Cultural Observation: Narcissism

“It wasn’t hard to find such data. For example, between 1948 and 1954, psychologists asked more than 10,000 adolescents whether they considered themselves to be a very important person. At that point, 12 percent said yes. The same question was revisited in 1989, and this time it wasn’t 12 percent who considered themselves very important, it was 80 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls. Psychologists have a thing called the narcissism test. They read people statements and ask if the statements apply to them. Statements such as “I like to be the center of attention…I show off if I get the chance because I am extraordinary…Somebody should write a biography about me.” The median narcissism score has risen 30 percent in the last two decades. Ninety-three percent of young people score higher than the middle score just twenty years ago.4 The largest gains have been in the number of people who agree with the statements “I am an extraordinary person” and “I like to look at my body.” Along with this apparent rise in self-esteem, there has been a tremendous increase in the desire for fame. Fame used to rank low as a life’s ambition for most people. In a 1976 survey that asked people to list their life goals, fame ranked fifteenth out of sixteen. By 2007, 51 percent of young people reported that being famous was one of their top personal goals.5 In one study, middle school girls were asked who they would most like to have dinner with. Jennifer Lopez came in first, Jesus Christ came in second, and Paris Hilton third. The girls were then asked which of the following jobs they would like to have. Nearly twice as many said they’d rather be a celebrity’s personal assistant—for example, Justin Bieber’s—than president of Harvard. (Though, to be fair, I’m pretty sure the president of Harvard would also rather be Justin Bieber’s personal assistant.)” -David Brooks, The Road to Character

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