Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Where Jean Twenge Gets Some More Mileage, Not That She's Wrong Or Anything: How college students think they are more special than EVER: Study reveals rocketing sense of entitlement on U.S. campuses. From the Daily Mail.

Books aside, if you asked a college freshman today who the Greatest Generation is, they might respond by pointing in a mirror.

Young people's unprecedented level of self-infatuation was revealed in a new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has been asking students to rate themselves compared to their peers since 1966.

Roughly 9 million young people have taken the survey over the last 47 years.

Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there's been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being 'above average' in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence.

But in appraising the traits that are considered less invidualistic - co-operativeness, understanding others, and spirituality - the numbers either stayed at slightly decreased over the same period.

Researchers also found a disconnect between the student's opinions of themselves and actual ability.

While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.


  1. Old news. This entire generation is afflicted with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  2. The numbers show a rough stability for the past 25 years, and cutting the graph off at 80 makes it look like a much more dramatic rise than it is. Several of the lines also hover around/near 50%, which does not point to Dunning-Kruger. I also wonder about the phrasing in 'intellectual self-confidence' and 'social self-confidence'. Are they being asked to measure their own ability or their own confidence?

    1. Indeed. I'm no statistician, but it seems to me the numbers could equally easily be used to indict my own generation (and a lot of the middle-aged portion of the professoriat).

  3. I noticed that when I started teaching in the late 1980s. Along with that, however, was a shocking lack of background preparation. I had students who had a poor grasp of topics fundamental to the technical courses I taught, such as basic trigonometry and algebra. Yet, none of them felt the least bit of shame that they didn't know this material as well as they should have.

    By comparison, when I was an undergrad nearly 40 years ago, I wouldn't just have been embarrassed at not knowing something like that, I would take whatever legitimate measures to learn that material so that I could complete my courses.

  4. I used to like Jean Twenge, but this is the fifth time she's retold this story. Shall we conclude that modern psychology, at its best, is indeed the belabored telling and retelling of the obvious? At its worst it's ill-thought, self-important-sounding, statistically specious pseudoscience with disastrous consequences, such as the whole idolatry of self-esteem that got us into this mess in the first place, and indeed much of what comes out of ed schools.

  5. The source of my endless, living-dead rage.

  6. I, too, am a bit skeptical about both the numbers and the interpretation, though anecdotally I'd say she puts her finger on a very real problem with which we all deal on a regular basis. And, as the author of the article points out, it's ultimately a pretty sad picture for the over-confident young (not just those of us who have to deal with their reactions when our assessments challenge their self-assessments).

    It's also a bit touching, given the fact that narcissists are, at bottom, insecure, to see the two areas in which their confidence is, relatively speaking, lowest: social ability (trying to build real bonds in a group made of entirely of the narcissistically-inclined is hard), and writing ability. As a composition teacher, I'd say that the underlying problem in the latter area is that people often think that if writing is hard for them, they're not good at it. It's hard for everybody. Of course, one would think that that would also be true for many other fields, especially the more challenging (and objective) STEM ones. It would be interesting to see where something like "math ability" would fall on the chart. I'm guessing it might be even lower than writing ability.


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