Monthly Archives: December 2009

Are we really in a narcissism epidemic? The concerns about Generation Me.

According to psychological professor Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s — in the approaching 2010, this will mean people between the ages of 11 and 40. These are today’s young people, those who while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: they are “unapologetically focused on the individual,” a trait inherited from their Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered.

Is it true? Are we in a narcissism epidemic? Does the Generation Me really differ from their parents and grandparents? Social scientists have been interested in generational changes for decades. Questions about generational changes are of particular interest to psychologists who are interested in whether the broader sociocultural environment is linked with changes in personality attributes and attitudes. For example, Twenge (2008) has concluded that today’s young people have higher self-esteem, more inflated self views, higher levels of narcissism, and perhaps paradoxically, more misery than previous generations. Twenge has further tied these shifts in personality to shifts toward increased individualism and a focus on self-worth that she believes characterizes the culture of the United States in more recent decades. However, Donnellan and Trzesniewski’s (2009) most recent research led to suspicion about the strength of the evidence in support of Twenge’s broad ‘Generation Me’ claims. According to their opinions, there are two crucial issues about Twenge’s research on Generation Me: whether the evidence for generational differences is based on a sound methodology and how to best characterize the size of any generational differences. Instead they found more evidence for generational consistency than generational change in their studies and thus concluded that there are enough concerns to warrant caution and qualified statements about the evidence for ‘Generation Me.’

Based on these concerns, it might be better for social and personality psychologists to think carefully before drawing the blanket conclusion that today’s young people are much different from previous generations of youth. Whether today’s young people are more assertive, entitled, self-aggrandizement and miserable than ever before is still a question which deserves more research in the future.

Donnellan, M.B., & Trzesniewski, K.H. (2009). How Should We Study Generational ‘Changes’—Or Should We? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for ‘Generation Me’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,775 – 784.

Twenge, J.M. (2008). Generation Me, the Origins of Birth Cohort Differences in Personality Traits, and Cross-temporal Meta-analysis. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1440-1454.

Will a new decade spell the end of Generation Me?

New Year’s resolutions

As the New Year approaches many people will be contemplating and setting New Year’s resolutions. Since many of those are likely to involve exercise programmes, I want to briefly cover some of the health attitude theories (Biddle and Nigg, 2000) that can provide us with important frameworks for understanding people’s motivations to undertake psychical activity and why ultimately, some people will succeed or fail to maintain those New Year’s resolutions.

Belief attitude theories tend to centre on the model of health belief (Becker et al. 1997), the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1970) and the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen and Madden, 1986). The health belief model suggests that a person’s beliefs about the health-enhancing value of exercise (physical fitness, psychological well-being) tends to be weighed against their perceived costs in participating in the activity (e.g. time, commitment etc) and the amount of social support (Kelly et al. 1991), which in turn will determine the person’s level of participation or subsequent withdrawal.

The theory of reasoned action and its successor the theory of planned behaviour focus primarily on the relationship between a person’s attitude to exercise and/or a person’s self-efficacy, social norms about exercise, and a person’s subsequent exercise behaviour. Both these theories suggest that a person’s intention to exercise reflects their personal beliefs about exercise (attitude), the social norms surrounding exercise (what their friends and families may think). Therefore a person’s attitude to their New Year’s resolution of beginning an exercise programme will predict the level of their participation, whether they commit to maintaining the activity long-term will also be influenced by other factors such as age and gender, (Motl et al., 2002).


Sport Psychology

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions?

In just a few days we’ll have a resolution double-whammy. Not just a new year, but a new decade. Seems like a perfect time to be jotting down those resolutions (or publishing them online), right? Making resolutions is one thing…but what about keeping them? What can social psychology tell us that will help increase the odds that this time next year we’ll be proud of ourselves for the changes we’ve made?

In a recent study Lally et al. found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to become automatic. While 254 days of gym trips and healthier eating may seem daunting, there’s small comfort in their finding that missing one day did not seem to influence the habit formation process. Weidemann et al. found that action-planning and coping-planning also affect behavior change, particularly in behaviors related to health. Additionally, developing an action plan early on and preparing mentally for the obstacles you may confront as you try to keep your goal (coping-planning, further explained here) can also help you keep your goal.


  • stick with your resolution for the long haul
  • don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a day
  • develop a plan to help you reach your goal or keep your resolution
  • mentally imagine yourself overcoming any obstacles
  • and, while you’re at it, tell your friends, since that seems to help too!

(2009) Lally et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

(2009) Wiedemann et al. How planning facilitates behaviour change: Additive and interactive effects of a randomized controlled trial

(2005) Sniehotta et al. Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: theory and assessment

(2009) Burkeman. This column will change your life, The Guardian


New Year’s Resolutions and Memory: Self-protection and the Use of Negative Information

During the holiday season when surrounded by friends and family it is difficult not to reflect on the year gone by. As 2009 draws to a close many are contemplating what resolutions they’ll attempt to keep in the upcoming year. We spend a lot of time envisioning the hopes, dreams, and goals we’d like to achieve in 2010. Doing so requires us to reflect on the things about us or our lives that we aren’t very happy with. Memory with regard to the self is complex and often self-enhancing making it difficult to be realistic about negative feedback that will allow us to identify what needs to change. Recent work has demonstrated some flexibility in dealing with negative feedback (Sedikides & Green, 2009). The results include the already well-established self-protective effects that include simply avoiding negative information. In addition, Sedikides and Green (2009) have demonstrated the tendency to deal with negative feedback by channeling it into one’s goals (e.g., improving a skill) but only under specific circumstances like when feedback is provided by close others. Hopefully, we can all turn any negative aspects of our selves or our lives into positive goals and the motivation to achieve them and make the most of the fresh start this January 1st.

Memory as a Self-Protective Mechanism

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Iphone’s, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Why lusting over cool technology and being immortalized may not be such a good thing after all

Remember when the iphone came out and people were paying exorbitantly high prices for it? Nevertheless, people made it clear that there was a demand and that they would pay the price deemed by the company selling it. While at first people were lusting for the object eventually some people began to abhor their previously prized technology and took action. One individual went as far as suing the company after the company significantly reduced the price because the object could not be sold or sold at a loss.

Take another story of a group of people wanting to fit in; for example, a rock band with a long history and influence that is nominated for the rock & roll hall of fame. However the band is denied several times after nomination. The band, who thought of themselves as outsiders, members would tell themselves, and others, that it was no big deal to not be inducted to the rock & roll hall of fame. Finally the band was accepted to the rock & roll hall of fame. While some might consider it a positive outcome there seems to be some debate on the importance to some band members with regard to their induction.

What do these two stories have in common? How do we make sense of the counterintuitive reasoning that first, we want something, but at a high cost or many failures, and when we get it perhaps we don’t care so much for it? Litt et al., 2009, reasoned that the mechanisms for wanting and the liking of, although not mutually exclusive, are being dissociated. Litt et al., 2009, noted that affect, how much the object was liked, moderates a person’s decision to pay more for and get rid of the object when given the chance. The researchers suggest that wanting is not necessarily affected by failure to obtain the object. On the other hand liking is more likely to be influenced by attainability. So perhaps paying a large sum of cash or being rejected several times may in turn influence how someone feels about what they wanted.

Read more: Iphone’s price cut 2007 story

Read more: Iggy Pop and the Hall of Fame Induction

Read more: Apple sued over dropping phone prices

Litt, A., Khan, U., Shiv, B. (2009). Lusting while loathing: Parallel counterdriving of wanting and liking.

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