Here’s the cold, hard data: The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982.
But I’m not convinced that those and other cited statistics actually indicate NPD. I think this “syndrome” is a rational reaction to shitty circumstances. The economy is broken. Politics are majorly broken. The environment is fucked. Social Security and healthcare? I’m a GenXer and, given these circumstances, I think it’s time to enjoy yourself ’cause it’s later than you think.
All these problems and media showing us more celebrity star power than ever? Why wouldn’t you want to be an assistant vs. being the person in charge? You get the VIP props without the heat of having to perform. Lazy? Sure. Or maybe just an option for the less talented to be involved with success?
The story goes on to quote Emory University’s Mark Bauerlein regarding how this generation lives in an echo chamber of peer influence:
“Peer pressure is anti-intellectual. It is anti-historical. It is anti-eloquence”
Anti-intellectual? It may be true that peer pressure is that indeed. But Republicans denial of Global Climate Change and the pervading influence of various and sundry gods provide an overflowing fountain of anti-intellectualism. Our Founding Father’s believed in the rebirth of The Enlightenment but that truth has been subjugated by modern-day anti-intellectual geniuses.
Other opinions vary. According to an article in Slate Magazine the factors are complex:
As an article at the Atlantic pointed out last week, many psychologists have disputed the study Stein cited about millennials being singularly narcissistic. And while the NIH study found incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is inversely related to age, its authors admit "NPD may be more prevalent among young adults due to developmental challenges in the transition from adolescence to adulthood."
There’s debate in psychology over whether narcissism should be considered a clinical disorder at all or whether it’s simply a stop on the continuum of natural human emotion.
There are also situational and environmental factors that change with time. While I have no data here it’s hard for me to imagine someone who grew up as a beet farmer in the 30′s scoring high on these tests in their 60′s or 70′s.
And then there’s WWII. Not a time to be self-centered when trying to save the world.
It also seems true that technology’s impacts on society has never been more pronounced and that could be a major influence. The car and the airplane increased freedom of movement and autonomy. The lightbulb added hours and shifted time. But smartphones with cameras + the Internet + social media? Seriously unprecedented and primarily self centered.
Anyway, the Time magazine cover parodies are funny and somewhat accurate. Check those out, too.