Today’s university students are more narcissistic and self-centred than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study out of the U.S. by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships.


“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, Prof. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centred enough already.”


Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop n San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students across the United States who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.


The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements 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.”


The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students’ NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 per cent more than in 1982.

Twenge, the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — And More Miserable Than Ever Before, said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favour self-promotion over helping others.

Some analysts have commended today’s young people for increased commitment to volunteer work. But Twenge viewed even this phenomenon skeptically, noting that many high schools require community service and many youths feel pressure to list such endeavours on college applications.

Campbell said the narcissism upsurge seemed so pronounced that he was unsure if there were obvious remedies.