College Students Aren’t Vain, They’re Just Looking For A Niche
By Sarah Campbell
Vanity is on the rise among college students, according to a study conducted by five psychologists. The findings are the result of a nationwide evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI).
The NPI, which solicited responses from 16,475 college students who were evaluated between 1982 and 2006, asks students to comment on statements such as, “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place” and “I can live my life any way I want to.” By 2006, the research showed a 30% increase in the NPI scores since the test was introduced in 1982. The psychologists say this increase is worrisome, and is likely to negatively affect personal relationships and American society.
The report says that students, “while acknowledging some legitimacy to such findings, don’t necessarily accept generalizations about their generation.”
Sophie Freeman, a sophomore at North Carolina School of the Arts, finds it believable that the NPI has increased, though she says, “I find it interesting that the study is done on college students. I mean isn’t this the time for personal exploration? To focus on yourself and create yourself?”
Freeman feels she tries to do her part in the community and seeks experiences to broaden her outlook. “I personally find a way to incorporate what I love to do in something that’s beneficial for others.” Majoring in modern dance, she explains, “I know I want to dance and it’s not the kind of thing you can do a couple days a week to give more attention to others. In fact I guess dance itself is pretty self-involved (she laughs) the time you give to it alone could probably label you as self-centered.”
Freeman continues: “I know I’m not going to be a full-time volunteer but I do what I can. I’ll perform for a cause. I’ve performed in children’s hospitals, nursing homes, in a Fundraising fair in New Orleans. And these are non-paying optional gigs but I think that it makes sense.”
The researchers believe that the 1980s “self-esteem movement” may have triggered this vanity trend, which they say has now gone too far. W. Keith Campbell, a researcher from the University of Georgia says narcissism can have benefits, but “unfortunately, narcissism can also have negative consequences for society..” The study explains that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack of emotional warmth, and to exhibit game playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behavior.”
Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego University, and the study’s lead author, explains narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism, and prefer self-promotion in favor of helping others, all aspects she attributes to why young Americans are more miserable today than before. Twenge says schooling, technology and the way we speak to our children are all contributing factors to this rise in NPI. She says: “Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism,” sighting YouTube and MySpace as attention-seeking sites that provoke the problem.
Twenge also says: “We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat this back…” Campbell on the other hand seems less sure of how to remedy the problem, noting: “permissiveness seems to be a component… A potential antidote would be more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for.”
Cynthia Dragoni, who recently attended the University of Pennsylvania, finds the NPI results an accurate reflection of society, though she too expresses concern over the focus on those of college age. She says: “Well of course college students are self-centered, but show me someone, at any age, who’s really not. I mean the life we live is all about the individual.”
Dragoni who has lived in both Russia and the Ukraine, but was raised in the U.S. says, “it’s the American way… everything we do tends to get more focused on ‘me, me, me’… look at the types of things people consider news, or entertainment. Everything seems to be glorifying the way of life that is centered on a life focused around oneself and that self seems to focus on things that probably shouldn’t be deemed as relevant as they are.”
Massimo Lavelle, a student at Penn State says, “College kids may seem to be more self-involved, though I’d argue that they are no more so than older generations, they just haven’t found their niche yet. You see, if you see someone in their late 30s with kids, a golf membership and a summer house they aren’t considered to be self-involved, they are just living their life.
Lavelle thinks that college students have different priorities, which leads them to be “…seen as focusing on the more trivial and are thus perceived as self-centered.”
Lavelle describes selfishness as human nature and adds, “I think that selfishness is most apparent in a diverse environment. Like in college everyone’s selfishness is highlighted because there are so many people with so many different desires without a common-ground for topic and understanding.”
Lavelle explains that by the time you’re out of college and have “laid a foundation for yourself,” you then build a life that is catered to your desires. “You jump in a box that you fit into comfortably, so no one thinks of your doings as anything other than normal.”