The new study, published December 10, aims to understand how narcissistic traits vary among generations and how levels of narcissism change as people age. It is the largest study of the disorder ever, including nearly 750 participants.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition where a person has an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy for others – mechanisms that are used to mask the individual’s low self-esteem. These behaviours exist on a spectrum, meaning that a person can exhibit narcissistic traits without having a full-blown disorder.
For the study, researchers interviewed people between 13 and 77 years old about their work and personal lives. “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 and associate professor of psychology William Chopik.
Participants were ranked on a scale from one to five. The most narcissistic traits – defensiveness, authoritativeness, and stubbornness – were ranked at five.
Research has also found that, on the whole, the older generations tend to be more sensitive as a whole (so who’s the snowflake now, amirite?). The study suggests that baby boomers, or “individuals who were born earlier in the (20th) century”, had higher levels of hypersensitivity, and higher levels of willfulness, or the tendency to impose their opinions on others.
Chopik said: “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.”
He says that boomers may have lived through specific generational events that have shaped their perspective. For example, boomers in the US may be more narcissistic because they grew up with government privileges like social security.
The study also notes that narcissistic traits tend to lessen after achieving particular milestones like a first job or relationship.
“One thing about narcissists is that they’re not open to criticism,” Chopik said. “When life happens and you’re forced to accept feedback, break up with someone or have tragedy strike, you might need to adjust to understanding that you’re not as awesome as you once thought.”
That being said, Chopik told Insider that based on this study: “there’s weak evidence that this (younger) generation is the worst in human history.”
Our response? OK Boomer.