Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Narcissism and overconfidence

Narcissists love to win, but in most settings they aren’t that great at actually winning. For example, college students with inflated views of themselves (who think they are better than they actually are) make poorer grades the longer they are in college. They are also more likely to drop out. In another study, students who flunked an introductory psychology course had by far the highest narcissism scores, and those who made A’s had the lowest. Apparently the narcissists were wildly unrealistic about how they were doing and persisted in their lofty illusions when they should have dropped the course (or perhaps done something radical, like study).

In other words, overconfidence backfires. This makes some sense; narcissists are lousy at taking criticism and learning from mistakes. They also like to blame everyone and everything except themselves for their shortcomings. Second, they lack motivation to improve because they believe they have already made it: when you were born on home plate, why run around the bases? Third, overconfidence itself can lead to poor performance. If you think you know all the answers, there’s no need to study. Then you take the test and fail. Oops.

Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (New York: Free Press, 2009).
Students often cannot afford to drop a course: health insurance and student loans typically require full-time status. But not dropping because of “lofty illusions,” even when a passing grade is mathematically impossible, is indeed something new and strange. I see the profs in the audience nodding.

A related post
The Dunning-Kruger effect

comments: 4

Slywy said...

I'm reading Twenge's Generation Me, which I find myself in general agreement with, but which also annoys me with its generalizations and insistence that this generation has it tougher than previous generations because it can't afford housing, it has to live with mom and dad, it can't get into the best college of choice. Tougher than my dad, who grew up in a borrowed house? Who lost three siblings to the 'flu epidemic (unrelated to their unheated attic room)? Who was shelled by the Germans during his service in England? Who couldn't get steady work until he was in his late 30s? Who never graduated from grade school? And he wasn't the only one of his generation to grow up dirt poor. That's not to mention the minorities of previous generations, whose fate we won't even go into. She talks about how they are "critical thinkers," but not so critical that they can't see their own flaws -- and figure out how to address them (like narcissism). Really, I can't believe that the "generation" as a whole is nearly as bad as she describes, nor previous generations as prudish as she describes. Tendencies, yes. I'm not sure about the rest.

Michael Leddy said...

My overall sense of Generation Me is that Twenge tries hard not to lambaste the very people she’s lambasting, if that makes sense. This is a relatively distant memory: I returned that book to the library quite a while ago.

I’m wary of generalizing about generations too — some of the most wonderful and admirable people I know are young adults. But I do see more and more students whose estimates of their abilities are wildly out of sync with reality. When people who should know better help reinforce those delusions (by giving overinflated grades, for instance), the situation grows worse.

antmomi said...

An additional behavioral trait to be added to the narcissistic profile, is the inability to formulate and work cohesively in a team. This is particularly surprizing considering the 20 somethings are by and large the recipients of early socialization through daycare.
In the firm I worked for, there was a significant inability for formulate teams within this age group, which was notable by the upper level executives. Their answer to this phenomenon was scheduling inane forest retreats and frequent bonding exercises.

Michael Leddy said...

Perhaps related: I’ve heard a number of reports from students of groups in which one person ended up doing everything when it became impossible to organize responsibilities among members.