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College Students Think They’re Better Than Ever

From BBC News:

Does confidence really breed success?

By William Kremer | 3 January 2013

Research suggests that more and more American university students think they are something special. High self-esteem is generally regarded as a good thing – but could too much of it actually make you less successful?

About nine million young people have filled out the American Freshman Survey, since it began in 1966.

It asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being "above average" for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.

This was revealed in a new analysis of the survey data, by US psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues…

Twenge adds that while the Freshman Survey shows that students are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.

And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.

Another study by Twenge suggested there has been a 30% tilt towards narcissistic attitudes in US students since 1979…

[O]ne in four recent students responded to a questionnaire, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, in a way which leaned towards narcissistic views of the self…

In The Narcissism Epidemic, co-written with Keith Campbell, Twenge blames the growth of narcissistic attitudes on a range of trends – including parenting styles, celebrity culture, social media and access to easy credit, which allows people to appear more successful than they are.

"What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success.

"Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue."

This bewitching idea – that people’s lives will improve with their self-esteem – led to what came to be known as The Self-Esteem Movement…

Yet there is very little evidence that raising self-esteem leads to tangible, positive outcomes.

"If there is any effect at all, it is quite small," says Roy Baumeister of Florida State University. He was the lead author of a 2003 paper that scrutinised dozens of self-esteem studies…

"Self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success. Despite my years invested in research on self-esteem, I reluctantly advise people to forget about it." …

"You need to believe that you can go out and do something but that’s not the same as thinking that you’re great," says Twenge. She gives the example of a swimmer attempting to learn a turn – this person needs to believe that they can acquire that skill, but a belief that they are already a great swimmer does not help.

Forsyth and Kerr studied the effect of positive feedback on university students who had received low grades (C, D, E and F). They found that the weaker students actually performed worse if they received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-worth.

"An intervention that encourages [students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may remove the reason to work hard," writes Baumeister…

The hell you say!

A 2006 study led by John Reynolds of Florida State University found that students are increasingly ambitious, but also increasingly unrealistic in their expectations, creating what he calls "ambition inflation".

"Since the 1960s and 1970s, when those expectations started to grow, there’s been an increase in anxiety and depression," says Twenge.

"There’s going to be a lot more people who don’t reach their goals."

Especially, in the age of Obama. But naturally they won’t blame him or themselves.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Monday, January 7th, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

10 Responses to “College Students Think They’re Better Than Ever”

  1. Some will thrive
    Some will survive
    Some will fade away

  2. triguy

    This is just another example of the ‘magical thinking’ syndrome that seems to permiate our society today. I do not have to show mastery of a skill set. I do not have to accomplish anything. I just need to think the right thoughts and things will happen magically. This syndrome is seen everywhere from students at all levels (up to and including post graduate work) to businesses and their leaders who happen to be successful purely by being in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, the resulting crash–which inevitably comes–is almost horrific.

  3. Rusty Shackleford

    Now, this is quite a change. I already knew it was happening but I remember my years as a young enlisted guy in the military, going to night school and wanting to earn my officer’s commission and move up in the world.

    The people I worked with were monumentally negative. “You’re a XXXXX [job code]. That’s all you’re going to be. It doesn’t bode well with you walking around with your college books, acting like you’re better than everyone else* and thinking you’re gonna be an officer someday.”

    *Well, I did earn my commission.

    I now work in a job where they, those who trapped themselves in that universe, can’t even imagine the salary and benefits, could never get to. During those years, I didn’t listen to them. I knew the work involved and I didn’t think my goals were “unrealistic”. Trust me, I ran into enough people to slam me and treat my like crap to make me want to move up all the more.

    However, it wasn’t egotism that made me want more. It was the simple knowledge that I could do better. Where I was wasn’t bad, but it was a waste of my abilities. Interestingly, my hatred of politics betrayed my desires to be a good officer, when I learned that I had to kiss so much ass against my will, I abandoned that. Getting promoted and moving up should not be hinged on quid pro quo. To me, the cost was too high so I left when my time was up.

    The difference though is staggering. Seeing kids who think they are “all that” when nothing could be farther from the truth. In my case, I was aware of the work needed to move up. The effort, the dedication, the frustrations. Kids today want it all without having to make the investment in themselves. And they think they are entitled to it. Remarkable.

    So we went from a culture of “you suck, ’cause we all suck” to a culture of “I’m the greatest and you still suck”. Interesting.

    • Anonymoose

      For me it was getting out with a liberal art’s bachelor’s degree my family paid for and finding I was actually worse off than a high school graduate. Too smart and “over qualified” for the jobs I could do, yet not trained for anything else.

      I eventually got a job as a hospital orderly, and the grief I got was serious, from my co-workers about some “smart college kid” being in their midst to bitter middle aged superiors talking about how I needed to earn my keep–usually by making the same bad choices they’d done, such having an unplanned child or getting fired from a job or facing legal trouble. Only then would I have “proved” myself worthy.

      It took me some time, but I realized the fix I was in came not from the world not doing me right but from poor choices, and I paid my own way through grad school. I still had a lot of I had to put up with, often from people who’d gotten where they were by luck rather than talent, or more often political graft. But I kept going; probably that old saying about not forgetting who you are is most fitting. That and accepting the hand Fate has dealt you, fair or not. One of the people who caused me the most turmoil didn’t get the big maneuver she wanted in her career and is now well in retirement age, but still spinning her wheels trying to make a name for herself, at a point where most people just don’t care who she is.

      Today’s kids; I keep hearing the stories of them being years out of college, pushing 30, and not wanting to take it from anyone or be told what to do. Or how horrible a situation it would be to get stuck at 9AM in an office surrounded by phone calls and tasks. 9AM is late morning for me, I’ve had some jobs I had to be there at 4:30AM. Everyone has their growing up stage, and every older generation thinks the world is doomed, but with this generation it really is they’re stuck in a juvenile mindset, and the age where they’ll grow up has been pushed so far back I wonder if they ever will.

    • beautyofreason

      I felt that way when I took a minimum wage job at a grocery store with a master’s degree. But my story is not unique. In my department all of the younger people are higher educated. My other young co-workers include a man who dropped out of college while studying comparative religion, a guy who is an expert at computer networking (he has since moved on to a lucrative job after five years), and a man pushing 30 who is finishing up a master’s degree in history. He can tell you the finer points of Creole and Cajun history, but if you ask him what he wants to do with his degree he draws a blank stare, followed by “maybe a museum curator.” He’ll probably end up as a tour guide somewhere.

      I am very thankful to have a job, but it all goes to pay down student loan debt. I cringe when I hear about other young people making questionable educational choices and racking up endless debt to an educational system that is often more symbolic than functional. I hope to find a position in my field (thank god I acquired actual skills and not some “social science” with a Marxist glaze), and will work as hard as needed to go forward.

    • beautyofreason

      Anonymoose, I felt that way when I took a minimum wage job at a grocery store with a master’s degree. But my story is not unique. In my department all of the younger people are higher educated. My other young co-workers include a man who dropped out of college while studying comparative religion, a guy who is an expert at computer networking (he has since moved on to a lucrative job after five years), and a man pushing 30 who is finishing up a master’s degree in history. He can tell you the finer points of Creole and Cajun history, but if you ask him what he wants to do with his degree he draws a blank stare, followed by “maybe a museum curator.” He’ll probably end up as a tour guide somewhere.

      I am very thankful to have a job, but it all goes to pay down student loan debt. I cringe when I hear about other young people making questionable educational choices and racking up endless debt to an educational system that is often more symbolic than functional. I hope to find a position in my field (thank god I acquired actual skills and not some “social science” with a Marxist glaze), and will work as hard as needed to go forward.

  4. Astravogel

    A long time ago there was a cartoon strip with a dad encouraging
    his son to get a summer job, and the boy said no, that by the time
    he was president of the company, it would be time to go back to
    school. Reality can bite pretty hard.

  5. People who think they are as great as I am really are annoying aren’t they?

    The attitudes in our “work” force these days are so grounded in fantasyland that Mickey Mouse should be running the world. (Was that an Obama crack?) The “I deserve a raise just because.”, Or the “I should be making at least $100K instead of making french fries.” Or the, “I’m too good to do THAT job” attitude from a kid who has to use his fingers and toes to count out change for a $20. This is what will eventually crush this country under a mountain of stupid. We’re already deep into the “stupid running the earth” scenerio, but when the last of the boomers are old and retired, the gen xers are middleaged and taxed into poverty, and the lost generation is running things, Obamacare will be a welcome death sentence compared to what life is going to be like.

  6. yadayada

    I watch the 20 somethings at work sending IM to each other constantly on the company network. they’ll go 35-40 mins. doing nothing and then they get mad at me because I tell them they need to get out of the chair and do some work………
    I guess that’s what you get when you don’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.
    parents who buy into that crap don’t realize they are training their kids to think that is how life actually works in the real world.

  7. triguy

    YadaYada,
    Although I agree with your premise that parents really do screw up their kids for the future when they demand that Jack or Jill get a trophy when they never even touched the ball and hardly ever showed up for practice, changing that will solve nothing. In fact, the behavior that parental practice encourages is here to stay at least for the next two or perhaps even three working generations. What we as managers need to do is to learn how to work with these new generations to tap what talent and creativity they do have–and believe me they do have an abundance of both–to accomplish the objectives of the organization. The generations of the part-time employee is coming fast and we need to be able to manage it or it will manage us. And this comes from a 63 year old!




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