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In 2009, Twenge and Campbell published a book entitled, “The Narcissism Epidemic.” Building on the published claims from Twenge’s first book, “Generation Me”—which looked into the rising occurrences of narcissistic behavior amongst millennials and stereotyped the generation as the ‘narcissistic generation’—this more recent publication presented a strong critique of modern society and how it has been quickly embracing a culture of narcissism (Twenge & Campbell, 2009). With some referring to it as ‘subclinical narcissism’ or narcissism that is evident in healthy, ‘normal’ populations (Bergman, Fearrington, Davenport, & Bergman, 2011), this brand of narcissism is said to mirror much of the symptoms of the syndrome known as ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (NPD). At the same time, it can easily be mistaken for behavior that is characteristic of a person with a healthy self-esteem, overlapping with traits such as self-assurance, decisiveness, and willfulness (Pierre, 2016).
These sweeping claims, however, have resulted in much debate amongst psychologists (Pierre, 2016). While there may be evidence that narcissistic traits are more evident in modern society, it does not directly imply the presence of an epidemic. This essay will look into current psychological research to understand more about narcissism, especially in the context of the millennial generation, while also analyzing factors that lead to current trends in narcissistic traits and the impact that narcissism has on society.
Issues Surrounding the ‘Narcissism Epidemic’
The inability of other researchers to reproduce Twenge and Campbell’s findings in other sample populations caused many to conclude that they had made a hasty generalization that there is a rise in narcissism. The reliability of their testing methods have been contested by fellow psychologists for numerous times. For one, they have claimed findings about a huge population when the data they were working with was but the size of a ‘convenience sample’ (Li, 2018). Studies led by Trzesniewski—one using the sample population of UC Berkeley and UC Davis, another using data from the Monitoring the Future Project—showed no significant rise in narcissism. In combining records from both Twenge and Trzesniewski’s researches with those from the University of Illinois, further study led by Roberts suggests no evidence of a significant increase in Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) scores from 1982 to 2009 (Pierre, 2016). Twenge’s findings may have caused a stir when it was picked up by news outlets but it appears that most research that followed have opposed its findings.
Another point of criticism is related to the capacity of the NPI to accurately measure for narcissism when many statements on the questionnaire are too open for interpretation, both positive and negative ones. Not all items included in the NPI questionnaire are detrimental by nature. With statements such as, “I can live my life the way I want,” and “I think I am a special person” (Twenge & Campbell, 2009), the test does seem to be a means to measure self-confidence rather than narcissism. Coupled with values like compassion for people and an openness to feedback (Foster, 2014), choosing the aforementioned statements also suggests a healthy sense of self. Twenge’s study appears to fail to consider how society is continuously evolving in terms of its perspectives. There appears to be a great possibility that what is considered as narcissistic behavior before is now only a normal, acceptable—even necessary—behavior (Newman, 2018). With modern society demanding for a spirit of leadership and entrepreneurship from its people, it can only be expected that younger generations will work up to imbibe what is asked of them. Upon factoring in this element into the equation, a study found that there may even be a drop in narcissism from 1990s to 2010s. As such, labelling millennials as “Generation Me” appears to also be baseless (Li, 2018)
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