Friday, September 28, 2007

College Life

Self-Centered Or Self-Sufficient?
By Therese M. Whelan

Today’s college students have their own websites, facebook profiles with hundreds of pictures of themselves online, and post their videos on YouTube. They attend colleges where they can study whatever they choose and are told that they can become anything they want to be. Diversity is accepted and individualism is encouraged. However, a recent study by five psychologists found that American college age students are more narcissistic and self-centered than the previous generation, and they worry that the trend could be harmful to society.

The study conducted between 1982 and 2006, asked 16,475 college students to complete an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The inventory asked for responses to questions such as “I think I am a special person,” and “I can live my life any way I want.” The results of this study show that scores have risen since 1982. In 2006, the study says two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, which is 30 percent more than in 1982.

But young people are quick to defend themselves. This study was conducted over 24 years, which means that about 686 students were surveyed each year. Is that really enough evidence to judge an entire generation? Does a little narcissism prevent altruism?

“Just because I care about myself doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people,” says Sarah Fierro, 18. She said she and her friends are, “very political and are interested in volunteer work.”

Psychologists worry that the rise in narcissistic tendencies will damage college age student’s future relationships. The study says that overly narcissistic people "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." The rise in narcissism is cited by parents who teach their children that they are special to raise their self-esteem. Jean Twenge, the study’s lead writer believes "current technology fuels the increase in narcissism. By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube.”

However, recent evidence also shows an increase in the number of young people participating in volunteer work. And websites such as MySpace and Facebook are being used as platforms to share ideas and information, not just pictures and gossip.

Youth ambition can be confused with narcissism. Today’s youth faces much more pressure to succeed. Competition is a big part of most college students lives. There is competition to get into a good college, to get jobs and internships. Students look for a way to separate themselves from the average.

Chris Larson, 21, thinks that his peers are misunderstood. “Yeah, in some ways we are more self-centered,” says Larson. “But you have to stand out, especially in New York where it’s easy to blend into a crowd.”

Narcissism is expected in young people, but to say that it is a defining factor of their generation would be ridiculous. If today’s college students think highly of themselves, it is not without reason. Every generation wants to change the world, and believes that they have the power to do so. The current generation sees the ways their parent’s generation has made mistakes, and wants to believe that they have the ability to fix it. Individuality and independence should not be condemned. It’s the individuals who make up a society and they can accomplish a lot more by thinking that they are unique.

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