Values In America

Thomas Friedman’s op-ed in the NY Times today underscores some of the findings of psychological research for the last few years… namely that young people in the US may be changing. Below are some of the findings from recent studies:

Narcissism has gone up 30%

The psychologist Twenge has found ample evidence of this through  looking at a number of studies over the last 20-30 years to find if young people, college students, have changed. She found that young people have become more narcissistic.  You can read more about these findings in her book The Narcissism Epidemic.

Empathy has dropped 40%

Meanwhile another study, which looked at over 1400o college students over the last 30 years, has found that empathy has decreased, in particular with respect to perspective taking.  The biggest drop is after the year 2000.

Student Motivation SHRUNK

Friedman refers to an article by Robert J. Samuelson that talks about how students aren’t motivated to work hard anymore.  As a result, achievement has dropped, despite all of the school reform in the last fifty years.

As Friedman suggests perhaps this is why India and China are succeeding. He says, “they are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations. “

It doesn’t seem like the trend will be changing anytime soon. Wall Street is back up and so are the enormous salaries that go along with it, instant celebrity is easier than ever to achieve and the political blame game seems to be the name of the day.

Perhaps the changes in narcissism and empathy are contributing to the drop in student motivation and the consequent drop in test scores and other measures.  After all if you are in love with yourself and do not care as much about others, you would expect the world to come to you without much effort, right?  That usually works in success, but with anything less, the world will not come to you, instead it will more likely pass you by.