In a recent article in the APS Observer, psychologists W. Keith Campbell and Jean M. Twenge explore the rise in narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). They point to culture as part of the cause.

Research on NPD suggests that Americans in their 20s are three times as likely to have experienced NPD than people over age 60. Comparing similar-aged people across decades also shows a dramatic increase in narcissism. As evidence, the researchers discuss some of the impact that increased narcissism has. Young people are more likely to focus on achieving success, making money, and personal fame. They are more likely to have cosmetic surgery, report higher levels of self-esteem, and measure lower on empathy.

How is culture affecting the narcissism epidemic? Well, certainly media is to blame, with its focus on image and individualized attention (as Lady Gaga says, “You will all have your 15 minutes of fame”). Social media is very self-focused.

Other cultural elements that the researchers point to are the fact that parents are more likely to choose unique names for their children and to encourage their children to be unique. There is a rise in creating spaces in our homes that become centers of self-focus (the personal study, or “man cave”).

What might be the antidote to growing narcissism in society? I think it lies in focusing on other people, particularly the less fortunate. At the same time there is growing narcissism, there is greater awareness in young adults of social problems and injustice. A healthy outlet for self-focused attention is to reach out and help others. Empathy and caring for others is the key antidote.


W.K. Campbell & J. M Twenge. Narcissism unleashed. Association for Psychological Science Observer, Vol. 26(10), pp.28-29.

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