College and University Blog

Today’s Colleges: Full of Self-Centered People?

Some students would deny it, but several recent studies claim that today’s colleges are full of more self-centered people than ever before. It almost seems like many of today’s young people are willing to say or do anything without regarding how it will affect others.

The fact that bullying has moved beyond the “playground years” has parents, school administrators, and even politicians scrambling to speak out about the importance of sensitivity and empathy, but many college students just don’t care.

College Students Known as “Generation Me”

In May 2010, The Washington Post reported that today’s college students—jokingly but rather accurately referred to as “Generation Me”—are considered the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic group of young adults in recent history.

Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said that today’s college students are about 40% lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago. Konrath and her colleagues’ findings were based on their analysis of data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the past 30 years.

Increase in Media Exposure Contributing to Self-Centered People

“The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor,” Konrath said. “Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much non-work-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games. And a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others,” she concluded.

Edward O’Brien, a graduate student who worked on the study alongside Konrath, claims that social media may also play a role in the self-absorbedness of today’s college students. “The ease of having ‘friends’ online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems, a behavior that could carry over offline,” he explained.

Are Pop Song Lyrics Causing Students to Be Self-Centered?

An April 25, 2011 article in The New York Times reports that music may also be contributing to ego inflation. Dr. Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, conducted a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs which found that “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility” is occurring in popular music. “Late adolescents and college students love themselves more today than ever before,” he told The Times.

Defining an entire generation by song lyrics seems like a stretch, but it appears that DeWall is on to something.

The study, which was published in the March issue of the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, covered song lyrics from 1980 to 2007 and was controlled for genre to prevent the results from being skewed by the growing popularity of rap and hip-hop. DeWall and his co-researchers found that the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words. He also found that there has been a corresponding decline in the words “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions in popular music.

It’s definitely true that hit songs from the 1980s emphasize happy togetherness more often than songs of today. The Times referenced Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder seeking racial harmony in 1982’s “Ebony and Ivory;” Beyonce singing “It’s blazin’, you watch me in amazement” in 2005; and Justin Timberlake’s matter-of-fact chant, “I’m bringin’ sexy back,” in 2006 as examples.

“In the early ’80s lyrics, love was easy and positive, and about two people,” Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, explained. “The recent songs are about what the individual wants, and how she or he has been disappointed or wronged.”

Pop Music Study Has its Faults

Truth be told, anyone can be self-centered; today’s college students aren’t the only guilty party. It’s also unrealistic to think that all young adults are egotistical. MSNBC points out that it’s not entirely fair to say that pop songs reflect nationwide narcissism. After all, some kids only listen to indie or punk bands, and some adults listen to oldies from their own younger years.

Ditch the Ego

Worried that you’re a self-centered college student? Wondering how you fit in among your peers? Check out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory at USA Today. If it turns out your ego is a little on the large side, don’t worry—you’re not alone, and admitting that you have a problem is the first step in the right direction!

You can also take some advice from Dr. Twenge, who told The New York Times, “As much as possible, take your ego out of the situation. This is very difficult to do, but the perspective you gain is amazing. Ask yourself, ‘How would I look at this situation if it wasn’t about me?’ Stop thinking about winning all the time. A sure sign something might not be the best value: Charlie Sheen talks about it a lot.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.