear self-centered,” he said. “But, there are also many who are highly empathic, caring and reach out to others.”
Staff writer Marissa Hutton-Gavel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.