College students are narcissists? Not me

Though addiction levels vary, we've all poked around on Facebook, MySpace and occasionally YouTube. We create our profiles and check each other out via videos and photo albums: last night's beer pong tournament, your best friend's birthday, a first road trip.

Any college student would tell you that we do it because it's fun.

But is it narcissistic?

A study released last week by a San Diego State University psychologist says yes.

"Egos Inflating Over Time" examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide between 1982 and 2006. According to the Associated Press, researchers used a standardized evaluation known as the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to ask for reactions to statements such as, "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to."

In the 2006 results, two-thirds of college students had above-average scores, showing a 30 percent increase in narcissism since the 1982 survey responders.

First of all, let's look at some of the statements in the survey.

"If I ruled the world, it would be a better place."

Current and past world leaders that come to mind include George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

Yes, the world would definitely be a better place if I were in charge.

Does that really make me a narcissist? I like to think it says something about my level of competence and lack of a mass-murdering agenda.

"I think I am a special person."

Though this is not something I mention in everyday conversation, I consider it a valid point. I'm very lucky to have caring friends and family, be a self-motivated person and share my talents in a university environment. That doesn't mean I see myself as better than anyone else or think I'm the center of attention.

Besides, wouldn't we be more worried if students answered "no" to this question? I'd prefer my peers to think highly of themselves rather than be insecure and lacking self-esteem.

"I can live my life any way I want to."

Of course I can. Though I'm not invincible, I recognize the vast opportunities we have as college students. Travel, internships, a social life: these are all available for us to take (or not take) advantage of.

I don't advocate college students not to follow the law, but what's wrong with a little independence and personal decision-making?

Yet, there's a point the researchers failed to consider in the study: volunteer work.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 30.2 percent of college students volunteer, exceeding the 28.8 percent of the general adult population. In addition, there are a variety of service organizations and projects that thrive on support from college campuses, such as Relay for Life, which earned a total of $209,134 for the American Cancer Society on the UW campus alone in 2006.

Last time I checked, altruism and narcissism don't go hand in hand.

On the other hand, an activity our generation is known for was argued to be a contributor to self-obsession: online networking.

The lead researcher on the study, professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, claims our Internet usage adds to narcissism.

"Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism," she said in a recent AP article. "By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube."

Does the name MySpace scream narcissism? I thought possession was the better word (hence the "my"), but, God forbid we create an Internet space to call our own without it implying we're all conceited.

Looking at pictures of each other is enjoyable and our generation is fortunate enough to easily access these via the Internet. In addition, profiles are created not to remind ourselves how awesome we are, but to share who we are with others.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of kids in our generation who occasionally find themselves on a bit of an ego trip. There's always that friend you take on a shopping trip who stands in front of the mirror for an extra 10 minutes even after she's decided to buy the outfit or the guy who sits next to you in lecture that won't stop bragging about all the 4.0s he's racked up in college.

To make a statement so general as "college students are self-centered," however, is inaccurate. Narcissism spans all demographics and shouldn't be measured on a wide-scale, but rather, on a case-to-case basis. The technology we use and select students' responses to broad statements should not constitute a fair judgment of our demographic's narcissistic tendencies.

Reach columnist Meghan Peters at opinion@thedaily.washington.edu.

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