2013 Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values Keynote Speaker
Professional Title: Professor of Psychology
Books: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (co-authored with W. Keith Campbell) Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant
Having three small children probably helps! They are a constant reminder that much of what’s important in life isn’t very glamorous, and that’s just fine. It’s a matter of not letting work experiences change who you are—you have to be able to do an interview one minute and go change a diaper the next one. Being successful at work shouldn’t make you a less understanding parent, spouse, or friend.
I would not suggest that disadvantaged students build confidence, but that they build self-control, self-efficacy, and an internal locus of control. That’s a psychology jargon way of saying: Know that working hard will help you succeed. You might have to study for three hours for a test that a more privileged classmate can study one hour for, but it’s worth it if you get the same grade. Also make sure you have the study skills and work habits that will help you succeed—“working hard” does not mean skimming the textbook while listening to music and clicking around Facebook.
Social media are built around people connecting to each other—and people will use them in a way consistent with their existing tendencies. So encouraging academic success and personal and social responsibility has to start offline. Then social media can be used to coordinate these efforts. And sometimes, it means tuning out of social media for awhile— to sit down and study for a test without being distracted by text messages; to go to a soup kitchen to volunteer.
One argument is that students doing service is a good thing no matter what their motivation. The question colleges and universities need to ask is, “What are students learning from this experience?” If it’s just resume-building, it probably doesn’t have a lasting impact. If it teaches something important, however—such as empathy or practical skills—that’s more beneficial.
I don’t think it will. With overconfidence so common, many young people will still think they will be the lucky ones who will become famous. If that means they are developing useful skills—say, in music or in video production—that can be good. But too often it replaces more useful pursuits.
First, have them make age-appropriate choices. A 6-year-old, for example, should not decide when it’s bedtime, but she can decide what to wear among weather-appropriate choices. A 13-year-old should not decide whether he “wants” to go to school, but he can decide if he wants to be friends with someone. At both ages, they can choose to behave appropriately or chose not to and suffer the consequences. The key is for children to learn how to make choices in a limited way and not to overwhelm them with too many choices or choices that they are not mature enough to make.
The main difference is that few people believe that the spread of disease is a good thing. Yet many people believe that narcissism is “adaptive” or beneficial, especially for professional success. Although narcissism does seem to improve public performance, narcissistic people are not any more successful, smarter, or more beautiful than anyone else—they just think they are. That’s a very important point for students to understand.
We haven’t been able to study films yet, but we know that both song lyrics and books have become more narcissistic over time. Song lyrics now use more antisocial and aggressive language such as “hit” and “kill,” often in songs about revenge and jealousy. They also use more self-focused language such as “I” and “me” instead of “we” and “us;” American books show the same trends. Books are also now more likely to use individualistic words and phrases such as “unique,” “I am special,” and “I love me.”
We read about rulers in history who murdered their relatives to gain their crowns and created thrones and palaces of gold while their citizens starved. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) agreed with Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) that without law and order to keep us in check, we would steal from and harm others for the smallest advancement for ourselves.
Yes, narcissists have always existed—but the data suggest that there are now more of them. That’s due to many factors. For example, cultural individualism encourages the belief that everyone can be a winner and everyone can be famous. Although the movement toward equality is a very good thing overall, it’s also encouraged the idea that everyone deserves the best even without any talent or hard work (known as entitlement). Systems and individuals work in tandem—education is a good example of that. A few students ask for higher grades, some faculty give them, and then more students ask. That’s one reason why we have massive grade inflation, and it’s no coincidence it has occurred at the same time as growing narcissism—narcissism leads to demanding higher grades, and getting higher grades for less work may lead to narcissism.
Yes. “Student-centered” has come to mean “give the students what they want.” The problem is that what they want and what they need are often opposed to each other. Many want good grades without much effort, but that shortchanges them in the long run. If the students want more interactive learning, however, that will help them. So it’s a matter of figuring out what will serve them best in their future careers—and that will also include relating well with others.
Higher education aims to educate students to make them better citizens and better workers. Students who care for others—who (for example) can take someone else’s perspective—will be better citizens and more productive workers. So I think this is the job of universities.
Of course, but many people will continue to be narcissistic if they believe it benefits them. Once they learn that narcissism does not lead to personal success, they are more interested in reducing their narcissism, which then in turn benefits others.