social sciences

Are people becoming more narcissistic?

People love to compare. And this includes looking at the differences between generations. It seems as if ‘millennials‘ are the new scapegoat. However, it’s difficult to define millennials, as different sources use different definitions of the word. Everyone born between approximately 1980 – 2000 are usually dubbed as this ‘new generation’. Thus, we’re talking about people between the ages of ~40-20 roughly. Interestingly, many of the critics often fall between in this age cohort. One of the most recurring critiques includes the supposed increase in selfishness and narcissism. Does taking selfies really indicate narcissism? What is narcissism and did it really increase over the years?

Has narcissism prevalence increased over the years?
Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer. This actually an issue for almost all mental health disorders. Psychology and attributing behaviors to disorders both have been gaining acceptance over the years. This means that we can’t actually accurately compare data from fifty years ago.

First, we lacked valid and reliable measurement tools for each disorder. Second, we lacked knowledge, more research still needs to be done to find out the incidence and implication of a mental disorder. Third, what behaviors are considered to be ‘not normal’ changes through history. Do we still use the same definition of narcissism? Fourth, subgroups of the population have been ignored in terms of mental health. For instance, it seems that more girls suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) than was estimated. This holds true for people with an ethnic background in Western countries as well, these groups are overlooked, their behaviors are more likely to be attributed to their personalities.

So does narcissism increase over the years? Researchers found it is actually a very stable trait and that it didn’t increase(1).

But what exactly is narcissistic personality disorder?
In order to have guidelines in terms of mental health disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was created. This book helps clinicians (e.g. psychologists) make sense of the problems their patients might have. And according to the DSM, the following symptoms are associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

So are ‘millennial behaviors’ an indication of increased narcissism?
Younger people are overrepresented in statistics of internet use and social media use(2,3). So in order to successfully carry out ‘impression management,’ these ages might be more inclined to use social media. In real life, all ages engage in impression management. We want people to see us in a certain light, and when we find out they don’t see us they way we want them to, we will adjust our behaviors. If we want people to perceive us as smart, we might do our best to display behaviors that could signal intelligence. Social media can be an interesting environment for impression management. You can upload selfies that display your ‘good sides’. You can effectively tell a large group of people that you engage in charity work, get good grades, get promotions, go to cool parties, go on nice vacations, etc.

Since we have more control in online settings, we get to edit and think about what we post, we naturally show most of the good stuff. Does that make us narcissists? Probably not. Normal individuals engage in impression management in real life situations, just like we do online. Online there is more room for enhancement.

1. Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 141(2), 261.
2. Distribution internet use according to age
3. Distribution social media use according to age


In defense of Millennials

‘Millennials’ seems to be a new buzzword, which is often used in negative settings. But what are millennials? And how to they differ from previous generations? While doing some research on the internet there seem to be different ideas about the age range of this generation. Apparently there isn’t a general consensus on who gets to call who a millennial. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a millennial is “a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000”. 

A quick google search including the term ‘millennial’ will lead you to many different articles written about this generation. The first article that pops up: ‘Are millennials too sensitive?’.  This is a common statement I usually find in the same sentence as the aforementioned generation, political correctness is often tied to this group. Then I stumble upon a video by an Australian man claiming that millennials are lazy because they grew up in settings where everyone got a prize, and that you ‘just get things in life’.  Then Google gives me other search suggestions, including: millennials characteristics. Interesting. This leads me to the following article: ‘8 Millennials’ traits you should know about before you hire them’. While the overall article isn’t negative at all, it does make me wonder whether it is possible to characterize an entire generation like that. Aren’t there other labels besides Millennial, that determine how people will behave?

Using the Twitter search option to figure out what others think about Millennials will lead to interesting findings as well. A tweet numerously shared by many is the following: ‘Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?’ (from The Economist). There are many funny responses mostly explaining that perhaps they do not have the resources to go out and buy diamonds. And strangely enough, an article on Forbes points out that millennials do buy diamonds.  Mashable posted a list of things that millennials have ruined according to different sources. This list includes the Olympics in Brazil, bar soap, Great Brittian, and sex.

But are millennials really ruining everything? Have they even had the chance to do so? I’m going to list some statistics of the USA, since this word mostly seems to be applied to American ‘millennials’. As can be seen in the aforementioned articles, most if not all examples come from the USA. Looking at graphs from the US census bureau, there definitely seems to be an increase in the level of education acquired over the years. So it is safe to say that the generations aren’t getting ‘dumber’. Second, it seems as if there is a high unemployment rate among this generation, however as Forbes explains, you have to correctly interpret such data. As many young adults are still in college and might not have time to work, many programs are full-time studies. Although due to expensive tuition and living expenses, students might still be forced to look of jobs.
Also since we learn more and more about how we’re affecting the earth, climate change has become a hot topic. According to Nielsen millennials are willing to pay more for products that are sustainable. Fortunately, a more thorough search on the internet will expose you to a more positive outlook on millennials!

However, I still think you cannot generalize a whole generation, people are individuals that grew up under different circumstances. And criticizing younger generations is nothing new – it has been happening since ancient times. Supposedly Socrates has said the following:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

We can easily apply this to any older generations complaining about the younger ones. Read this funny list of historical figures blaming the younger generations for all things bad.
All in all, people are just afraid of change and will scrutinize anything that could possibly bring just that, such as younger generations.

Source picture: Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf of Books, Volume II, published in 1910.