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A cross-temporal meta-analysis found that narcissism levels have risen over the generations in 85 samples of American college students who completed the 40-item forced-choice Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between 1979 and 2006 (total n=16,475). Mean narcissism scores were significantly correlated with year of data collection when weighted by sample size (beta=.53, p<.001). Since 1982, NPI scores have increased 0.33 standard deviation. Thus, almost two-thirds of recent college students are above the mean 1979-1985 narcissism score, a 30% increase. The results complement previous studies finding increases in other individualistic traits such as assertiveness, agency, self-esteem, and extraversion.
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Egos Inflating Over Time: A Cross-Temporal
Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality
Inventory
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 A cross-temporal meta-analysis found that narcissism
levels have risen over the generations in 85 samples of American college
students who completed the 40-item forced- choice Narcissistic Personal-
ity Inventory (NPI) between 1979 and 2006 (total n 5 16,475). Mean
narcissism scores were significantly correlated with year of data collection
when weighted by sample size (b 5 .53, po.001). Since 1982, NPI scores have
increased 0.33 standard deviation. Thus, almost two-thirds of recent college
students are above the mean 1979–1985 narcissism score, a 30% increase. The
results complement previous studies finding increases in other individualistic
traits such as assertiveness, agency, self-esteem, and extraversion.
It is common for older people to complain about ‘‘kids these days,’’
describing the younger generation as self-centered, entitled, arro-
gant, and/or disrespectful. As a bromide set in a particular time, it is
difficult to tell whether these perceptions are a function of age (may-
be younger people are more self-centered than older people simply
because they are young) or of generation (maybe the younger gen-
eration actually is more self-centered than the older generation was
at the same age). It is also possible that older people will complain
about the younger generation even if young people are actually less
self-centered than they were when they were young themselves.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed 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
r 2008, Copyright the Authors
Journal compilation r 2008, Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00507.x
To study generational change scientifically, it is necessary to sep-
arate the effects of generation from age and to measure traits using
psychometrically sound questionnaires. This is best accomplished
through the time-lag method, which analyzes samples of people of
the same age at different points in time. For example, college stu-
dents from the 1980s can be compared with college students from the
1990s and 2000s. All samples are of the same age, but are from
different generations (otherwise known as birth cohorts). Birth co-
hort is a useful proxy for the sociocultural environment of different
time periods (Stewart & Healy, 1989; Twenge, 2000). For example,
children growing up in the 1970s were exposed to a fundamentally
different culture than children growing up in the 1990s. The logic
underlying this approach is similar to that used to assess the self-
conceptions and personality traits of individuals across different
world regions (e.g., Choi, Nisbett, & Norenzayan, 1999; Heine &
Lehman, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991), except that individual
differences between birth cohorts (instead of cultural groups) are
assessed. In support of this idea, several previous studies have found
strong birth cohort differences in characteristics such as anxiety, self-
esteem, locus of control, and sexual behavior (Twenge, 2000; Twenge
& Campbell, 2001; Twenge, Zhang, & Im, 2004; Wells & Twenge,
2005, respectively). These studies used meta-analysis to locate sam-
ples of college students and children who completed the same psy-
chological questionnaires at different points in historical time. The
correlation between mean scores and the year the data were collected
were then analyzed, using a method known as cross-temporal meta-
analysis (e.g., Twenge, 2000).
The present study uses cross-temporal meta-analysis to examine
changes in scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, or NPI
(Raskin & Hall, 1979, 1981; Raskin & Terry, 1988). The NPI is the
most widely used measure of narcissistic personality in the general
population. The NPI is not designed as a clinical instrument for
measuring narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and there is no
cut-off score for clinically high narcissism (Foster & Campbell,
2007). Narcissism is characterized first and foremost by a positive
and inflated view of the self, especially on agentic traits (e.g., power,
importance, physical attractiveness: e.g., Campbell, Rudich, &
Sedikides, 2002; John & Robins, 1994). Second, narcissism is asso-
ciated with social extraversion, although people high in narcissism
have relatively little interest in forming warm, emotionally intimate
876 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
bonds with others (e.g., Campbell, 1999; Carroll, 1987). Third, nar-
cissism involves a wide range of self-regulation efforts aimed at
enhancing the self. These efforts can range from attention seeking
(Buss & Chiodo, 1991) and taking credit from others (e.g., Campbell,
Reeder, Sedikides, & Elliot, 2000; Farwell & Wohlwend-Lloyd,
1998; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995) to seeking high-status romantic
partners (Campbell, 1999) and opportunities to achieve public glory
(Wallace & Baumeister, 2002). Those high in narcissism also lash out
with aggression when they are rejected or insulted (Bushman &
Baumeister, 1998; Twenge & Campbell, 2003). Many of these be-
haviors can potentially be explained by the link between narcissism
and impulsivity (Vazire & Funder, 2006). In a sense, narcissism can
be conceptualized as a self-regulating system, where self-esteem and
enhancement are sought through a variety of social means but with
little regard for the consequences borne by others (for reviews, see
Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).
The NPI is ideal for a cross-temporal meta-analysis assessing
changes in narcissism. First, it is reliable, well validated, and widely
used. Second, the NPI is somewhat protected from social desirability
influences through its use of forced-choice dyads, and, perhaps as a
result, is not correlated with measures of social desirability (Watson,
Grisham, Trotter, & Biderman, 1984). For each of the 40 forced-
choice dyads on the NPI, participants choose either the narcissistic
response (e.g., ‘‘I can live my life anyway I want to’’) or the non-
narcissistic response (e.g., ‘‘People can’t always live their lives in
terms of what they want’’). The 40 items are summed together.
Higher scores indicate higher levels of narcissism.
Previous Literature
Most previous studies suggest that narcissistic traits should increase
with the generations. Several authors have argued that American
culture has increasingly emphasized individualism (e.g., Fukuyama,
1999; Seligman, 1990; Twenge, 2006). Perhaps as a result, previous
cross-temporal meta-analyses demonstrate a clear rise in individu-
alistic traits. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, both college men and
women scored higher on the agentic traits measured by the Bem Sex
Role Inventory M scale, such as ‘‘independent,’’ ‘‘individualistic,
particular to me,’’ and ‘‘leadership ability’’ (Twenge, 1997). College
Change in Narcissism 877
women and—on some scales—college men scored higher on asser-
tiveness measures between the 1970s and the 1990s (Twenge, 2001b),
and both sexes increased in extraversion (Twenge, 2001a). College
students scored higher on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
between the 1960s and the 1990s, and children scored higher on the
Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory between the 1980s and the 1990s
(Twenge & Campbell, 2001). Agentic traits, assertiveness, extraver-
sion, and self-esteem are all positively correlated with narcissism
(e.g., Campbell et al., 2002). A study of changes in personality with
age development shows that younger cohorts increase with age more
than older cohorts in social dominance but also in agreeableness and
conscientiousness over the young adulthood years between 18 and
40 (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006). However, this meta-
analysis examined personality changes with age instead of mean
levels by cohort, so it is not clear how the generations differed in
mean levels of these traits.
Even more directly related to narcissism, an analysis of teenagers’
MMPI responses showed that in the 1950s, only 12% agreed with
the statement ‘‘I am an important person.’’ By the late 1980s, 80%
agreed (Newsom, Archer, Trumbetta, & Gottesman, 2003). From
the 1960s to the 1990s, agreement with California Psychological In-
ventory items such as ‘‘I have often met people who were supposed
to be experts who were no better than I’’; ‘‘I would be willing to
describe myself as a pretty ‘strong’ personality’’; and ‘‘I have a nat-
ural talent for influencing people’’ (also an NPI item) increased
(Gough, 1991; cited in Roberts & Helson, 1997).
In addition, a large (n 5 3,445) cross-sectional study of NPI re-
sponses found that younger people were more narcissistic than older
people, with a significant negative correlation between NPI scores
and age (Foster, Campbell, & Twenge, 2003). This difference could
reflect developmental changes in narcissism with age, generational
shifts in narcissism, or both. A time-lag study like the one we un-
dertake here is necessary to determine if NPI scores have increased
(or decreased) over the generations.
Although most evidence points to increases in narcissism over the
generations, an alternative model suggests a decrease in narcissism.
Generational theorists Howe and Strauss (1993, 2000; Strauss &
Howe, 1991) describe Baby Boomers (in college early 1960s to early
1980s) as inner fixated and self-absorbed; they specifically use the
word ‘‘narcissistic’’ in their description (Strauss & Howe, 1991, pp.
878 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
56–57, 79, 302). In contrast, they portray Generation X (in college
mid-1980s to late-1990s), as ‘‘lacking ego strength’’ and having ‘‘low
self-esteem’’ (Howe & Strauss, 1993; Strauss & Howe, 1991, p. 323).
Finally, they describe the ‘‘Millennials’’ (in college early 2000s to late
2010s, sometimes called ‘‘GenY’’) as outer-fixated, group-oriented,
and civically responsible. ‘‘Are they self-absorbed? No. They’re co-
operative team players,’’ say Howe and Strauss (2000, p. 8). They
continue, ‘‘Individualism and the search for inner fulfillment are all
the rage for many Boomer adults, but less so for their kids, [who are]
not as eager to grow up putting self ahead of community the way their
parents did’’ (p. 237). However, these descriptions are not based on
empirical data collection. Although Strauss and Howe’s portrayal of
generations includes many traits that are not related to narcissism, the
descriptions above suggest that Baby Boomers should be the highest
in narcissism, GenXers the lowest, and ‘‘Millennials’’ either just as
low or even lower (as Strauss and Howe specifically say that they are
not self-absorbed). Thus, their characterization of generations sug-
gests that narcissism decreased among college students between the
1980s and the 2000s, or, at the very least, stayed steady after the Baby
Boomers left college in the mid-1980s.
Overview
This article presents a cross-temporal meta-analysis of American
college students’ responses to the 40-item, forced-choice version of
the NPI. This analysis will examine the correlation between NPI
mean scores and the year the data were collected, showing how nar-
cissism levels have changed over the generations.
The issue of changing college populations is an important concern
for studies that examine college student samples across time. How-
ever, college populations have not changed as much as one might
think. Socioeconomic status has not changed: The median income of
college students’ parents, when adjusted for inflation, did not vary by
more than $3,000 between 1985 and 2004 (U.S. Bureau of the Cen-
sus, 2006). The racial composition of college student samples has
differed only slightly over this time period. Black students earned
6% of bachelor’s degrees in 1985 and now earn about 9%; Asians
increased from 3% to 7%; and Hispanics increased from 3% to 7%.
Although these represent significant improvements for these specific
racial groups, these shifts do not dramatically change the racial
Change in Narcissism 879
makeup of college samples, which are still overwhelmingly White. In
addition, the college enrollment of high school graduates changed
only a few percentage points over this time, with 58% enrolling in
college in 1985 and 64% in 2003 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006).
An increasing number of women entered college, though the change
was slight during this time period: 53% of college students were fe-
male in 1985 compared to 57% in 2003. In short, demographic
changes in college student samples have been minimal during the
time period covered by this study. In addition, four previous meta-
analyses found very similar patterns of birth cohort changes in col-
lege student and child samples (Twenge, 2000, 2001b; Twenge & Im,
2007; Twenge et al., 2004). Because child samples are not as selective
as college samples and do not experience enrollment shifts with time,
the similar results suggest that the small changes in the composition
of college populations are not significant confounds in birth cohort
analyses.
METHOD
Literature Search
Studies were primarily located using the Web of Knowledge citation in-
dex. The Web of Knowledge is an extensive database, including virtually
all journals in the social sciences, biological and physical sciences, and
medicine. We searched the citation index for articles that cited one of the
original sources of the NPI (Raskin & Hall, 1979, 1981; Raskin & Terry,
1988). We also gathered unpublished means by posting a message to
the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Listserv (spsp-discuss
@stolaf.edu) asking for NPI means that fit the criteria outlined below,
and we included unpublished means from our labs.
Inclusion Rules
Possible data points for the analysis were included or excluded on the
basis of specific inclusion rules. To be included in the analysis, a study had
to meet the following criteria: (a) participants were undergraduates at
conventional 4-year institutions (e.g., not 2-year colleges, not military
academies); (b) partic ipants were attending college in the United States;
(c) means were reported for unselected groups of students, not those
chosen for scoring high or low on the NPI or another measure or singled
880 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
out for being maladjusted, clients at a counseling center, and so on; (d)
samples were not more than 79% female or 79% male;
1
and (e) the study
used the 40-item forced-choice version of the NPI. The 40-item forced-
choice version is by far the most common version of the NPI used by re-
searchers, so it yielded the most data. Other versions of the NPI include
different items and produce different means; one of the requirements of
cross-temporal meta-analysis is that the means are from the same measure
so they can be directly compared across time. In addition, the 40-item NPI
is more internally reliable than other versions; when Raskin and Terry
(1988) created the 40-item scale, they eliminated the 14 items from the orig-
inal 54-item scale that did not correlate with the scale’s primary factors.
When e-mail addresses could be located, we e-mailed the authors of
published articles who provided means on the NPI but did not identify the
year of data collection or provide single-sex means and asked for that in-
formation. When the exact year was not available, year of data collection
was coded as 2 years prior to publication, as in previous meta-analyses (e.g.,
Oliver & Hyde, 1993). In one case (Raskin & Terry, 1988), we averaged the
year from the range of years given for data collection (1979 to 1985, which
averaged to 1982). The final sample consisted of 85 independent samples
including 16,475 college students (6,616 men and 9,859 women).
Data Analytic Strategy
We analyzed how NPI scores have changed over time, primarily by ex-
amining correlations between mean scores and year of data collection. As
in previous cross-temporal meta-analyses, means were weighted by the
sample size of each study to provide better estimates of the population
mean. W e performed our analyses using SPSS, and the bs reported are
standardized to allow for easier interpretation.
To calculate the magnitude of change in NPI scores, we used the re-
gression equations and the averaged standard deviation (SD) of the in-
dividual sampl es. To compute the mean scores for specific years (e.g.,
1. This excluded six samples that would have otherwise been included, all of
which were between 80% and 90% female. Because our analysis focuses on both-
sex samples, these nearly all-female samples did not seem comparable, and, due to
the sex difference in NPI scores, were likely to increase error variance. These
samples were also confounded with year, as all of them were collected after 2001.
Nevertheless, we realize some readers may be curious how including these samples
might have affected the results. Including these samples decreased the b only
slightly: b 5 .48, po.001, k 5 91 when weighted by sample size. This regression
equation produced a total change of 0.31 SDs. The b with these samples included
increased slightly when controlled by the samples’ percentage female (b for
year 5 .51, po.001; b for percentage female 5 .16, p 5 .09).
Change in Narcissism 881
1982 or 2006), we used the regression equation from the statistical output
(used to draw the regression line). The regression equation follows the
algebraic formula y 5 Bx1C, where B 5 the unstandardized regression
coefficient, x 5 the year, C 5 the constant or intercept, and y 5 the pre-
dicted mean NPI score. This formula yielded the position of the regres-
sion line (the mean NPI score, on the Y axis) for particular years. We
obtained the average standard deviation (SD) by averaging the within-
sample SDs reported in the data sources; thus this reflects the average
variance of the measure in a sample of individuals. It is important to note
that this method avoids the ecological fallacy, also known as alerting
correlations (Rosenthal, Rosnow, & Rubin, 2000). The ecological fallacy
occurs when the magnitude of change is calculated using the variation in
mean scores rather than the variation within a population of individuals.
This exaggerates the magnitude of the effect, because mean scores do not
differ as much as individual scores. The method used here, in contrast,
uses the standard deviation of the individual studies to capture the vari-
ance of the scale among a population of individuals.
RESULTS
American college students score progressively higher on narcissism
between the early 1980s and 2006 (see Figures 1 and 2). There is a
significant and positive correlation between NPI scores and year of
22
20
18
16
14
12
NPI Score
1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Year
Figure 1
College students’ Narcissistic Personality Inventory scores, 1982–2006.
882 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
data collection when weighted by sample size (b 5 .53, po.001,
k 5 85).
2,3,4
Thus, more recent generations report more narcissistic
traits. The regression equation (NPI mean 5 0.09293 year
169.128) yields a score of 15.06 for 1982 and 17.29 for 2006. The
18.0
17.5
16.5
17.0
16.0
15.5
15.0
1980-84 1985-89 1990-94 1995-99 2000-04 2005-06
Year
NPI Score
Figure 2
College students’ Narcissistic Personality Inventory scores by time
period. Capped vertical bars denote 1
SE
.
2. After the completion of our primary analyses, the second author (under the
direction of the fifth author) collected unpublished dissertations and master’s
theses that used the NPI as part of her PhD dissertation at the University of
Michigan. Eight dissertations met the inclusion rules and reported means. The
effect is similar with these additional data points added, b 5 .48, po.001, k 5 93,
d 5 0.29, total n 5 18,924.
3. We also analyzed the data after eliminating all samples from papers on which
one or more of us was an author and unpublished data collected in one of our
labs. The results for this subsample of the data were virtually identical to the main
analysis, b 5 .52, po.001, k 5 47, d 5 0.29.
4. We also weighted by the inverse of the variance (called w), a technique that
includes the within-study standard deviation as well as sample size; w is the usual
weight applied in meta-analyses. Shadish and Haddock (1994, pp. 272–273) pro-
vide weights for aggregated data, and we modified this technique for means to
compute the variance: the within-study standard deviation squared, times 1/n of
the individual study. We then inverted the variance (1/v) to make the weighting
variable (w) (see also Lipsey & Wilson, 2001). Thus, weighting by w takes the
standard deviation of the individual studies into account as well as the sample size.
The results were very similar to weighting by sample size b 5 .50, po.001, k 5 76,
d 5 0.29. (This analysis includes fewer samples because not all sources reported
sample standard deviations.)
Change in Narcissism 883
average SD reported for the individual samples (from the articles we
collected) is 6.86. Thus NPI scores increased 0.33 standard deviation
from the early 1980s to 2006. This is a small-to-medium effect size
(between .20 and .50) by Cohen’s (1977) guidelines.
Converting the SD change to percentile scores is also informative.
If the average student in the early 1980s scored at the 50th percentile
of the distribution, the average student in 2006 scored at the 65th
percentile (assuming a normal curve). In other words, almost two-
thirds of recent college students are above the mean 1979–1985
narcissism score, a 30% increase (65 out of 100 in 2006, compared to
50 out of 100 in 1979–1985).
If we assume that the NPI still has a normal distribution, this shift
in the mean score means that there are now more college students at
the top end of the original distribution. For example, 24% of 2006
college students score 1 SD above the 1979–1985 narcissism mean,
compared to 15% during that original data collection. (One SD
above the 1979–1985 is a score of 22, representing someone who
answers the clear majority of items—22 out of 40—in a narcissistic
direction.) It is also interesting to note how recent means compare
to data collected on a sample of celebrities such as movie stars,
reality TV winners, and famous musicians (Young & Pinsky,
2006). This celebrity sample had a mean NPI score of 17.84, not
much higher than the 2006 regression equation mean of 17.29.
Thus, recent college students approach celebrities in their levels of
narcissism.
As there were very few samples collected before 1990 (see Table 1),
we also ran the regression analysis for samples collected 1990–2006.
This produced very similar results: b 5 .49, po.001, k 5 82. This re-
gression equation produced a mean of 15.88 for 1990 and 17.78 for
2006 (almost identical to the mean of 17.84 for celebrities; the
averaged mean for all of the 2006 samples was 17.62). The magni-
tude of change was .28 SDs, so 2006 students scored at the 63rd
percentile on a 1990 distribution. Narcissism also increased linearly
between 2000 and 2006, b 5 .37, po.02, k 5 41, d 5 0.18; this d for 6
years is more than half of the d of 0.33 for the entire 24-year period.
The correlation is also significant when the analysis is restricted to
the years 1982 to 1999, ( b 5 .45, po.001, k 5 44, d 5 0.21).
The results were also very similar when the 2006 samples, all of
which are from unpublished data, are excluded, b 5 .50, po.001,
k 5 79, d 5 0.29; this also helps address any concern that the corre-
884 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
Table 1
Data Points Included in the Analysis
Source Year Published n Mean SD
Adler (2000) 1999 No 78 15.47 4.85
Ames, Rose, and Anderson (2006)
Study 1
1996 Yes 776 15.60 6.80
Ames, Rose, and Anderson (2006)
Study 3
1997 Yes 176 16.00 6.80
Barry, Chaplin, and Grafeman
(2006)
2001 Yes 120 18.28 7.46
Bartels (2005) 2004 No 73 19.20 6.80
Bradlee and Emmons (1992) 1989 Yes 147 14.99 6.03
Campbell, Finkel, Buffardi,
Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2007)
Study 1
2005 No 69 17.16 6.87
Campbell, Bosson, Goheen, Lakey,
and Kernis (2007) Study 1
2005 Yes 154 17.39 6.29
Campbell and Foster (2002) Study
1
1997 Yes 119 16.98
Campbell and Foster (2002) Study
2A
1997 Yes 304 17.03
Campbell and Foster (2002) Study
2B
2000 Yes 108 17.99
Campbell (1999) Study 2 1996 Yes 109 17.36 6.88
Campbell (1999) Study 3 1996 Yes 156 16.39 6.47
Campbell (1999) Study 4 1996 Yes 51 16.72 6.42
Campbell (1999) Study 5 1996 Yes 68 16.85 6.80
Campbell, Bush, Brunell, and
Shelton (2005) Study 1
2002 Yes 232 16.10 7.00
Campbell, Bush, Brunell, and
Shelton (2005) Study 2
2002 Yes 166 15.50 6.90
Campbell, Foster, and Finkel
(2002) Study 1a
1996 Yes 80 16.49 7.83
Campbell, Foster, and Finkel
(2002) Study 1b
1998 Yes 58 16.28 6.78
Campbell, Goodie, and Foster
(2004) Study 1
2002 Yes 104 16.58 7.04
(Continued)
Change in Narcissism 885
Table 1 (Contd.)
Source Year Published n Mean SD
Campbell, Goodie, and Foster
(2004) Study 2
2002 Yes 97 17.23 6.65
Campbell, Goodie, and Foster
(2004) Study 3
2002 Yes 607 17.46 6.95
Campbell, Reeder, Sedikides, and
Elliot (2000) Study 1
1995 Yes 160 16.27 7.15
Campbell, Reeder, Sedikides, and
Elliot (2000) Study 2
1996 Yes 64 17.08 7.03
Campbell, Rudich, and Sedikides
(2002) Study 1a
1998 Yes 113 15.30 6.67
Campbell, Rudich, and Sedikides
(2002) Study 1b
1998 Yes 85 16.72 6.59
Campbell, Rudich, and Sedikides
(2002) Study 2
1999 Yes 100 17.55 7.73
Campbell, Rudich, and Sedikides
(2002) Study 3
1999 Yes 109 16.05 6.31
Cramer (1995) 1993 Yes 118 14.20
Cramer (1998) 1996 Yes 88 15.33
DeWall (2004) 2004 No 103 19.02 7.15
Dickinson and Pincus (2003) 2001 Yes 90 18.42 8.19
Exline and Geyer (2004) 2001 Yes 126 15.22 7.44
Exline, Baumeister, Bushman,
Campbell, and Finkel (2004) Study
1
2001 Yes 270 17.20 6.60
Exline, Baumeister, Bushman,
Campbell, and Finkel (2004) Study
3
2001 Yes 152 15.63 7.28
Exline, Baumeister, Bushman,
Campbell, and Finkel (2004) Study
4
2003 Yes 241 14.56 6.49
Exline, Baumeister, Bushman,
Campbell, and Finkel (2004) Study
5
1999 Yes 120 19.37 6.62
Exline, Baumeister, Bushman,
Campbell, and Finkel (2004) Study
6
2003 Yes 69 16.90 5.74
(Continued)
886 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
Exline, Single, Lobel, and Geyer
(2004) Study 2
2001 Yes 94 15.79 7.65
Eyring and Sobelman (1996) 1994 Yes 79 16.75 5.82
Farwell and Wohlwend-Lloyd
(1998) Study 1
1996 Yes 152 16.80
Farwell and Wohlwend-Lloyd
(1998) Study 3
1996 Yes 67 16.21
Foster (2006a) 2006 No 338 17.86 7.18
Foster (2006b) 2006 No 437 17.10 7.29
Foster, Shrira, and Campbell
(2006) Study 1
2002 Yes 213 17.30 6.60
Foster, Shrira, and Campbell
(2006) Study 2
2002 Yes 272 17.00 7.10
Gabriel, Critelli, and Ee (1994) 1992 Yes 146 16.44 6.39
Gaertner, Iuzzini, and O’Mara
(2006)
2005 No 1182 17.25 6.79
Gurtman (1992) 1990 Yes 279 14.65
Gustafson and Ritzer (1995) Study
1
1992 Yes 214 16.01 7.24
Gustafson and Ritzer (1995) Study
2
1992 Yes 367 15.93 7.15
Horton, Bleau, and Drwecki (2006)
Study 1
2001 Yes 222 17.26 7.69
Jackson, Ervin, and Hodge (1992) 1990 Yes 301 15.93 6.99
Konrath and Bushman (2006) 2006 No 38 19.20 7.89
Konrath, Bushman, and Campbell
(2006)
2004 Yes 260 18.32 6.81
Konrath, Bushman, and Campbell
(2006)
2005 Yes 456 17.56 7.03
Krusemark (2005) 2005 No 95 17.66 7.47
Krusemark (2006) 2006 No 24 21.54 6.29
Ladd, Welsh, Vitulli, Labbe, and
Law (1997)
1994 Yes 119 15.20 6.80
Le (2005) 2003 Yes 179 15.82 6.92
Liu (2005) 2005 No 199 16.50 6.66
Luhtanen and Crocker (2005) 1999 Yes 642 17.60 6.80
McHoskey (1995) 1993 Yes 423 15.13 6.60
(Continued)
Table 1 (Contd.)
Source Year Published n Mean SD
Change in Narcissism
887
Table 1 (Contd.)
Source Year Published n Mean SD
McHoskey, Worzel, and Szyarto
(1998)
1996 Yes 107 16.80 7.50
Mead (2006) 2006 No 63 20.11 7.23
Oleson, Poelhlmann, Yost, Lynch,
and Arkin (2000)
1994 Yes 105 15.98 7.18
Raskin and Novacek (1989) 1987 Yes 230 15.65 6.84
Raskin and Terry (1988) 1982 Yes 1018 15.55 6.66
Rathvon and Holmstrom (1996) 1994 Yes 283 17.89 6.62
Rose (2006) 2006 No 236 17.04 6.84
Schreer (2002) 2001 Yes 89 15.53 5.81
Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg,
Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2004)
Study 1
1999 Yes 149 15.80 6.41
Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg,
Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2004)
Study 2
1999 Yes 81 16.06 6.17
Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg,
Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2004)
Study 4
1999 Yes 154 17.13 7.04
Stangor and Thompson (2002) 2000 Yes 182 17.87
Sturman (2000) 1998 Yes 57 17.40 6.40
Sutin and Robins (2005) 2001 Yes 200 14.40 6.20
Twenge and Campbell (2003) 2000 Yes 208 16.04 6.91
Wallace and Baumeister (2002)
Study 1
1999 Yes 49 16.02 7.73
Wallace and Baumeister (2002)
Study 2
1999 Yes 71 13.61 6.73
Wallace and Baumeister (2002)
Study 3
1999 Yes 54 15.74 8.33
Wallace and Baumeister (2002)
Study 4
2000 Yes 74 14.11 6.61
Zhang and Baumeister (2006)
Study 4
2004 Yes 40 18.30 9.40
Zuckerman and O’Laughlin (2006) 2003 Yes 191 16.80 7.10
Zuckerman and O’Laughlin (2006) 2004 Yes 176 17.21 6.90
888 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
lation or its magnitude is driven by the high outliers from that year
(see Figure 1). The results were also similar when the data from all 13
samples from unpublished sources were excluded, b 5 .45, po.001,
k 5 72, d 5 0.27. Overall, the increase is linear rather than curvilin-
ear; in a regression equation with year and year squared (the latter is
the quadratic term; both variables were centered), for year, b 5 .67,
po.001, and for year squared, b 5 .20, ns.
We also analyzed single-sex means when they were reported. Be-
cause not all studies reported means broken down by gender and
some unpublished single-sex means were obtained directly from
authors, these analyses represent a subsample of the data that may
not be representative. Thus, these analyses should be interpreted
with caution. College men’s NPI scores are not significantly corre-
lated with year ( b 5 .16, ns; k 5 44, d 5 0.12), but college women’s
scores are (b 5 .46, po.002, k 5 44, d 5 0.28). The sex difference in
NPI scores has also declined, b 5 .46, po.001; k 5 43 (we con-
ducted this analysis by computing the effect size d for sex differences
and weighting the regression by w, the standard weight for d). In
1992 (the first year for which sex difference data were available), men
scored 0.45 standard deviation higher than women on the NPI, but
by 2006, men scored just 0.15 SD higher. Thus the sex difference in
narcissism has declined from half a standard deviation (a medium
effect size) to one-seventh of a SD (a small effect size).
DISCUSSION
A meta-analysis of 85 samples of American college students shows a
systematic increase in scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inven-
tory. The shift in scores means that the average college student now
endorses about two more narcissism items than his or her predeces-
sors did in the early 1980s. Although the effect size for the shift is
statistically moderate rather than large (one-third of a standard de-
viation), it is larger than the effect of violent video games on ag-
gression (Anderson & Bushman, 2001) and most racial differences in
self-esteem (Twenge & Crocker, 2002). The generational shift over 25
years is also twice as large as the current sex difference in narcissism;
thus generation is a better predictor of narcissism scores than gender.
These data are consistent with theories positing an increase in
individualism in American society and with previous studies finding
Change in Narcissism 889
generational increases in other individualistic traits such as self-
esteem and agency (e.g., Twenge, 1997; Twenge & Campbell, 2001).
The most recent college students score about the same on the NPI as
a sample of celebrities (Young & Pinsky, 2006). The change is linear
and steady, with the correlation significant when the analysis is lim-
ited to certain years only. It also appears that women are driving the
increase in narcissism, consistent with the finding that the genera-
tional increase in agentic traits and assertiveness was stronger for
women (Twenge, 1997, 2001b).
We were unable to analyze changes in specific subscales of the
NPI, as very few researchers reported NPI means broken down by
subscale. Thus, we do not know if only certain facets of narcissism
are increasing among American college students, or if the change is
evenly distributed across them. In addition, we do not know how the
increase in narcissism is related to the previously documented rise in
self-esteem (Twenge & Campbell, 2001). The rise in narcissism could
be directly related to increases in self-esteem, or there could have
been an increase in narcissistic traits independent of self-esteem.
Correlates of Narcissism
Is this rise in narcissism a bad thing? As measured by the NPI, nar-
cissism is linked to a range of positive emotional outcomes, including
self-esteem, positive affect, extraversion, and life satisfaction (e.g.,
Rose, 2002; Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg, Kumashiro, & Rusbult,
2004). Narcissism is associated with other benefits to the self as
well, such as short-term (but not long-term) likeability (Oltmanns,
Friedman, Fiedler, & Turkheimer, 2004; Paulhus, 1998), enhanced
performance on public evaluation tasks (Wallace & Baumeister,
2002) including being selected for reality television (Young & Pinsky,
2006), short-term victories in competitive tasks (e.g., Campbell,
Bush, Brunell, & Shelton, 2005), and emergent (though not success-
ful) leadership (Blair, Hoffman, & Helland, in press; Brunell, Gen-
try, Campbell, & Kuhnert, 2006). Narcissism also has many costs to
the self, such as distorted judgments of one’s abilities (e.g., Paulhus,
Harms, Bruce, & Lysy, 2004), risky decision making (Campbell,
Goodie, & Foster, 2004), potential addictive disorders including al-
cohol abuse (Luhtanen & Crocker, 2005), compulsive shopping
(Rose, 2007), and pathological gambling (Lakey, Goodie, & Camp-
890 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
bell, 2006). Many of the costs of narcissism are borne by
other people. These include troubled romantic relationships
(Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002; Foster, Shrira, & Campbell,
2006), aggression (e.g., Bushman & Baumeister, 1998), assault
(Bushman, Bonacci, Van Dijk, & Baumeister, 2003), white collar
crime (Blickle, Schlegel, Fassbender, & Klein, 2006), and rapidly
depleting common resources (Campbell et al., 2005). In sum, nar-
cissism is associated with benefits to the individual that are primarily
affective and most evident in the short term, but the costs of
narcissism are paid by others and, eventually, by the individual as
well (for a more detailed discussion of the trade-offs of narcissism,
see Campbell & Buffardi, in press). Thus the implications of the rise
in narcissism may be positive in the short term for individuals, but
negative for other people, for society, and for the individual in the
long term.
Many of the correlates of narcissism are also on the upswing, al-
though we cannot be certain if they are directly tied to the rise in
narcissism. Several positive personality traits correlated with narcis-
sism have increased over the same time period, including self-esteem
(Twenge & Campbell, 2001), agentic traits (Twenge, 1997), extraver-
sion (Twenge, 2001a) and assertiveness (Twenge, 2001b). Behaviors
and attitudes have also shifted in a direction consistent with a
rise in narcissism. There is a trend among college students toward
‘‘hooking up’’ rather than having sex within committed relationships
(Glenn & Marquardt, 2001; Manning, Longmore, & Giordano,
2005). Materialism has increased: 74% of college freshmen in
2004 cited ‘‘being very well-off financially’’ as an important life
goal, compared to only 45% in 1967 (Astin, Oseguera, Sax, &
Korn, 2004). In a 2006 survey, 81% of 18- to 25-year-olds said that
getting rich was among their generation’s most important goals;
64% named it as the most important goal of all. In addition, 51%
said that becoming famous was among their generation’s important
goals. In contrast, only 30% chose helping others who need help,
and only 10% named becoming more spiritual (Pew Research
Center, 2007).
Reflecting the overconfidence typical of narcissism (e.g., Campbell
et al., 2006; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001), students today have mark-
edly higher and more unrealistic expectations of educational attain-
ment and success. More than half of recent high school students
(51%) predicted that they would earn graduate or professional
Change in Narcissism 891
degrees, even though only 9% of 25- to 34-year-old high school
graduates actually hold these degrees. In 1976, only half as many
(27%) predicted this outcome (Reynolds, Stewart, Sischo, & Mac-
Donald, 2006). During the same period, the percentage of high
school students who predicted that they would be working in a pro-
fessional job by age 30 also increased, from 41% to 63% (in reality,
only 18% of high school graduates ages 25 to 34 in both eras worked
at professional jobs; Reynolds et al., 2006). Although these shifts
likely have multiple causes and the role of narcissism is uncertain,
these trends nevertheless move in the direction one would expect if
young people were higher in narcissism.
Other recent trends are more difficult to reconcile with a rise in
narcissism. Crime rates are down over this time period, specifically
youth crime (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006), yet narcissism is
correlated with criminal behavior. In addition, over the last 10 years
significantly more high school students have reported they volun-
teered their time to help others sometime in the last year, although
weekly and monthly volunteering rates show only small gains (Bach-
man, Johnston, & O’Malley, 2006). However, volunteer rates might
be increasing because many high schools began requiring community
service for graduation over this same time (Strauss & Howe, 2000,
p. 216). Many colleges also favor volunteer work in admissions de-
cisions, and college admissions have become more competitive. Thus
the motive for increased youth volunteering is unclear, and this trend
may not directly contradict the rise in narcissism. It is also possible
that a more civic orientation could co-exist along with more narcis-
sism; perhaps both have increased in more recent generations.
Future Research: The Uncertain Causes of Narcissism
The relationship between personality and culture is likely reciprocal,
with societal changes driving increases in narcissism and vice versa.
What societal trends may have led to the increased narcissism we
found? We can speculate on several of these, although a great deal of
future work needs to be done on the causes of narcissism. Schools
and media activities may have promoted an increase in narcissism.
Children in some preschools sing a song with the lyrics, ‘‘I am spe-
cial/I am special/Look at me . . .’’, and many television shows for
children emphasize positive self-feelings and specialness. Future re-
search should examine whether school and media programs intended
892 Twenge, Konrath, Foster, et al.
to raise self-esteem also raise narcissism. Grade inflation may also
play a role: In 1980, only 27% of college freshmen reported earning
an A average in high school, but by 2004 almost half (48%) reported
a high school A average (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006). How-
ever, the amount of studying has actually declined (33% of Amer-
ican college freshmen in 2003 reported studying 6 or more hours a
week during their last year of high school, compared to 47% in 1987;
Astin et al., 2004), as has performance on tests like the SAT. Future
research should determine whether grade inflation builds narcissism.
Finally, future research should examine whether current technol-
ogy is related to narcissistic traits. Devices such as iPods and Tivo
allow people to listen to music and watch television in their own
individual ways, and websites such as MySpace and YouTube
(whose slogan is ‘‘Broadcast yourself’’) permit self-promotion far
beyond that allowed by traditional media. These trends motivated
Time magazine to declare that the 2006 Person of the Year was
‘‘You,’’ complete with a mirror on the cover. Most of the increase in
narcissism occurred before the wide use of such technology, so these
shifts—even if they do play a role—did not cause the initial upswing
in narcissism scores. Instead, the rise in narcissism may have influ-
enced the ways people use technology.
Limitations
The present study provides the most comprehensive examination to
date of generational change in narcissistic personality traits. Even so,
it is not without its limitations. Any analysis of self-report data is
potentially limited by socially desirable responding. However, the
NPI is not significantly correlated with social desirability (Watson et
al., 1984). In addition, there have not been concomitant changes in
socially desirable responding, which did not change during this time
period (Twenge & Im, 2007). This makes it very unlikely that chang-
es in socially desirable responding account for the present results.
This study also limits its conclusions to American society and
generations, partially because there is not much data available over
time from other countries. Americans score higher on narcissism
than people from other world regions (Foster et al., 2003). Future
analyses might determine if narcissism is also increasing in other
cultures or if this cultural trend is limited to the United States.
Change in Narcissism 893
The data are also limited to college student populations; future
research might examine shifts in narcissism among other popula-
tions—for example, children or younger adolescents. However, the
NPI is rarely given to noncollege samples; thus these data on college
students are, as far as we know, the best available to study change in
narcissism over the generations among nonclinical samples.
This study also cannot determine whether the change in narcis-
sism is a purely generational effect or a time-period effect. As with
any time-lag study including people of only one age group, we can-
not know if those in other age groups also changed. It is possible that
both younger and older Americans became more narcissistic from
the 1980s to the 2000s. It is also possible that older Americans did
not change at all or even became less narcissistic. Given the relative
stability of social dominance after young adulthood (e.g., Roberts
et al., 2006), as well as cross-sectional research showing lower nar-
cissism scores in older adults (Foster et al., 2003), it seems likely that
much of the shift is a generational rather than a time-period effect.
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