(NaturalNews) It seems the lesson today's American college students most need to learn is one not taught at its universities and colleges -- that there is a difference between believing you can accomplish anything and taking action to accomplish something.
A recent analysis of the American Freshman Survey suggests that what was once the American Dream, has perhaps become twisted now into an American Delusion of Grandeur. Since the mid 1960s, the Survey has recorded how students rate themselves in comparison with their peers. In all that time (nearly 50 years), the Survey has yet to identify a group of young people as apparently and generally "self-infatuated" as those currently entering the realms of higher education.
According to results from a questionnaire called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, one-quarter of students surveyed demonstrated excessive levels of vanity and self-centered thinking or behavior. The findings follow the upward trend of the last four decades, with students ranking themselves higher and higher over the years, in the categories of personal academic and mathematical abilities, self-confidence and drive to achieve; however, during the same time frame, in the areas of spirituality, cooperation and understanding -- traits less likely to emphasize the individual -- levels declined slightly, if at all.
Such evidently unchecked self-admiration -- though not to be mistaken for a healthy self-esteem, which may be based in truth and even prove beneficial -- can be real cause for alarm. One reason is that researchers compiling the data, as led by psychologist Jean Twenge, found discrepancies between what students perceive their abilities to be and their demonstrated performances.
For example, in a comparison of objective test scores, a modern-day student claiming to posses "gifted writing abilities" was more likely to reveal a skill level far below that of their 1960s counterparts. Also noteworthy is that today's students appear to spend less time studying than did students of the 1980s -- a fact that seems lost on their reportedly higher drive toward success.
"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," Twenge said. "Now the interesting thing about that belief is it's widely held, it's very deeply held, and it's also untrue."
Still, Twenge suggested that blaming the younger generation for its own unprecedented narcissism may not be the most attentive approach to the many factors at work here. Children are, after all, a byproduct of their society, which today means not only parenting styles but social media and celebrity culture, which can cause certain people to seem more successful and accomplished than they really are. In that environment, younger generations may come to find their own false ideals propped up by this "easy credit" kind of systemic ideology. Over time, such "ambition inflation" can cause wide-eyed young people to mature into depressed adults.
"There's going to be a lot more people who don't reach their goals," Twenge said, pointing to the increase in anxiety and depression since the 1960s and 1970s when such expectations started to grow. Though even a healthy self-esteem may be generally helpful in goal-setting, it alone cannot perform the work. Twenge compared it to swimming, in that a person's belief that he or she can become a champion swimmer does not automatically translate into learning the specific skill set required to perform a tight underwater turn.
When it comes to pinpointing the behaviors that lead to personal success, Florida State University's Roy Baumeister, author of a 2003 paper on self-esteem, suggests more credence should be given to self-control as a likely influential factor. "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."