Narcissism is itself a slippery concept that psychologists have debated for years. How to define it and how to measure it have been looming questions as well as the extent to which a certain level of narcissism may be adaptive in a psychological sense. More recently, however, Twenge and colleagues have published volumes about the current narcissism “epidemic” plaguing those of us in our 20s and 30s.
According to Twenge, there are significant differences between “cohorts” (generations) in terms of narcissism, with young adults today having higher levels of self-esteem and narcissistic attitudes making them worthy of the “Generation Me” moniker. In a recent Social and Personality Psychology Compass article, however, Donnellan and colleagues argue otherwise. They present compelling evidence that the differences, if there are any, are only very slight. Additionally, they claim that any differences are not generalizable to the larger population because of the convenience sampling of college students. Further, they critique the notion of grouping generations of individuals under a larger umbrella that is only defined by a few questions on a scale.
Their critique raises important questions not only about method and measurement, but about the interconnection between social and personality psychology with “popular sentiment” and the way in which academic — ‘scientific’ — research is uniquely positioned to corroborate or complicate the reality which surrounds us.