Me, Myself And I: Studies Show College Students Are More Narcissistic Than Before

April 26, 2011

Young woman looking at herself in mirrorFor decades, researchers have studied the level of narcissism among young adults, particularly college students. According to The New York Times, most research has been centered around a questionnaire called the Narcissism Personality Inventory, which asks students whether they identify with statements such as "I try not to be a show-off" or "I will usually show off if I get the chance". However, a new study by Dr. Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, and other psychologists offers a new angle.

As The New York Times reported, Dr. DeWall and his researchers hypothesized that song lyrics of today would show that young adults are more narcissistic than previous generations. To find out, they analyzed lyrics from hit songs from 1980 to 2007. As predicted, the words "I" and "me" appeared more frequently and with anger-related words, suggesting a definite trend toward narcissism and hostility. The researchers also found a decline in the use of words such as "we" and "us" and the expression of positive emotions.

"Late adolescents and college students love themselves more today than ever before," said Dr. DeWall.

DeWall cited hits such as Justin Timberlake's "I'm bringing sexy back" and songs by Beyonce and Fergie in which they boast about their attractiveness. In comparison, songs the 1980s were less about the singer. Take for example, Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory" and racial harmony songs by Paul McCartney or songs about togetherness like those by John Lennon and Kool & the Gang. In other words, noted The New York Times, Dr. DeWall's song-lyric analysis showed a decline in words related to social connections and positive emotions.

Some wonder, however, whether the data still holds true today since Dr. DeWall's study only goes up to 2007. While there is still definite evidence of narcissism in today's hits (for example, Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock": "All eyes on me when I walk in, no question that this girl's a 10"), other studies show that college students now have their vehicles for self-promotion. According to Ars Technica, a study of 279 students showed that young adults use technology and social media tools to promote themselves and gain popularity.

The Daily Titan also reported that young adults use social networking sites to show off more than they use them to form deep, intimate relationships. One study by psychology researcher Soraya Mehdizadeh analyzed 100 students' Facebook accounts and activity such as photo-sharing, status updates and even how many times they logged in. Mehdizadeh found that students who were narcissistic, based on the Narcissism Personality Inventory and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, spent more than an hour a day on Facebook promoting themselves via status updates and photo-sharing.

According to The New York Times, some psychologists are skeptical that personality traits change much from generation to generation, saying that perhaps today's students are just more comfortable with admitting feelings that have always been there. Still, some psychologists argue that this new willingness to brag about oneself is a definite and important cultural change that is unlikely to go away any time soon.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"A Generation's Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics,", April 25, 2011, John Tierney

"Narcissism in social media,", April 21, 2011, Candace Rivera

"Self-promotion on Facebook correlates with narcissism,", April 5, 2011, Jacqui Cheng

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