If it seems as though we are living in a society that increasingly values image over actual character depth, it’s because we are. This is most apparent in the generation of young people between the ages of 18 and 25. Many people blame social media for creating a generation of narcissists but is Instagram, Facebook, and now TikTok really to blame? (1)
Has Social Media Created A Generation Of Narcissists?
Some psychologists are calling narcissism an epidemic in America. Many of them are putting the blame on social media for creating a generation of narcissists. A generation of people who care more about how they appear on Instagram than who they are as people in real life. Both the Millennials and Generation Z have been dubbed with this title, and much of it comes from their seeming obsession with sharing their lives on social media. As we know, however, what people put on social media is not actually a true depiction of themselves or their lives. Instead, people are obsessed with their “highlight reels.” They spend so much time trying to make it look like they’re living their best life that they forget to put the phone down and actually live it. (2)
“In data from 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.” wrote Professor Jean M. Twenge in her most recent work The Narcissistic Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. (2)
Another study published in 2019 similarly found that adults between the ages of 18 and 25 believe that their generation is the most narcissistic. (1)
Is Social Media The Problem?
Various studies have shown a correlation between people who score higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire and those who tend to be more active on social media platforms. The reality is that social media is quite well set up to encourage self-promotion. The way algorithms work now, the more frequently you post, and the more high-quality those posts are, the more visibility you get. This leads, of course, to more likes, comments, and shares, giving the user that addictive hit of validation every single time. (2)
“[People use Facebook] to look important, look special, and to gain attention and status and self-esteem,” says W. Keith Campbell. (2)
Postdoctoral researcher Laura Buffadi agrees, saying that true narcissists take this even a bit further.
“Narcissists use Facebook and other social networking sites because they believe others are interested in what they’re doing, and they want others to know what they are doing.” (2)
With all of this said, significant research shows that the main aspects of a person’s personality are almost fully developed by age seven. This is younger than the minimum age requirement for most social media platforms. So while social media might promote narcissistic behavior, many psychologists suggest that those more likely to heavily self-promote on social media would likely be that way regardless. (2)
How Do The Younger Generations Feel?
As already mentioned, many Gen-Z-ers will openly admit that they believe that their generation is highly self-absorbed. Finally, psychologist Dr. Josh Grubbs decided to determine how the younger generations felt about being told they were more self-absorbed than those before them. (1) He and his colleagues spent six years interviewing college students about (1):
- Their personality traits
- Age-group stereotypes
- Their opinions of narcissism and entitlement both as a label and a personality trait
They surprisingly found that most didn’t deny the claim but also that views on narcissism were mixed. First of all, not everyone had these personality traits. The ones without narcissistic tendencies typically viewed narcissism as negative. Those who swayed more in the other direction viewed it as positive. All told, however, they did seem to think that their generation was more self-absorbed. (1)
What Is The Truth?
Many psychologists and other groups have made claims that the younger generations are highly narcissistic. The media has reported on it heavily, making some psychologists wonder if the reason why these generations accept it is that they’ve been told that it is true. From their research, there aren’t actually more people with narcissistic personality traits than before. (1)
“Maybe the whole generation isn’t more narcissistic, there’s just variability between folks,” said Dr. Grubbs. (1)
Dr. Grubbs doesn’t think that the young generations are actually more narcissistic, they just have platforms that allow those who are to be even more so. He thinks that in the future, we should be less quick to stick a broad label on an entire generation of people. (1)
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