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Contrary to what we’ve been told for the last few years, millennials aren’t the most sensitive, self-obsessed generation.
A new study from Michigan State University entitled ‘Me, me, me! How narcissism changes throughout life’, published in the Psychology & Aging journal this week, examined how different age groups exhibit narcissistic traits. Researchers found that, while generally speaking people tend to become less narcissistic as they get older, that isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to generational groups.
“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, an associate professor at MSU.
Chopik’s team surveyed nearly 750 people and found that narcissistic characteristics displayed early on in life, such as stubbornness, authoritativeness and hypersensitivity/defensiveness, often get smoothed down as you progress through life’s milestones, such as getting a job and starting a family, which encourage an individual to consider the people and environment around them. Rates of hypersensitivity in particular face a steep decline after a person turns 40.
Researchers also discovered that younger generations, including the often-maligned “snowflake” millennials, are actually starting out with a lower degree of hypersensitivity than older groups, meaning that as they continue to get older, they will be, for all intents and purposes, less easily “triggered” than their parents or grandparents at the same age.
“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,” said Chopik.
He added that “there isn’t much data on older generations, but now that Baby Boomers are aging into that phase of life, it’s a huge part of the population that we need to be looking at,” and speculated that “Baby Boomers may be more narcissistic than other generations because they grew up in a time when the government provided privileges like social security.”
Chopik’s findings also tangentially support research published last year which suggested that millennial men are more selfless and socially conscious than their fathers, with a shift towards a new set of “masculine” values centered around kindness and emotional literacy.