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Are today’s young people different from the youth of previous generations? Are young people more self-centered than their parent and grandparents? In fact, these questions have two possible answers. Those who agree, believe that young people are more narcissistic than their predecessors were at there age, while their opponents suggest the evidence which proves that the levels of narcissism have not increased significantly.
Today’s young people are more self-centered
Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and her colleagues claim that according to the results of the cross-temporal meta-analysis present day youth are more egocentric, narcissistic, self-confident and assertive than previous generations (2008). A cross-temporal analysis found that more recent generations report more narcissistic traits. These results are based on the scores of 85 samples of American college students on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), a measure of narcissism in psychological research (Twenge et al., 2008). Such a shift in results means that the average college student in the USA agrees in two more narcissistic items comparing to the representative of the previous generation, who completed the similar test in 1980s.
The psychologists emphasize that this rise in narcissism has an ambiguous nature since it deals with many positive outcomes, such as self-respect, extraversion, life satisfaction, etc. Among the other benefits are agentic traits, assertiveness and self-esteem. Besides, Twenge uses other psychologists’ studies and summarizes that narcissism may result in short-term likeability, enhanced performance, short-term victories in competitive tasks (2008). Speaking about the narcissism costs to the self, they are distorted judgment of one’s abilities, risky decision making, and addictive disorders like alcoholic abuse, compulsive shopping, or gambling. Some of these costs may be caused by troubled romantic relationships, aggression, assault and other outside factors (Twenge et al., 2008).
The results of cross-temporal meta-analysis also show that materialism has increased as well. Among the most important life goals are becoming well off financially, getting rich and becoming famous, while the number of young people with the similar goals in 1980s was much smaller. Despite that fact that the figures are impressive, the researchers admit that such an analysis has many limitations. They do not explain the initial causes of the changes, so it is not clear whether the change in a purely generational effect or a time-period one (Twenge et al., 2008).
Today’s young people are not very different
The research conducted by the University of Ontario contradicts the statement that today’s youth is more self-centered and extraordinary. The article Do Today’s Young People Think They Are So Extraordinary? written by Kali Trzesniewski, Richard Robins, and Brent Donnellan suggests the evidence of another research. More than 20 000 students of American colleges and universities were tested between the years 1996 and 2007. The results were compared to the data of analogical research conducted in 1970s-1980s, and the researchers found no results proving that display of narcissism had changed over generations (Trzesniewski et al., 2008).
Levels of self-enhancement, extremely positive beliefs about the self-importance, were tested among the high school students as well. Again, they showed little increase on this aspect of narcissism. Trzesniewski (2008) asserts that present-day youth is not more narcissistic than previous generations, and that suchlike characteristics are likely to be inaccurate and result in negative stereotypes about young people. These stereotypes in their turn have great influence of the way young people are viewed by other people and by themselves (Trzesniewski et al., 2008).
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Thus, the research investigated the secular trends in narcissism over the last thirty years, and despite the recent claims about the influence of the so-called “self-esteem movement” on the today’s generation of young people there is no evidence the levels of self-admiration increased from 1980s. At the same time, there are some changes in several specific aspects of narcissism (Trzesniewski et al., 2008). Summing up, the results cast doubt in the belief, that today’s young people (so-called Millennial Generation) have extremely different impressions of themselves compared with their parents (Generation X) and grandparents (Baby-boomers).
Speaking about my own position on this controversial issue, it is also ambiguous and uncertain. I tend to believe that different generations are different. This difference may be the result of changes in political, economical and social development of the USA. Furthermore, current youth is closer to new technologies. The life of today’s young people seems to be easier since they have unlimited access to the information, live in peace, and have more opportunities to fulfill their plans, goals and intentions.
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To my way of thinking, the possible changes may be the results of the self-esteem movement that began in the 1980s. The main aim of this movement was to increase motivation, productivity and self-confident among the young people. Self-esteem, a positive self-image, a feeling of self-worth and self-confidence, is one of the main traits of character a person has to possess in order to succeed in life. Thus, the narcissism that was measured by the researchers mentioned above may be nothing but self-esteem, which is higher than the one of the previous generations. It is understood that a health amount of the self-confidence is essential for an individual’s happiness and success
Of course, it is possible that there are some people who are too self-confident and egocentric, and who eventually become narcissistic and selfish. Thus, alongside the positive effect of self-esteem movements there are some negative ones, related to increasing of narcissistic levels and all the negative consequences of narcissism, namely violence, alcohol abuse, aggression, and drug addiction. Besides, self-esteem movement can lead to low self-esteem when an individual is not sure he will meet society’s expectations and underestimate his/her self.
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Unfortunately, both studies used to explain the controversy limit their conclusions to American society and generations, as there are not much data available from other countries. However, it is known that Americans score higher on narcissism than people from other countries and world regions. The issue of changes in generations seems to be less discussed outside the USA. For instance, in Europe researchers discuss more the impact of new life realities rather than the shift in narcissism. No one knows how our parents and grandparents would behave if they were grown up today. The situation of “global village”, unlimited access to information, multiculturalism and many other things, which characterize the present make us assume that the generations are different from the previous ones all over the world. Of course, these changed are very important to understand, because this understanding can help to maintain mutual understanding between generations and to bridge the generation gap.
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Both positions have grounded reasons, and they can be justified by means of analyses and evidence. For instance, Jean M. Twenge suggests the results of the research in the form of the figures and tables, and they look rather authentic. At the same time, she agrees that cross-temporal meta-analysis has many drawbacks, lacks data about the causes of narcissism and is limited to American college students. The opponents of Twenge in their turn disprove these findings, and suggest their data, which show completely different results and prove that the levels of narcissism have not increased greatly. The reasons for the researches are the constant complaining by the previous generations that their children are too self-centered and the existence of the opposite point of view, according to which nothing has changed except the world around us.
The topic impacts our society greatly. Nowadays, many people experience various problems caused by generation gap and misunderstanding between people. Besides, the question is urgent since it is high time for young people to take up their predecessors’ posts, and the representatives of previous generations are worried about the future, created by young people, who seem to be too self-centered, narcissistic, and vain.
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The researchers who want to get valid data about the differences between generations usually conduct cross-temporal meta-analyses, which help to compare the latest results with the similar data collected many years ago. It is important to research the literature and analyze data properly. Besides, it is important to test as many samples as possible, paying attention to the cultural differences between different nationalities and races. Only detailed analysis of great number of young people of different ages and lifestyles, and accurate data interpretation could be used to resolve the controversy.
Values usually show people’s attitude towards life and general order of things. Values that are touched upon in the positions are equality, activeness, youthfulness, worthiness, uniqueness, understanding, timeliness, self-respect, popularity, originality, family and many others. To my way of thinking, this topic relates to almost all values that are important for people, as the self-esteem and self-perception are the things that rule not only their thoughts but their behavior as well. Assumptions are the automatic responses and opinions, which are enacted through behavior. Basic assumptions are dependent upon the system of values and are rooted in social context. The belief that today’s youth are different is one of the assumptions.
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Summing up, the belief that today’s young people differ from the ones of the previous generations suggests that today they are more narcissistic, self-centered, and assertive. Some researches prove that it is true, while others contradict and claim that there is no evidence of rise in narcissism. However, it is obvious that there are some differences between people of different ages due to the differences in the world around them and systems of values. To my way of thinking, all the differences are the results of changes in political, economical and social development of the USA. Furthermore, current youth is closer to new technologies and its life seems to be easier since they have unlimited access to the information, live in peace, and have more opportunities to fulfill their plans, goals and intentions.