Younger generations are often branded as self-obsessed “snowflakes” trapped in an epidemic of selfie-taking narcissism, while the older generations are stoic grafters who had to walk for three hours in the snow just to get to school.
However, according to the longest psychological study on narcissism to date, that stereotype isn’t strictly true. In fact, it looks like older generations were more likely to be “hyper-sensitive” narcissists as youths compared to generations born later in the 20th century.
A new study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, investigated narcissistic behavior between generations and how these tendencies changed over the course of a lifetime. To reveal this, a pair of psychologists from Michigan State University (MSU) sifted through six previously collected data sets accounting for almost 750 people born between 1923 and 1969. Surprisingly, they found participants born earlier in the 20th century started with high levels of hypersensitivity compared with those born later in the century. However, that said, people do generally become less narcissistic as they age, regardless of the generation they were born.
"There's a narrative in our culture that generations are getting more and more narcissistic, but no one has ever looked at it throughout generations or how it varies with age at the same time," said lead author William Chopik, associate professor of psychology at MSU, in a statement.
"One of the most surprising findings was that – also contrary to what many people think – individuals who were born earlier in the century started off with higher levels of hyper-sensitivity, or the type of narcissism where people are full of themselves, as well as willfulness, which is the tendency to impose opinions on others.”
Speaking to INSIDER, Chopik added: "there's weak evidence that this [younger] generation is the worst in human history."
Compared to other core psychological traits, levels of narcissism remained relatively stable across any given person’s lifespan, although the nature of these attributes can subtly change as we go through our life. They found that some aspects of narcissism tend to die down with age, such as being full of yourself and wishing to impose your opinion on others, while other narcissistic tendencies, such as having high aspirations for yourself, increased with age.
“There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities,” Chopik continued. “As you age, you form new relationships, have new experiences, start a family and so on. All of these factors make someone realize that it’s not ‘all about them.’ And, the older you get, the more you think about the world that you may leave behind.”
While we're on the subject of younger generations, it’s also worth considering that this generation’s teenagers are remarkably well behaved compared to previous ones. They also appear to be turning their back on alcohol and cigarettes too.