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Our meta-analysis also finds no change over time in Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) scores among California college students, most likely due to the cultural and ethnic shifts at the University of California campuses over this time (especially the large increase in Asian-American student enrollment). Students in the rest of the country, from 27 campuses, show an increase of d=0.41 in narcissism over 24 years. The finding that high school students' self-esteem does not change replicates our previous cross-temporal meta-analysis. The self-enhancement measure used by the authors is flawed, as it uses self-reported grades rather than an objective measure. Sampling issues are minor, as the meta-analysis was a representative sampling of college students. Finally, problems with a simplistic "good" and "bad" labeling of NPI factors are discussed.
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Further Evidence of an Increase in Narcissism Among
College Students
Jean M. Twenge,
1
Sara Konrath,
2
Joshua D. Foster,
3
W. Keith Campbell,
4
and Brad J. Bushman
2
1
San Diego State University
2
University of Michigan
3
University of South Alabama
4
University of Georgia
ABSTRACT Our meta-analysis also finds no change over time in Nar-
cissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) scores among California college
students, most likely due to the cultural and ethnic shifts at the University
of California campuses over this time (especially the large increase in
Asian-American student enrollment). Students in the rest of the country,
from 27 campuses, show an increase of d50.41 in narcissism over 24 years.
The finding that high school students’ self-esteem does not change repli-
cates our previous cross-temporal meta-analysis. The self-enhancement
measure used by the authors is flawed, as it uses self-reported grades rather
than an objective measure. Sampling issues are minor, as the meta-analysis
was a representative sampling of college students. Finally, problems with a
simplistic ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ labeling of NPI factors are discussed.
We appreciate Trzesniewski, Donnellan, and Robins (this issue) taking
the time and effort to address the important topic of changes in
narcissism. Although they bring up many important points, their
critique ultimately strengthens our case that narcissism has risen
over the generations among college students.
Changes in Narcissism at the University of California (UC) Campuses
Trzesniewski et al. (this issue) report that they find little change in
narcissism in samples collected 1979–2007 at campuses of the
Address correspondence to Jean M. Twenge, Department of Psychology, San Diego
State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4611; E-mail: jtwenge
@mail.sdsu.edu.
Journal of Personality 76:4, August 2008
r2008, Copyright the Authors
Journal compilation r2008, Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00509.x
University of California (UC), in contrast to our nationwide analysis
finding significant increases in narcissism. We examined the seven
samples from our meta-analysis (N52,652) from universities in Cal-
ifornia, all but one from UC campuses, and also found no change over
time (b50.16, p50.74; see Figure 1). For example, Trzesniewski et
al.’s UC Davis sample from 2003 had a mean of 14.87, compared to
the mean of 17.30 for the non-California colleges 2003–2006
(N54,371). Excluding the California samples, narcissism increased
1988–2006 across 27 campuses, b50.51, po.001, k578, N513,823,
d50.30. The year-by-year change is B50.116, which increases the
effect size to d50.41 for the 24-year span of the main analysis.
Why has narcissism increased in the rest of the country but not at
the UC campuses? Cultural shifts unique to the UC system may be
the cause. In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, prohibiting
UC campuses from using race or ethnicity as a factor in admissions.
This decreased the number of Black and Hispanic students and in-
creased the number of Asian American students. Asians and Asian
Americans score significantly lower than Whites, Blacks, and His-
panics on measures related to individualism, including narcissism
14
15
16
17
18
NPI Score
1980-84 1985-89 1990-94 1995-99 2000-04 2005-06
Year
California
Nationwide (excluding CA)
Figure 1
NPI trends in California (primarily UC campuses) and the remainder
of the United States, based on the samples in the cross-temporal
meta-analysis.
920 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
(e.g., Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999; Oyserman, Coon,
& Kemmelmeier, 2002; Twenge & Crocker, 2002). Asian Americans
were 27% of new freshmen at UC Berkeley in 1983; their enrollment
nearly doubled to 47% in 2007. New freshmen were 30% Asian
American at UC Davis in 1996 and 43% in 2006. The ethnic change,
along with admissions standards increasingly emphasizing objective
academic achievement, may have shifted the norm for personality
and behavior on these campuses and suppressed the generational
change in narcissism—perhaps even for non-Asian students, as this
shift is a cultural marker and not just an individual characteristic.
The ethnic composition and the large shifts over time are both
unique to the UC campuses: Nationwide, only 6% of college stu-
dents, and 4% of the U.S. population, is of Asian decent, and this
has gone up only slightly since the 1980s.
The power of meta-analysis lies in examining data collected at many
sites across the nation (in this case, at 31 campuses). The UC Davis
data illustrate the danger in relying on one campus for birth cohort
analyses, especially when that campus has undergone significant shifts
in its student population and is an outlier on the trait in question.
Monitoring the Future (MTF) Data
Trzesniewski et al. (this issue) examined self-enhancement in the
Monitoring the Future data using the residual of the correlation be-
tween self-rated intelligence and self-reported high school grades.
Even when an objective measure of performance taken at a different
time is used, this type of self-enhancement correlates only modestly
with narcissism (r5.22; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). It is completely
unknown how narcissism correlates with Trzesniewski et al.’s mea-
sure, which uses self-reported grades measured at the same time as
self-reported intelligence. Even if most students accurately report
their grades, those who inflate their reports may be the same ones who
inflate their intelligence (Farwell & Wohlwend-Lloyd, 1998). In addi-
tion, the MTF survey does not ask for GPA but instead a self-report
of ‘‘your average grade so far in high school’’ on a 9-point scale, an
even more subjective measure. Thus Trzesniewski et al.’s calculation
relies on two subjective measures, both of which are correlated with
narcissism (e.g., Farwell & Wohlwend-Lloyd, 1998; in contrast, ob-
jective measures of performance are not correlated with narcissism).
In consequence, the residual scores are virtually meaningless.
Further Evidence of Change in Narcissism 921
Second, self-reported intelligence and grades are four items apart
in the same assessment, which encourages consistency between the
two responses. Third, the intelligence question asks respondents to
compare themselves to others their age, which reduces the opportu-
nity for self-enhancement. Fourth, this is essentially a difference
score. As such, it has the usual problems of difference scores: It is
difficult to tell if beliefs about one’s own intelligence have increased
and beliefs about peer intelligence have increased, or both have de-
creased, or both have stayed constant. Last, self-reported grades
have increased substantially over time in the MTF data. Only 18%
reported earning an A or A- average in 1976 (M55.78), compared
to 33% in 2006 (M56.34; dacross 30 years 50.29). The number
who consider themselves ‘‘A students’’ has thus increased by over
80%. Thus the primary story in the MTF data is one of significant
grade inflation (or, at least, self-reported grade inflation)—a clear
indicator of a culture of narcissism.
Trzesniewski and colleagues discuss data from the MTF data set
showing no increase in high school self-esteem over time. However,
they fail to mention that these data actually replicate our previous
cross-temporal finding that high school students’ global self-esteem
has not changed over time (b50.05, k535, N515,454; see Table 2,
Twenge & Campbell, 2001). Just as with the UC narcissism data,
cross-temporal meta-analysis yields the same results. Our analysis
also found an increase in college students’ Rosenberg self-esteem
scores and increases since 1980 in Coopersmith self-esteem among
elementary and middle school students (Twenge & Campbell, 2001).
Perhaps the social forces of high school mask birth cohort changes in
that age group. This is an important area for future research.
The findings for locus of control in the MTF data do not directly
contradict Twenge, Zhang, and Im (2004) since that meta-analysis
did not examine high school samples. Instead, it found increasing
externality in schoolchildren aged 9 to 14 and in college students
(N525,864). The purported lower methodological quality of dis-
sertations is irrelevant because the meta-analysis gathered means
rather than effect sizes dependent on study design.
Convenience Sampling
We are uncertain why Trzesniewski et al. (this issue) claimed that our
analysis relied on convenience sampling. This is a term with an
922 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
inexact definition because it is used differently across fields and is a
matter of degree—perfectly random samples of people are virtually
nonexistent. In psychology, it is most often applied to shopping mall
surveys with low response rates, or to samples of one’s friends, and
not to samples of college students from subject pools. However, it is
important to consider whether our meta-analysis is a representative
sample of the data available on college students’ NPI scores. It is.
Reporting means in articles is not systematically biased by the level
of the mean or how the mean has changed over time.
A separate issue is the data available on college student NPI
scores. Although only some researchers study narcissism, there is no
biased or nonrandom relationship between the location of the re-
searchers and the campus’s mean NPI score. Thus a random sample
of the population of college students at 4-year universities would
likely yield similar results.
If we use Trzesniewski et al.’s broad definition of convenience
samples (data not sampled randomly from the general population),
the MTF data set on which they rely is also a convenience sample.
MTF collects data only at the 66% to 80% of high schools that agree
to participate. Even then, 79% to 83% of students at these schools
complete the survey, and even fewer answer all of the questions. In
addition, ‘‘nonresponse in the MTF is more common among boys,
nonwhites, students in lower academic tracks, and students with
lower grade point averages’’ (Reynolds, Stewart, MacDonald, &
Sischo, 2006, p. 192).
Even if we apply the term ‘‘convenience’’ only to less representa-
tive samples like college students, the vast majority of both descrip-
tive and experimental psychology research uses such samples. The
authors of these studies routinely generalize from college students to
entire populations (e.g., Meston & Buss, 2007; Terracciano et al.,
2005). If it were truly ‘‘Epidemiology 101’’ not to use nonrepresent-
ative samples in descriptive studies, our psychology journals would
be nearly empty. So would the vitas of the authors of the comment.
As just one example, Robins, Trzesniewski, Tracy, Gosling, and
Potter (2002) examined Internet participants, a sample more remi-
niscent than ours of Literary Digest’s 1936 poll, conducted by tele-
phone when much of the population did not have telephone service.
The same, of course, was true of the Internet in 1999–2000. This
study examined age differences in self-esteem, drawing broad con-
clusions about people based on this nonrepresentative sample with
Further Evidence of Change in Narcissism 923
possible confounds between likelihood of participation and age. This
is not to condemn their research—we have used Internet samples
ourselves—but instead to explain why we are puzzled that
Trzesniewski et al. would raise this issue.
Finally, college students are an important group to study. Two-
thirds of high school graduates enroll in college (a much more
meaningful indicator than the percentage of people age 18–24 in
college, the statistic used by Trzesniewski et al., which includes peo-
ple who have been in college in the past or may enroll in the future).
College students, particularly those at 4-year universities, are also
their generation’s future professionals and leaders. Thus, examining
college students is central to a discussion of generational change.
The Ecological Fallacy
We are also perplexed as to why Trzesniewski et al. brought up the
issue of the ecological fallacy/alerting correlations, as our article
clearly states that we calculated effect sizes using the standard
deviation for individual samples (rather than the SD among the
means), which avoids this problem.
Subscales of Narcissism
Trzesniewski and colleagues note that cohort change in NPI scores
might differ by subscale and argue that the ‘‘good’’ subscales of the
NPI have increased more than the ‘‘bad’’ subscales. Even though the
UC Davis samples are not consistent with others in the United States,
trends in the NPI subscales for this population are still interesting.
Although we agree that, for example, the entitlement factor is an
especially good predictor of aggression (Konrath, Bushman, &
Campbell, 2006), the parsing of narcissism into ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’
factors is simplistic for at least two reasons. First, narcissism is a
trade-off as it can lead to positive outcomes for the self in the short
term but negative outcomes for others and the self in the long term
(Campbell & Buffardi, in press). Paulhus (1998) found that narcis-
sism predicted high initial likeability, but later distaste, on the part of
strangers. Likewise, narcissists are skilled at becoming leaders but
have problems later on (e.g., Brunell, Gentry, Campbell, Hoffman,
& Kuhnert, 2007; Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). Second, with narcissism,
even the exact same behavior can have ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ conse-
924 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
quences depending on the level of analysis. In a tragedy of the com-
mons dilemma paradigm, narcissism predicted positive individual per-
formance in the short run (good) but poor performance among all
(bad), which effectively results in longer-term resource destruction
(bad; Campbell, Bush, Brunell, & Shelton, 2005). An apparently adap-
tive behavior from the individual’s perspective is a destructive behav-
ior from the group’s perspective. Thus, we are less than optimistic
about the benefits of increased individual-level narcissism for a society,
although there might be some areas of society (e.g., entrepreneurship)
where there might be benefits. More research is clearly needed on the
cultural-level consequences of elevated individual-level narcissism.
Self-Esteem Programs
In their conclusion, Trzesniewski et al. suggest that self-esteem pro-
grams might be beneficial. However, many self-esteem programs, ‘‘I
Am Special’’ song sessions, and ‘‘All About Me’’ lessons are taught
to all students, not just those with low self-esteem. Thus Americans
are administering a psychological intervention to an entire popula-
tion of children when only a small minority shows any sign of need-
ing it. This is akin to giving all third graders Ritalin because a few of
them have ADHD. Ritalin might help the performance of many
students in the short run (hence, its popularity as a ‘‘study aid’’), but
this is not worth the risk of longer-term negative outcomes.
We do agree that the outcomes of self-esteem programs, including
their effect on narcissism, should be studied using longitudinal meth-
ods. Self-esteem programs are a medicine with unknown effects. The
content of the programs suggests that the effects are likely to be neg-
ative for normal children. ‘‘I am special’’ teaches narcissism rather than
self-esteem. Many programs include generic praise, which demotivates
children; in contrast, praising effort leads to increased motivation
(Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Furthermore, low self-esteem leading to
negative outcomes like delinquency (Donnellan et al., 2005) may be
caused by a deeper underlying difficulty like social exclusion by family
or peers, problems that self-esteem programs are unlikely to remedy.
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