Young adults distressed by labels of narcissism, entitlement: Regardless of labels

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Young adults distressed by labels of narcissism, entitlement: Regardless of labels


Young adults both believe and react negatively to messages that members of their age group are more entitled and narcissistic than other living generations, suggests new research presented by Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and colleagues in the open access journal PLOS ONE on May 15, 2019.

Academic reports and popular literature have contributed to the widespread idea that emerging adults — people transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood — are more entitled and narcissistic than are other modern age groups. Whether such labels are accurate is extensively debated among researchers, but few have examined how emerging adults react to these labels.

To explore this knowledge gap, Grubbs and colleagues conducted three studies. Participants in the first study included over 1,000 university undergraduates and 724 people from a variety of age groups in an online crowdsourcing platform. All completed standard measures of personality traits and surveys about relevant stereotypes and opinions.

The results of this first study suggest that emerging adults believe adolescents and members of their own age group are indeed exceptionally narcissistic and entitled; they feel that these are negative traits and they have negative reactions to these labels being applied to their age group. The crowdsourcing results suggest that older adults’ views of the narcissism and entitlement of adolescents and emerging adults are more exaggerated than the views of emerging adults themselves.

In two additional studies, the researchers examined 218 (study 2) and 376 (study 3) university students’ reactions to excerpts of written materials describing people aged 18 to 25. They found that the students reacted negatively to their age group being labeled as narcissistic and entitled, and they reacted with a similar degree of negativity to other undesirable labels, such as oversensitivity.

While additional research is needed to confirm and refine these findings, they suggest that emerging adults are aware of and believe widespread messages labeling their age group as the most narcissistic and entitled, and that they are somewhat distressed by these labels.

Grubbs summarizes: “All generations think that the youngest generations (millennials and generation Z) are the most narcissistic and entitled generations. However, millennials and Generation Z dislike this characterization and believe it less than older generations do.”

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