Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Research: Young People Don't Have Our Heads Up Our Asses

At least not any more than any young people at any time, ever.
As the Times reports, a new book is coming out repudiating Jean Twenge's odious Generation Me, which purported to show through research that young people these days scored higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory than previous generations (research that was never published in a peer-reviewed academic journal until after her popular book was published.)
The new researchers use the same data to show not much has changed.
The Times quotes an intelligent and nuanced observer of the younger generation, who I also quote in my book:

“It’s like a cottage industry of putting them down and complaining about them and whining about why they don’t grow up,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a developmental psychologist, referring to young Americans. Mr. Arnett, the author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens through the Twenties” (2004, Oxford University Press), has written a critique of Ms. Twenge’s book, which is to be published in the American Journal of Psychology.
Scholars including Mr. Arnett suggest several reasons why the young may be perceived as having increased narcissistic traits. These include the personal biases of older adults, the lack of nuance in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, changing social norms, the news media’s emphasis on celebrity, and the rise of social networking sites that encourage egocentricity.

I agree, except:
-Popular obsession with the doings of celebrities, as distinct from the portrayed attitudes of the celebs themselves, doesn't necessarily have to do with narcissism. It's just gossip, fodder for discussions about social norms, relationships, romance, and all the other juicy bits that hold a society together. It's also a source of powerful imagery that mainly makes young women feel bad about their bodies & themselves--not really amplifying narcissism.

-Social networking sites don't necessarily encourage egocentricity. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of social networking. Yes, you build your profile page, and you're concerned about your popularity, but you spend most of your time on other people's profile pages, sending messages, sharing photos, planning events. They call it social networking for a reason, not "me" networking.


Anonymous said...

I personally think that all data and statistics can be manipulated to support one point or another. In the case of these books, they are just fudging the numbers. It's not particularly new or interesting.

Anonymous said...

Saw today's article by Naomi Shaeffer Riley in WSJ about the new book by Robert Wuthnow, "After the Boomers." According to the article, Wuthnow does not believe that the "after boomer" generation is slacking off, but appears to be complaining that this generation relies excessively on their parents for both money and labor hours such as baby sitting.

While more money might be transferred from parents to the "after boomer" generation, the labor hours increase just represents a return to earlier days. Whereas the boomer generation tended to move far away from their parents, earlier generations lived close to extended families. Those extended families frequently supplied baby sitting, cooked meals, and other kind of household help. I see the current trend as something positive, that the generations are again "sticking together." This cannot be bad. I just hope that this translates into the younger generation in turn helping
the boomers when they get old.

Science Editor
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Anonymous said...

Sadly, social networking sites have become a significant distraction for GenY folks. They use these sites during work hours when they should be focused on their work instead.

It has become so bad in our workplace that we are now considering permanently blocking access to these sites, as well as instant messaging software on our corporate network.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of confusion as to what people are referring to when they talk about "narcissism." In psychology it doesn't mean an excess of self-esteem, as it does in colloquial usage; a lot of psychologists think it actually comes from a weakened self-concept, or from an overdeveloped sense of shame.

The idea that contemporary life fosters narcissism is not so easily dismissed. Generation Me is kind of low-hanging fruit--better to read something like James Cote's Arrested Adulthood; also, Anthony Giddens has a good critique of this sort of theory in Modernity and Self-Identity.

Anonymous said...

Young people are getting younger every year...

The maturity level of the average 25 year old in 2008 can be compared to that of a 15 year old in 1908. Something is changing in our youth and it's not getting any better. Social networking or popular obsession are just symptoms of the real problem: Moral erosion. Now that we are teaching our young people that there are no moral absolutes and that right and wrong can change at a moment's notice at their convenience; why is it such a surprise that our young people are: less responsible, less ethical, less respectful, less loving, etc.

In my humble opinion, by kicking God out of their lives, anything goes.