Are college students more narcissistic than ever?

Robby Soave Reporter
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The average college student thinks he possesses above average intelligence, drive, and leadership qualities, according to a new study that shows narcissism among young people is at a 50-year high.

The American Freshman Survey, which is published yearly by the Higher Education Research Institution at UCLA, depicts an upward trend in the self-confidence levels of college students since 1966. Over 70 percent of freshman responded that they are more driven than their peers, while over 60 percent thought they were more intelligent and made better leaders than the average student.

But students’ views of themselves are at odds with the facts, according Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of the book “Generation Me.”

“Our culture now emphasizes feeling good almost as much as actual success,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In recent years, respondents showed increasing confidence in their writing abilities. Yet objective measures show that freshmen scored better in writing in the 1960s, when their self-confidence was much lower.

According to research done by Twenge and her colleagues, the more confident students were in their writing abilities, the worse they performed on that portion of the SAT.

“When matched by year and weighted by sample size, mean self-evaluations of writing ability were actually negatively correlated with mean verbal SAT scores, meaning that students evaluated their writing ability more favorably in years when verbal SAT scores were lower.”

In building her case against excessive self-confidence among teens, Twenge points to an educational culture that is increasingly reluctant to punish failure, instead emphasizing each and every student’s “specialness.” Rampant grade inflation at high schools and universities over the past few decades has helped convince average students that their achievements are actually above average, she said.

“A third of high school students graduate with an A average, even though standardized test performance is unchanged or down and students actually study for fewer hours than they once did,” she wrote. “Students are getting better grades for less work, which is probably one reason why they feel so confident.”

But not all psychologists are convinced that high self-confidence is an epidemic — or even particularly harmful.

“I tend to worry that we have a historical tendency to find ways to malign young people,” wrote Christopher Ferguson, an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M International University, in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We may be taking a good thing ‘increased self esteem’ and trying to label it as a bad thing ‘narcissism’ to fit with general anti-young prejudices in society.”

Ferguson is also skeptical that increased self-confidence has made today’s teenagers worse off than their predecessors.

“Little evidence has emerged that this ‘narcissism epidemic’ has had any deleterious effect on the behavioral health of today’s young people,” he wrote.

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Robby Soave