I've seen a number of studies recently that conclude our young--especially college students and those just beyond--are narcissistic to a greater degree than found in earlier generations.
A recent set of studies that expand the debate on whether narcissism in young adults is increasing has me intrigued. They focus on the lyrics of popular music and compare them to those found in earlier decades. The studies claim to have been controlled for bias factors that could otherwise be overly influential, like rap and hip-hop (how they do this I don't know but am taking their word for it).
These lyrics-based studies track other studies done on narcissism among today's youth virtually all of which argue that narcissism is increasingly prevalent among the young. One book on the subject, published in 2009 and entitled The Narcissism Epidemic, says we're surrounded by braggarts, show-offs, people less interested in others and more in themselves and the impression they make on others. Another study, which reviewed data from 50,000 college students, concludes that narcissism has increased significantly over the past three decades.
The lyrics-based studies are relatively new. When you think about it, generations have always been defined by their music. And it goes without saying that in order for it to be "owned" by the particular generation that spawned it, it has to be disliked--even hated--by that generation's parents.
What is predictable, based on the other narcissism studies, about these lyrics studies is the finding that current song lyrics have an unprecedented level of "me-me-me" words. But there is a new note as well: lyrics link the increase in narcissism to heightened anger and problems in maintaining relationships. In a New York Times article on the subject, John Tierney cites researchers' findings that a "decline in words like 'love' or 'sweet' and increase in words related to anger and antisocial behavior, like 'hate' or 'kill'."
Tierney cites Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, who says that "in the early '90's lyrics, love was easy and positive, and about two people. The recent songs are about what the individual wants, and how she or he has been disappointed or wronged."
I've seen this in young people with whom I work and socialize. They seem quick to blame others--parents, significant others, the weather, their boss--for results that to an outside observer appear to be their own doing. They express their sense of being wronged, of being victims, to others in emails, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The world should know, apparently, how they've been disappointed.
Whining seems to be part of the narcissist's rant: "I'm fabulous, but I've been wronged and nobody knows the trouble I've seen." Hmmm. Maybe that line could make a good lyric.