IN each of the following pairs, respondents are asked to choose the statement with which they agree more:
a) “I have a natural talent for influencing people”
b) “I am not good at influencing people”
a) “I can read people like a book”
b) “People are sometimes hard to understand”
a) “I am going to be a great person”
b) “I hope I am going to be successful”
These are some of the 40 questions on a popular version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. It may seem like a just-for-kicks quiz on par with “Which Superhero Are You?” but the test is commonly used by social scientists to measure narcissistic personality traits. (Choosing the first statement in any of the above pairings would be scored as narcissistic.)
Conventional wisdom, supported by academic studies using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, maintains that today’s young people — schooled in the church of self-esteem, vying for spots on reality television, promoting themselves on YouTube — are more narcissistic than their predecessors. Heck, they join Facebook groups like the Association for Justified Narcissism. A study released last year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press dubbed Americans age 18 to 25 as the “Look at Me” generation and reported that this group said that their top goals were fortune and fame.
Yet despite exhibiting some signs of self-obsession, young Americans are not more self-absorbed than earlier generations, according to new research challenging the prevailing wisdom.