Narcissism has not increased over the past 30 years, contrary to some media reports. * But doesn't it just seem like it has? I mean, what else do we conclude when we see stuff like this all over YouTube?
From what I pick up, the "today's kids are more narcissistic" idea focuses mostly on girls. How do we reconcile the data showing no change in narcissism with our impression that girls these days are more attention-whoring than before?
I suggest that we've succumbed to an availability bias here. We're only seeing these girls in the two-week phase of their menstrual cycle when their testosterone levels skyrocket -- during ovulation, more or less. In this phase, females are more likely to want to go out, to be flirtatious, to dress more provocatively, and so forth. Outside of these two weeks per month, they're more reserved and leave-me-alone (to put it nicely). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should have been written about a teenage girl.
So, all these provocative videos on YouTube are either coming mostly from girls in the less-maniac phase of their cycle, implying that there are a freakishly higher number of girls with high basal levels of narcissism -- or they're mostly from girls in the more-maniac phase of their cycle, and their basal level of narcissism is no greater than that of previous generations. We just don't see them in their normal phase because they don't really feel like videotaping and broadcasting themselves to the world then.
This applies to nightclub behavior as well. If an adult were to look in on the danceclubs I go to, which cater mostly to teenagers and college students (and 20-somethings, sometimes), they could easily freak out over the slutty dancing that girls do, eagerly and without abandon. But if they followed that girl around for 6 months, they'd see that she was only wild for two weeks out of four. I've been going to these two clubs for 7 months now, and I know of several girls who only come during a particular two-week window, and when they're there, they're clearly ovulating. That "club slut" is probably a normal person when her hormones aren't hijacking her brain. (Of course, if she acts really wild but is too old to plead the temporary hormone insanity defense -- like, far above 25 or 30 -- she probably is a slut.)
I've also noticed that my very high-testosterone 19 year-old friend goes crazy on Facebook when she's ovulating. She comments on everyone's pictures and status messages, writes on a lot of people's Walls, changes her profile picture to something sexier than before (sometimes an old picture from a previous ovulatory phase), uploads photos that are provocative (though not slutty by any means), and so on. After that, the high social anxiety phase kicks in, she closes herself off, and tends not to write as much. What she does write is sentimental (like, "ohhhh, i miss you guys so muchhh!!!"), rather than aggressive.
While this is anecdotal, it wouldn't be hard to study. Just collect a bunch of data from Facebook members: the number of comments left, photos uploaded, etc., for each day. Then see if something tracking their menstrual cycle shows up. Do the same for MySpace and YouTube (make sure the videos only feature one girl -- her friends' cycles won't be perfectly synchronized with hers). My hunch is that most of the in-your-face sexuality on these websites only shows us these girls when they're temporarily overflowing with testosterone and thus acting more like guys -- like show-offs. ** The remainder would of course come from the minority who are wild all the time.
It's hard for guys to understand how pervasive the effects of a monthly cycle in women's behavior are -- even though we kind of know about it from personal experience -- but it should be one of the first things we think of when we see girls gone wild. Female adults should be able to see what's going on, but they have an even stronger interest in slandering and spreading rumors about younger girls, who they despise for looking better than they do, without even trying, and for acting more effortlessly girly. So they don't get it either.
And of course, it's all said under the pretense of looking out for the next generation: "Perhaps it's just my maternal nurturing instinct, but I'm very troubled by the fact that young girls today are such sluts." Nowadays when men fight, they can't get too physically violent or else they'll risk having charges pressed and going to jail. But in the verbal battles that women wage against each other, it is still a savage, no-holds-barred arena where no slander is too bald, as long as she delivers it with a furrowing of the brow that says, "I'm just looking out for your best interest, dear."
Trzesniewski, K. H., Donnellan, M. B., & Robins, R. W. (2008). Do today's young people really think they are so extraordinary? An examination of secular changes in narcissism and self-enhancement. Psychological Science, 19, 181-188.
Trzesniewski, K. H., Donnellan, M. B., & Robins, R. W. (2008). Is “Generation Me” really more narcissistic than previous generations? Journal of Research in Personality, 76, 903-918.
** Men are more narcissistic than women. Think of smug, self-promoting, gimme-my-megaphone people -- more male or more female? Sure, there are some feminists like that, but overall most hucksters are guys.