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Researchers say we have a 'narcissism epidemic'. So what's causing it?

Are you an important person? The answer you give may indicate to psychologists how narcissistic you are. Similarly, the culture you are born into plays an important role.

 

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Are you an important person?


The answer you give may indicate to psychologists how narcissistic you are. And on a societal level, the answer people give is changing. In 1963, when adolescents were asked if they considered themselves important, only 12 percent answered affirmatively. 30 years later, that percentage had risen to 80.

Narcissism is on the rise in modern Western societies and scientists are trying to figure out why. Some hypothesize that individual narcissism follows from the culture someone lives in: the more individualistic the culture, the more narcissistic people tend to be.

Now a new study leverages a unique historical event—the division of Germany into east and west in the aftermath of World War II—to look at how cultural change affects individual personality. After Germany was partitioned among Allied powers following its surrender, Soviet control of the country's eastern regions affected a cultural shift toward Soviet-style communism.

The forty years of separation of former East and West Germany has provided researchers with a “natural experiment" to gauge how culture affects personality. In a recent study, the scientists administered an online survey amongst 1,025 German individuals who had to complete tests that measured their levels of narcissism and self-esteem. 343 of the participants had grown up in the territory of East Germany and 682 in the territory of West Germany before 1990.

German actress Nana Osten (left) as Rita, the girlfriend of a would be East German defector, in a scene from 'Oggi a Berlino' (aka 'East Zone, West Zone'), directed by Piero Vivarelli, 1962. On the right are actors playing West Berlin policemen and East German Volkspolizei facing each other across the border in Berlin. (Jung/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The results showed that the participants from former West Germany scored higher on narcissistic grandiosity compared with the participants from former East Germany, even after controlling for gender and age. Interestingly, however, individuals from former East Germany had higher self-esteem than those from West Germany. This demonstrates that narcissism and self-esteem are not the same thing.

The researchers point out that:

Self-esteem, defined as global evaluation of the self, is related to narcissism. However, recent data provide evidence that narcissism differs from self-esteem in various domains. Narcissism and high self-esteem both include positive self-evaluations, but the entitlement, exploitation, sense of superiority, and negative evaluation of others that are associated with narcissism are not necessarily observed in individuals with high self-esteem.

In the United States, researchers have found symptoms of the “narcissism epidemic" in various places. Recently published books, for example, feature a more self-centered language. In comparison to earlier publications, the pronouns I and me tend to be used more frequently than we and us.

The use of narcissistic phrases such as “I am the greatest" has also increased between 1960 and 2008. At the same time, our popular culture seems mainly built on liberal conceptions of the self that give credibility to fame and self-focused memes like blogs, song lyrics, tweets, Instagram and so on.


NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 04: The new Eva Mendes Calvin Klein Secret Obsession billboard is on display at the unveiling of the Eva Mendes' billboard for Calvin Klein Secret Obsession in Times Square on September 4, 2008 in New York City. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

The cultural environment—whether it is individualistic or collectivistic—affects the development of personality traits, including narcissism. Because individualistic cultures encourage a stronger focus on the self, their members may be more narcissistic than those of collectivistic cultures, which emphasize the importance of social values.

Ultimately, while you can't escape your culture, there are certain things you can do to decrease your narcissism and improve your self-esteem. Developing mindfulness, honoring your promises, respecting other people's space, needs and desires, as well as facilitating the process of self-acceptance and forgiveness are all good practices to start with.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Technology & Innovation

Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

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