Maybe We’re Not So Self-Centered After All…


Published: Febrary 14, 2008

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? Are Fordham students as vain as the wicked queen who plagued Snow White? Past studies have found opposing evidence on this issue concerning college students as a whole. In 2007, professor of psychology, Jean M. Twenge, ran an experiment at San Diego State University, where 16,000 students took a questionnaire called the “Narcissistic Personality Inventory.”  Twenge’s test results indicated an increase in narcissism when compared to results from a similar test taken in 1982. Consequently, the experiment was used to label today’s students as more self-centered than those in the past.

When interviewed by Fox News in February 2007, Twenge said, “By 2006, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982. Narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.”

W. Keith Campbell, a professor at the University of Georgia and co-author of Twenge’s book “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” mentioned that there are a few positive effects in having an overabundance of confidence. He said, “Narcissism could be useful in meeting new people or auditioning on ‘American Idol.’”

Despite Twenge’s startling outcome, alternate tests have been conducted that have challenged her findings. Kali H. Trzesniewski, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario; M. Brent Donnellan, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, and Richard W. Robins, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, found that when administering this particular test to about 26,000 students at the Berkeley and Davis campuses of the University of California, the scores were no higher than those achieved in 1996 and every year between 2002 and 2007. In fact, the researchers found that the scores had regressed a bit since the ’80s.

Clara Rodriguez, professor of sociology at FCLC, stood by students. When asked about whether there has been a rise in student narcissism over the years, Rodriguez said, “I think Fordham students reflect whatever is taking place in the nation, and since the 1980s, self-involvement has been sanctified by our government and culture.  I haven’t seen any changes up or down among Fordham students in this.  If anything, in recent years, there has been a growing core of students that have been interested in community service and political activity.  To me, it’s gratifying to encounter these students in my classes, and I think they serve as a counter-cultural model for others.”

Some Fordham students echoed Rodriguez’s opinion on the student population. “I wouldn’t say we are overly self-involved, because the school is so small and we are not that big of a student body. To say we are full of ourselves. I think that’s a little extreme,” Aiysha Wasi, FCLC ’08 said.

Sarah Makuta, FCLC ’09, said, “I definitely do think some of the students in this school are overly self-involved; I feel like it’s maybe a New York City thing. A lot of people in the city take pride in their self-appearance and their image. In this school, people come and they go, and they are in and out, and they have whole other lives because our school isn’t really “campusy.” Maybe it’s just taking pride in themselves, but some people go overboard. I don’t think it’s a problem, but it’s the way some people are and you just have to deal with it.”

Peter Martin, FCLC ’08, kept with the idea that Fordham’s location may be partially to blame for any student narcissism. “We are overly self-involved, but I think it’s really because most students don’t come from New York City, and because this is where they are told they want to be. When you are raised in a small town, like in Pennsylvania or Ohio, you’re more ambitious, and New York is where you’re pushed at. When you’re in New York, individuality is a major player, so I don’t think it’s so much Fordham but more because of New York.”

Are college students misunderstood? In the last few years they have been pegged by researchers as both overly self-involved and extremely socially conscious. Though two different scholars have conducted widespread studies that resulted in opposing outcomes, most Fordham students seem to agree that it is not them, it’s Manhattan.