Sep 11, 2018

College students have grown more narcissistic

Twenge et al. 2008 is a meta-analysis of Narcissistic Personality Inventory scores of college students from the 80s to the oughts.

Its abstract:

A cross-temporal meta-analysis found that narcissism levels have risen over the generations in 85 samples of American college students who completed the 40-item forced-choice Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between 1979 and 2006 (total n = 16,475).

Mean narcissism scores were significantly correlated with year of data collection when weighted by sample size (B = 0.53, p < 0.001).

Since 1982, NPI scores have increased 0.33 standard deviation. Thus, almost two-thirds of recent college students are above the mean 1979-1985 narcissism score, a 30% increase. The results complement previous studies finding increases in other individualistic traits such as assertiveness, agency, self-esteem, and extraversion.


What does increased narcissism mean? (citations elided; see p. 2-3 of the study for cites)

Narcissism is characterized first and foremost by a positive and inflated view of the self, especially on agentic traits (e.g., power, importance, physical attractiveness...

Second, narcissism is associated with social extraversion, although people high in narcissism have relatively little interest in forming warm, emotionally intimate bonds with others...

Third, narcissism involves a wide range of self-regulation efforts aimed at enhancing the self. These efforts can range from attention seeking... and taking credit from others... to seeking high-status romantic partners... and opportunities to achieve public glory...

Those high in narcissism also lash out with aggression when they are rejected or insulted...

Though it looks like the NPI may not be predictive of narcissism personality disorder, because people with the disorder score lower on some aspects due to low self-esteem. (And healthy-typed people with high self-esteem tend to score higher on aspects of the NPI).

So this could just mean that self-esteem has been increasing over time, not narcissism. Twenge is agnostic:

The rise in narcissism could be directly related to increases in self-esteem, or there could have been an increase in narcissistic traits independent of self-esteem.

Safe to say that individualistic traits are on the rise.