Study: U.S. College Freshmen Think They're More Special Than Ever
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.
Psychologist 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.
Researchers 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.
Though they may work less, the number that said they had a drive to succeed rose sharply.
Still, these young egoists can grow up to become 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."
"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." Twenge said narcissim is 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.
"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."
"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.