MICHIGAN STATE (US)—Teens are no more egotistical than previous generations, new research shows, despite previous studies that described today’s youth as self-centered and antisocial.
In a scientific analysis of nearly a half-million high-school seniors spread over three decades, Michigan State University psychology Brent Donnellan and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario argue teens today are just as happy and satisfied as their parents’ generation. The study appears in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
“We concluded that, more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s,” says Donnellan, associate professor of psychology.
Donnellan acknowledges that many people will be surprised by the findings, which refute previous studies classifying today’s youth as selfish loafers with extremely high levels of self-esteem.
But while much previous research has relied on “convenience studies” of relatively small samples of young adults, Donnellan says, the current study analyzes the psychological profile data of 477,380 high school seniors from 1976 to 2006. The data comes from the University of Michigan’s federally funded Monitoring the Future survey, which each year tracks the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American students.
In other findings:
- Today’s youth are more cynical and less trusting of institutions than previous generations, but the researchers say this is generally true of the broader population.
- The current generation is less fearful of social problems such as race relations, hunger, poverty and energy shortages.
- Today’s youth have higher educational expectations.
Ultimately, Donnellan says, it’s common for older generations to paint youth in a negative light—as lazy and self-absorbed, for example—which can perpetuate stereotypes. It can be easy, he added, to forget what it’s like to grow up.
“Kids today are like they were 30 years ago—they’re trying to find their place in the world, they’re trying to carve out an identity, and it can be difficult,” Donnellan says. “But lots of research shows that the stereotypes of all groups are much more overdrawn than the reality.”
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