What Are The Effects Of America’s Narcissism Epidemic?

Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience

There’s a strong case to be made that since the end of World War II, Americans have grown increasingly narcissistic on average – more entitled, with an inflated sense of self-importance.

Psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell are most responsible for collecting data and creating a narrative to support this claim.

According to the duo, the rise began with the Baby Boomers, who grew up in an era of relative ease and plenty after their grandparents endured a Great Depression and their parents soldiered and sacrificed through World War II. When they entered college, the Boomers abandoned the traditional collectivist mentality of their grandparents and adopted individualism.

The trend continued with Boomers’ kids. As Dennis Shen wrote for the London School of Economics’ Phelan United States Centre, “One study comparing teenagers found that while only 12% of those aged 14-16 in the early 1950s agreed with the statement “I am an important person”, 77% of boys and more than 80% of girls of the same cohort by 1989 agreed with it.”

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The rise of narcissism is evident. In 2008, Twenge published a study comparing college students’ scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory scale to scores from students in 1979, finding that levels of narcissism had risen roughly 30 percent.

This increase has been confirmed by additional research. “59% of American college freshmen rated themselves above average in intellectual self-confidence in 2014, compared with 39% in 1966,” Shen wrote.

Owing to the elevated prevalence of social media services over the past decade, it’s highly likely that the rise in narcissism has only accelerated of late. We see it on Twitter, where users flock to share their ‘brilliant’ opinions. It’s also evident on Instagram and TikTok where users carefully curate online profiles.

It is also evident in other media outlets, such as traditional media where journalists with elite educations often focus their attention on Twitter and make themselves the main story.

TV news also has a lot of narcissism. Gone are the days of humble correspondents and “just the facts” anchors, replaced by talking heads and opinionated hosts more interested in their ratings than the truth.

Of course, while narcissism has risen, that doesn’t mean we are all narcissists.

It exists both as a trait, which is on a spectrum, and a personality disorder, which is much more extreme and debilitating.

Narcissistic personality disorder has actually remained fairly stable in the U.S. over the past decades. This is a sign that Americans are more self-centered now than ever, yet they’re not locked in their head.

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Is there a wider impact of this psychological shift? As Shen speculated, partisanship has exploded as people have grown more enamored with their own beliefs and less open to others’.

Debt-financed conspicuous consumption “to elevate one’s status in front of others, rather than out of necessity” has risen. Partly, this could be due to an increased disdain for the government.

There is also another way to look at the rise in narcissism – as a defense mechanism.

Narcissism is often driven by low self-esteem and insecurity. Since the 1950s, wealth inequality has risen, cost of living has exploded, especially for housing, and purchasing power has stagnated.

These economic pressures are combined with the pressure-filled media environment that has dominated the last century, and the result is a rise of narcissism. And sadly, narcissism is linked to elevated hostility and aggression towards others.

We hope that Americans find ways to reduce their collective narcissism, before it explodes.

Real Clear Wire permission granted permission for this syndicated article.

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